05/24/2005 11:00PM

New show seeks top gambler

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Poker has risen to unprecedented popularity with the recent reality TV craze, but what about other casino games?

That question could be answered with "King of Vegas," a reality show that will air on Spike TV in late fall or early 2006. "King of Vegas" is the brainstorm of Wayne Root, who is best known as a sports tout, but is also an author ("The Zen of Gambling," "Root on Risk: Betting to Win on Sports," et al.), TV host ("WinningEDGE"), motivational speaker, and political commentator.

"We're looking for America's best gambler," said Root, who is working with veteran producer Michael Yudin. "Poker has done great on TV, but it's just one game, and even though more people are playing it, a lot of people don't, so we're looking for the best all-around gambler."

Root said he can't give all the details of the show yet, but its format will include competitions at blackjack, craps, roulette, poker, slots, and even horse racing.

"We wanted to have it include all games that people can play in just about any casino," Root said.

Though he didn't give a reason, the exclusion of sports betting is probably because it's legal only in Nevada casinos, not all over the country. "I think it will do for those other games what the World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker have done for poker," he said.

Like other reality shows, "King of Vegas" will have an elimination feature each week as the field is whittled down. Contestants will not know what games they will be playing each day until they arrive at the casino, which Root said would be located in Vegas. Strategy will come into play.

"Think of it as the triathlon of gambling," Root said. "In a triathlon, it's probably best if you're very good in all three events - swimming, running, and bicycling - even if you're not the best in any of them. But you can also win if you're far and away the best swimmer and build up such a big lead that no one else can catch you.

"It'll be interesting to see which strategy does the best."

Root said auditions will be held all over the country with details to come by the end of the summer at either his website, winningedge.com, or at spiketv.com.

'The Contender' scores a hit

Speaking of reality shows, Sergio Mora won the $1 million first prize in NBC's "The Contender" on Tuesday night before a sold-out crowd at Caesars Palace and the live national TV audience, though it was on tape delay here in the West.

Mora opened as a slight -105 underdog in the championship match vs. Peter Manfredo Jr., who was the -125 favorite in the Caesars sports book, but Mora was made the -120 favorite and rewarded his backers. Manfredo earned $250,000 for his second-place finish among the original 16 contestants.

" The Contender and other reality shows like that are fine to watch, but where they fall short is that not everyone can participate," Root said. "No matter how much I love betting football, I'm not going to be playing in the Super Bowl next year. But all of us can gamble and get good enough to take on the pros. That's also what 'King of Vegas' is trying to do."

Another million-dollar baby

In a gambling competition that will not air on TV, Sam Vaughn of Overton, Nev., won the Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Vaughn qualified by playing in monthly preliminary contests held at the Hilton, and then was part of the 200-player field competing for the $1 million first prize.

Auto racing's big weekend

The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend has become huge for auto racing fans in recent years with both the Indianapolis 500, still widely considered the most famous car race in the world despite the slip in popularity of open-wheel racing and the resurgence of stock cars, and Nascar's Coca-Cola 600 run on the same day. A day-night doubleheader of high octane.

In the Indy 500 at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Sports Consultants has Helio Castroneves as the 4-1 favorite, followed by Tony Kanaan and Sam Hornish Jr. at 5-1. The most intriguing driver is Danica Patrick at 8-1 as she - yes, she, in case the media hype hasn't reach you yet - tries to become the first female winner at The Brickyard, or at least break Janet Guthrie's record of finishing ninth in 1978. Patrick has already set a record for a female with the fourth-best qualifying time.

In the nightcap, Jimmie Johnson is the 7-1 favorite in the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Johnson is the Nextel Cup series point leader, and he won this race last year. LVSC has Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin and Ryan Newman as the co-second choices at 8-1, with Greg Biffle at 10-1, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, and Kasey Kahne at 12-1.

In a different arena . . .

The Arena Football League playoffs also start this weekend with four conference semifinals on Sunday as the eight remaining teams try to earn a trip to Vegas for the Arena Bowl XIX on Sunday, June 12.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants adjusted their future book odds, and reflected the parity of the league, making the Georgia Force a lukewarm 7-2 favorite. Georgia had the league's best record at 11-5 and home-field advantage throughout the National Conference playoffs.

The defending champion San Jose SaberCats, despite being a wild-card in the American Conference and playing all their games away from home, is the co-second choice at 9-2 along with the Colorado Crush, who the SaberCats visit in the first round, coincidentally. The Los Angeles Avengers are next at 5-1, followed by the Orlando Predators, New York Dragons, and Chicago Rush at 6-1, and the Tampa Bay Storm at 10-1.