09/12/2007 11:00PM

Oversaturation hurting higher-end contests

EmailBack in July, the World Series of Poker's Main Event, the $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Texas Hold'em World Championship, drew 6,358 entries after having 8,773 last year.

With the start of the NFL season last week, the $1,500 buy-in Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest drew 342 entrants, compared to 416 last year and a record 505 in 2005. This hasn't been a banner year for high-end gambling contests.

While the drop in the WSOP numbers can be attributed to the cut-back in the number of people who were able to qualify through online poker rooms in the wake of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act being passed last fall (and maybe somewhat to the economy in general), the Hilton SuperContest has been a victim of oversaturation of the market. Once the only game in town, the SuperContest now has three rivals.

The Challenge ($1,000 per entry) at Station Casinos has 184 entries this year, down from 208 last year. The Glory of the Gridiron ($1,000) at the Harrah's properties actually went from 70 entries last year to 80 this year, but what's disappointing to report is that last year the entry fee was $2,000, yet they were only able to get 10 more entries.

The number of entrants in the high-end football contests has been incredibly consistent the past three years. In 2005, there were 688 (505 in Hilton, 183 in Stations), last year there were 694 (416 in Hilton, 208 in Stations, and 70 in Harrah's) and this year there are 690 (342 in Hilton, 184 in Stations, 80 in Harrah's, and 84 in South Point).

The South Point has more contestants in its Pro Championship Challenge than last year, but only because it was the inaugural running. To entice entrants to put up the $2,500 entry fee (the highest since the Golden Nugget had a $5,000 impost in 2004), the South Point guaranteed a purse of $250,000, needing 100 entries to break even. They only got 84, but Bert Osborne, sports books director at the South Point, said he was happy with the first-year result.

"For years, [casino owner] Michael Gaughan ran the football contests at the Coast Casinos as a loss-leader to get people to keep coming back every week," said Osborne.

While the pro football contests have leveled off, the Leroy's College Challenge, the only college point-spread contest in town and with a relatively low entry fee of $250, showed a significant increase from 383 last year to 428 this season.

In addition to bringing the contestants back each week to make their plays, the properties also use them to drive traffic from customers who want to see who the top handicappers are picking. Sheets with the leaders' picks and consensus plays are available in the respective sports books on Friday (Hilton) and Saturday afternoon (the rest). For out-of-towners, websites such as nss.net and my site, viewfromvegas.com, also provide selections from the leaders.

Las Vegas-related legislation

In regards to the aforementioned UIGEA, poker players and sports bettors are keeping a close eye on several developments. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has drafted a bill to reverse the UIGEA and reportedly has 36 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. He said this past week that he wasn't going to hold any more hearings and won't push the legislation at this time, but said that could change if the World Trade Organization puts more pressure on the United States to comply with its ruling in May that the United States was violating trade law by not allowing citizens to gamble on legal betting sites located in Antigua and Barbuda.

The WTO is expected to rule in November if it will fine the United States, and Frank said that could resurrect his bill. Las Vegas land-based casino companies are hoping this eventually leads to Nevada sports books being able to take bets online, though most stay mum on the subject since it's currently not legal.

* A previous fight was won by gaming lobbyists when the Amateur Sports Integrity Act, which was championed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and aimed to ban betting on college sports in Nevada, was defeated in 2001. At the time, that piece of legislation was called Screw Nevada II. Screw Nevada I was the plan to deposit the nation's nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, located 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. But the state has successfully challenged a lot of the science behind the Yucca Mountain site and the Department of Energy has cut the budget for the Yucca project, leading contractors to make plans to lay off hundreds of workers. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.), the Senate Majority Leader, has repeatedly stated, "Yucca Mountain is dead. It'll never happen" and it's looking more and more like that's the case.

Nevada not part of Hong Kong pools

The Hong Kong race meet, with its large fields and huge pools, started last weekend but was not available for wagering in race books here as the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association was unable to come to terms on a contract with the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Horseplayers back East are able to play at Foxwoods, which is taking wagers through the Las Vegas Dissemination Co., the HKJC's licensed hub in the United States. There are two race cards a week, with the first being Wednesdays at 7 a.m. Eastern time and the second on either Friday or Saturday at 1 a.m.