07/12/2012 2:26PM

Saratoga, Del Mar start-ups trigger flurry of Las Vegas contest activity


The race books here have looked less like betting parlors and more like refugee camps of locals trying to escape the 100-degree heat the past few weeks, but a cold front is coming.

Cold as in cold, hard cash that is forecast to go through the betting windows with the start of the Del Mar and Saratoga race meets next Wednesday and Friday, respectively. There is always a bit of a letdown after the Triple Crown season, but nothing rejuvenates the soul and reopens the wallets like the spa meets.

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Race book directors jockey for position to attract those horseplayers, and some promotions are still in the works, but here’s a few to whet the appetite for locals and those coming to town during the next two months before football season dominates the promotions.

◗ I put in a call to Tony Nevill at Treasure Island to see if he was going to revive some jockey proposition wagers that he used to do at the New Frontier. He whipped up a “Del Mar jockeys vs. Saratoga jockeys” prop and put it on the board. It’s a prop for which team of jockeys gets the most wins at the respective tracks during this year’s meets (doesn’t include wins they get at other tracks during the same time frame, so handicapping what jockeys might go out of town for big race weekends is part of the challenge). The Del Mar jockeys are Rafael Bejarano, Joe Talamo, Garrett Gomez, and Corey Nakatani while the Saratoga team is Ramon Dominguez, Julien Leparoux, Joel Rosario, and Rajiv Maragh. Nevill opened the prop with Saratoga -5.5 wins and a money line of -130 (risk $1.30 for every $1 you want to profit). Team Del Mar is +5.5 and even money. State gaming regulations forbid a prop on whether Chantal Sutherland or Mike Smith reprise their nude magazine photo shoots by riding a race in the nude. (For those who don’t know: Sutherland did a spread in the June issue of “Vanity Fair” and Smith is in the current isue of “ESPN the Magazine.” )

◗ Jerry’s Nugget in North Las Vegas is hosting its seventh annual Del Mar Handicapping contest on Saturdays during the meet. It costs $10 to enter (buy two, get one free) and players make five picks from the first eight races on that day’s card and get points based on the win/place/show mutuels. The prize pool has been doubled to $800 for first place and $200 for second each week. Weekly winners who are player’s club members receive a $30 Jerry’s Nugget gift card (I would recommend using it toward a prime rib in the coffee shop, which is worth a trip to JN by itself).

◗ The South Point is also continuing its Thoroughbred Thursdays contest during the spa meets. The entry fee is $30. The race book seeds each weekly contest with $500 with $20 of the entry fees going to the weekly prizes, which are paid to the top three finishers, and $10 going toward the Pick Seven contest final on Sept. 27 (weekly winners also get a free entry in the finals).

◗ This is also a time of year that race books like to offer bigger handicapping tournaments. The Gold Coast Summer Classic takes place Thursday, July 26, through Saturday, July 28, with a $400 entry fee and a win-place format. In addition to Saratoga and Del Mar, the tourney includes races from Arlington, Calder, Louisiana, Delaware (Thursday and Saturday), Ellis Park (Friday and Saturday), Monmouth (Friday and Saturday), and Woodbine (Friday and Saturday). All entry fees are paid back as prize money, plus the top five finishers earn berths to the Horseplayer World Series on Feb. 21-23, 2013, at the Orleans.

◗ The $150,000 Guaranteed Race Handicapping Challenge at Wynn Las Vegas uses only Saratoga and Del Mar races and is held Friday, Aug. 3, and Saturday, Aug. 4, with a $2,000 entry fee (maximum four per person, including partnerships). Players make 14 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers plus one $4 win-and-place bet each day. There is a guaranteed $100,000 payoff for overall top scores – with a guaranteed $50,000 to the first-place finisher – and paying down to seventh place, plus a guaranteed $25,000 each day with $12,500 to each day’s top score. In addition, the top two finishers that have not already qualified for the D aily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship will earn a seat to the finals on Jan. 25-26 across the street at Treasure Island.

Speaking of handicapping contests . . .

The SuperContest at LVH – Las Vegas Hotel & Casino (formerly the Hilton) started accepting registrations this past Monday for this year’s contest. Last year, there was a record 517 entries at $1,500 each and it was won by a group of four Las Vegas golfing buddies using the alias Sans Souci.

I’m busy compiling my comprehensive list of Las Vegas football contests that I publish each year in mid-August. The biggest question is about the future of the contests run by Leroy’s (Pro Challenge, College Challenge, 3 N Out), Lucky’s (progressive contest), and Cal Neva (Pro Pick-em, College Pick-em) after the three companies were bought by British gaming giant William Hill LLC. They’re keeping quiet so far, but they should be announcing plans soon, especially if they want players to set aside money in their gambling budget for their contests. The hope here is that they try to build the Leroy’s College Challenge, which had a $250 entry fee but was the biggest NCAA contest in town, into something much bigger with their 164 outlets.

Gaming figures…go figure

I had to laugh Thursday morning when I first started seeing Nevada’s gaming figures for May thrown around on Twitter. There were headlines such as “Nevada gaming revenues declined 10 percent in May 2012 compared to May 2011” and “Strip casinos down 18 percent from a year ago.”

It all sounds so dire. However, what no one seemed to grasp is that most (if not all) of this was due to the fact that May 2011 had basically five weekends with May 1 falling on a Sunday while this May only had four. Mark my words, next year will be back up when May 31 is on a Friday and we will see a significant jump in 2014 when May 30 is a Friday and May 31 is a Saturday.

It’s never black-and-white when comparing months from year to year in these gaming reports. Another example is when Chinese New Year lands in February instead of January or when big conventions come to town (or don’t come to town).

So, don’t believe everything you read. Sometimes the numbers do lie.