12/15/2004 1:00AM

Poker star adjusts to betting football


LAS VEGAS - Brent Carter, a finalist in the Stardust Invitational football handicapping tournament, knows what it's like to reach the winner's circle.

A harness horseman from Chicago, Carter said he owned horses and was a driver in the early to mid-1970's at Maywood, Hawthorne, Sportsman's, and Washington parks, as well as a smaller track in Aurora.

As Carter tells it, in 1982 he moved to Las Vegas with $4,000 to try his hand at the poker tables and sports books. After losing half, Carter went back to Chicago to replenish his stake and figure out what went wrong. He must have figured it out, because he returned the following year and has been at it ever since.

Quick trivia question: Which five poker players have the most in-the-money finishes in World Series of Poker events?

Answer: Berry Johnston (46), Phil Hellmuth Jr. (45), T.J. Cloutier (45), Men "The Master" Nguyen (44), and Brent Carter (40).

Recent followers of the poker boom might have been able to come up with the first four. Only longtime followers of the game would have been able to name Carter, but he has been one of the most consistent performers in the poker world over the past 20 years. In fact, in 2002 he became only the 28th player to amass $1 million in lifetime earnings and had a casino chip made in his honor at Binion's Horseshoe.

"And that was during a time when earning $1 million took a long time," Carter said. "Now, someone can win one event and earn a million because of the explosion in purse money."

Now, just two years later, there are a total of 43 million-dollar earners from the WSOP, with Carter ranking 32nd with $1,167,992. He has also won two gold bracelets and was third to Dan Harrington in the 1995 World Championship.

"No one remembers the third-place finisher," Carter said. "They might remember who was second, but definitely not third. There's a big difference in prize money - first place might win five times more than the third-place guy - but the difference in notoriety and fame is . . . well, there's no comparison."

So, while Carter wants to win the $10,000 winner-take-all prize in the Stardust Invitational, the thing he really covets is the title of champion. He is taking on professional handicapper Al McMordie, who is also no stranger to winning; he claims to have 30 handicapping championships from sports monitoring services. McMordie went a very impressive 6-1 in the semifinals last week, defeating Mike Orkin, who went 4-3.

Carter and McMordie will each give his top seven selections on the weekend card during the program, which is to be held in the Stardust sports book from 9-10 p.m. Pacific and broadcast live to nine Western states on KDWN AM-720 and worldwide on the Internet at kdwn.com. Carter and McMordie will also rank their best bets to be used in case of a tie.

While Carter is certainly more well-known as a poker player, he is just as committed to succeeding versus the sports books.

"There's a lot of similarities between the two," Carter said. "You have to work hard and prepare yourself, but you also have to pay attention. When playing poker, just as important as looking at your opponents while you're playing a hand is to observe how everyone is playing when you're not in a hand. A lot of people, after they fold, will be watching the TV's or checking out the cocktail waitress, but you can learn a lot by watching how other people play.

"The same thing goes in horse racing and sports. In racing, you watch every race you can - even if you don't have a bet on it - so you can know what to do next time. In sports, don't just watch the games you bet. Watch every game you can on TV to prepare for the bets you make in the future."

As much of a Renaissance man as Carter appears to be, he admits it is impossible to do everything at a high level at the same time.

"Betting sports is a full-time job," Carter said. "If I'm betting sports, I'm putting in a full day and don't have time to go and play poker. And if I'm playing poker, I don't have the time to put in to be really successful with sports."

With that in mind, Carter said, "After the football season is over, I'm going to stop for six months and concentrate on poker leading up to the World Series of Poker in July."

Contests coming to Coast Casinos

Friday is the last day of the "Free $3,000 Pick 5 Contest at Hollywood Park," which has taken place all meet long on Wednesdays through Fridays at the Coast Casinos (The Orleans, Barbary Coast, Gold Coast, and Suncoast). With Hollywood Park closing on Monday and no Southern California racing the rest of the week, there are no contests to be held.

But that's just the calm before the storm. Coast's contest will pick up again with the start of the Santa Anita meet on Dec. 26, with contests on Wednesdays through Fridays - but there's a new twist. The Wednesday and Friday contests will continue with the same format of no entry fee, but the Thursday contests will have a $5 entry fee (limit 10 entries per person) and a guaranteed prize pool of $2,000. First prize will be $800, with $200 for second. The other $1,000 will go to a progressive jackpot, along with all the entry fees, for anyone who goes 5 for 5. If no one sweeps the five contest races, the jackpot carries over to the following Thursday. Complete details will be posted at coastrace.com.

In addition to the daily prizes, the person earning the most points overall will receive a free entry in the $1 Million Horseplayer World Series on Jan. 27-29 at The Orleans.

Coast Casinos tournament coordinator Debbie Flaig and her staff are are running the Coast 2 Coast Last Chance Shootout on Jan. 19-20 at the Suncoast and Barbary Coast. The entry fee for the live-money event is $300. The top 15 finishers will earn a free spot in the World Series.