12/14/2005 12:00AM

Pair of football contests get down to goal line


LAS VEGAS - And then there were two. Times two.

The Leroy's Money Talks Invitational and the Stardust Invitational football handicapping contests both have their championship matches Friday night, as the fields of 16 in each competition have been whittled down to the final two.

The Leroy's contest has made a splash in its inaugural run as all entrants put up $2,500 of their own money (hence the name Money Talks) for a total of $40,000. The winner of the title match between veteran bookmaker Nick Bogdanovich and professional handicapper Bryan Leonard of leonardsports.com will win that amount, with Leroy's kicking in $10,000 for the runner-up's consolation prize.

Friday's finale, in which Bogdanovich and Leonard will each give out seven selections weighted from $110 on their first selections up to $770 on their best bet, will take place in the Riviera sports book and will be aired live on KDWN AM-720 and on kdwn.com. The champion will be the handicapper with the most money won - or least money lost - instead of on their winning percentage. In his first three appearances, Bogdanovich had a combined profit of $1,490 on a record of 11-9-1 against the spread, plus he went 6-1 for a profit of $1,330 vs. Doc Moseman of Doc's Sports after they tied in the quarterfinals, and had to submit seven more plays in a tiebreaker the following week. So, overall, Bogdanovich's record is 17-10-1 (63 percent after throwing out the push) for a net profit of $2,820.

Bogdanovich made a name for himself in the 1990's for taking the biggest bets in town at Binion's Horseshoe. He also ran the sports book at the Stratosphere and Mandalay Bay before his most recent stint at the Golden Nugget. He is trying to pull off a contest double as last February he won $5,000 as the champion of a similar invitational contest at Leroy's on college basketball. The money certainly comes in handy for Bogdanovich because he was laid off by the Nugget's new owners just before the football season.

In an industry of braggarts, Leonard has quietly been making a name for himself the past few years with showings in contests like this and regular appearances on radio shows such as Larry Grossman's "You Can Bet on It." Leonard has gone 12-9 in his three Leroy's appearances with overall profits of $1,680. He acknowledges that this weekend could be difficult with just NFL games to choose from, as 18 of his 21 contest plays have been in the colleges.

"The NFL has been tough on all the sharp bettors I know, and I think anyone you ask this season, even Nick, would say they would prefer there was college games available," Leonard said. "But this is just the way it is and we're both at the same disadvantage."

In the Stardust Invitational, in its 11th season, the one-name professional gambler Fezzik of fezziksplace.com has had most of his success with college games, too. With favorites covering more than usual in the NFL, he has had a subpar NFL season and cleaned up in the colleges, finishing second in the Leroy's College Challenge. When the dogs barked last week in the NFL, however, Fezzik took advantage and posted a 7-0 record to defeat fellow handicapper Andy Iskoe and advance into this Friday's final against handicapper Marc Lawrence of playbook.com.

Both handicappers will give out their top seven plays in the Stardust sports book between 8-9 p.m., and also airing on KDWN, with a best bet to be used as a tiebreaker as well as other picks in descending order until the tie is broken.

Fezzik's perfect record was only the third in Stardust Invitational history, matching Mike Orkin in 2001 and Kevin O'Neill in 2003. Neither of the previous Mr. 7-0's went on to win the $10,000 winner-take-all prize. The runner-up gets nothing more than a pat on the back.

Contests for the common man

The above contests serve their purpose. They're used as marketing tools to get people to tune into the radio shows and frequent the respective sports books. But a lot of times customers feel a disconnect with the proceedings. In fact, Fezzik likes to tell the story about how a few years ago, when he was "just" a professional bettor, that he would be in the audience and say to himself that he could do better. A few years later he is now on the dais and arguably the most visible handicapper in town.

For those who want to try and turn the same trick, Leroy's is giving customers a couple of chances to get in the spotlight. This Friday night, two names will be drawn during the Money Talks final, and those people will be invited back next Friday to give their top bowl plays on the radio show. The person with the better record will earn $500 plus a whole lot more in name recognition.

For those who don't want to go that public, or who won't be in town for the show (or just don't get their names drawn), Leroy's also will have a college bowl contest for just a $5 entry fee. Contestants will pick the last 15 bowl games against the spread, plus the total in the Jan. 4 Rose Bowl, starting with the games of Dec. 30. They will rank their plays 1 through 16, with 1 being the weakest selection and 16 the strongest. The contestant earning the most points will win $5,000. And you don't have to have a radio show or a website to get a shot at this one.

"Part of everything I'm doing is to do something for the guy who normally doesn't get a chance," said Jimmy Vaccaro, famed bookmaker from his days at the Mirage and now the marketing director for Leroy's. "That guy has gone unnoticed. Any way you break down sports betting, you can have all the high rollers you want, but none of it happens if you don't have the smaller guys, too.