12/31/2003 12:00AM

Slew of changes for new year


Out with the old, in with the new. The start of a new year is a popular time to make some changes, and there have been several in the race and sports book industry in Nevada, with more to come. It's also a good time for reporters to clean out their notebooks.

* MGM Mirage recently sold the downtown Golden Nugget to Tim Poster and Tom Breitling, best known as the founders of travelscape.com. Their changes to the property will be done in a very public way as they will be filmed for a new Fox reality show called "The Casino," along the lines of last year's "The Restaurant," which was based in New York. For race and sports bettors, Chris Andrews, formerly the head man of the Club Cal Neva network, will be running the independent book.

* Park Place Entertainment's sale of the Las Vegas Hilton to private investment firm Colony Capital, which is expected to close in the second quarter, won't be as high-profile. The sale comes as Park Place is being renamed Caesars Entertainment this week. Caesars is also shopping the Reno Hilton as the company tries to focus on its core assets and capitalize on the Caesars brand. No word yet on how these changes in ownership of the Hilton hotels would affect the popular football and horse handicapping contests that have been focal points of those properties over the years.

* Santa Fe Station, located in the northwest part of the valley, is planning a $50 million expansion that will add a 16-screen movie theater, more entertainment venues, and an additional 20,000 square feet of casino space. The Santa Fe will lose its ice rink, but there will be one added at the Stations-owned Fiesta right down Rancho Drive.

* Tony Miller was formerly a race and sports book supervisor at the Las Vegas Hilton and was last seen at the Santa Fe. He left the business last year but has resurfaced as a supervisor at the Hard Rock. His current boss, Jamie Shea, promises a further expansion of the race and sports book with VIP seating and plasma TVs. Details to come following the football season.

* Brad Bryant has also returned to the race and sport books scene. An aggressive promoter when he was in charge of the Boulder Station and then the Sunset Station books, he left for his home state of Texas but is now back running the book at the Aladdin. There will be many more changes to come there as the Aladdin gets rethemed as the Planet Hollywood Casino later this year. Expect to hear Bryant occasionally on the Race Day Las Vegas radio show (9-10 a.m. Monday through Friday, 8-9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday) on KSHP AM-1400 and kshp.com where he gives out plays under the moniker "Bomber Brad."

* And speaking of radio, Gordon Jones is back on the "Track Talk" show on Saturdays and Sundays from 7:30-8 a.m. on KLAV AM-1230 and samstownlv.com.

Football contest update

The Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, the most prestigious football handicapping contest in town, with an entry fee of $1,500, came down to the last game of the NFL season last Sunday night.

Heading into the Steelers-Ravens game, the entry of "Peter and Paul" was in the clubhouse with 54 1/2 points, based on a record of 54-30-1 (pushes count for a half-point). "Betaadss.com" was at 54 points and "Jarhead" was at 53 1/2 with both having the Ravens -7 1/2. "Betaadss.com" could have taken the title from "Peter and Paul" with a win and "Jarhead" was hoping to move into a tie for second.

With a first prize of $207,600 and a dropoff to $83,040 for second and $41,520 for third, you can imagine there was some serious nail-biting going on (and probably a good share of hedge betting taking place). As it turned out, the Ravens won but failed to cover, 13-10 in overtime, and the standings remained the same. "Azeri," obviously a racing fan, finished fourth with 52 1/2 points to collect $25,950.

* "Jarhead" came up just short of winning the biggest contest in town, but he won the second biggest in the Station Casinos Gambler's Challenge. He finished with 54 points, based on a record of 52-29-4, to beat out "Kiska" by two games for the first-place prize of $65,000. "Kiska" earned $13,100 for second, plus an additional $546 for being among the six people in the mini-contest who went 14-6 over the last four weeks.

"Big Richie" was third with 51 1/2 points and collected $6,550. Richard Eng - the Las Vegas Review-Journal turf editor, host of the Raceday Las Vegas Wrapup Show, and a regular contributor to Daily Racing Form - finished in a four-way tie for eighth place with 49 points (based on a record of 48-35-2) and earned $2,456.

Bowl games

The new year is here, but there's still plenty of college football to be played. There are three games on Friday, and then one Saturday, and the Sugar Bowl on Sunday night.

Fiesta Bowl
Kansas St. (-7) vs. Ohio St.

Ohio State has been squeaking out wins the past two seasons with a solid defense making up for a mediocre offense. The Buckeyes allowed an average of only 60 yards rushing this season, however, and that was mostly due to shutting down weak opponents and forcing them to pass. When they faced a power rushing team like Michigan in the season finale, they gave up 170 rushing yards. In this game, they will have to contend with not only Kansas State running back Darren Sproles but also quarterback El Roberson. That kind of speed will give Ohio State fits. The Wildcats are also speedy on defense and should have no problem shutting down the Buckeyes' offense. As of Wednesday morning, the most common line on this game around Las Vegas was still 7, but a few 6 1/2's were starting to pop up. Be sure to shop around for the best available number.

PLAY: Kansas State for 1 unit.

Bowl record: 3-4 for a net loss of 1.4 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1) through Fresno State's win over UCLA in the Silicon Valley Bowl on Tuesday.
College season record: 35-35 for a net loss of 3.5 units.