10/05/2005 12:00AM

Sports bettors now playing on big screen


LAS VEGAS - Art imitates life, and sometimes it's the other way around.

On Friday, the movie "Two for the Money" opens nationwide. The real-life character of sports handicapper Brandon Lang is now a reel-life character played by actor Matthew McConaughey.

Lang, whose real name is Brandon Link, hit the links in 1995 by becoming a caddy at the Riviera Golf Club in Los Angeles so he could pitch his life story to golf-playing Hollywood movers and shakers. He found a willing ear in screenwriter Dan Gilroy, the husband of actress Rene Russo, who also co-stars in "Two for the Money" along with Al Pacino.

To bring the story full circle, Lang is back in the business, selling picks at brandonlang.com and capitalizing on the mainstream exposure. He also wants to get into motivational speaking.

The movie could just as well have been done about the life of Wayne Allyn Root. At the age of 16 in 1977, Root was featured in the local newspaper in Mount Vernon, N.Y., as "the next Jimmy the Greek." He made a name for himself, hosting a show on the Financial News Network (which became CNBC) and as a handicapper with the Jim Feist organization. He left Feist in 2000 and now has his own company, GWIN Inc., America's only publicly traded sports handicapping firm. He produced and co-hosts "The Winning Edge" TV show on Saturday mornings on WGN. Root is also a motivational speaker and is the author of five books, including "Millionaire Republican," which he is promoting on national TV and local radio this weekend. He plans to write 18 more political books in the next decade, at which time he wants to run for the U.S. Senate.

Root said he's probably too busy to see "Two for the Money" right away, but said it's good to see the sports betting industry being legitimized on the silver screen, especially when one of his own mantras is that betting is just another form of entertainment. He also warned against people thinking that all touts are like those in the movie.

"My advice to my fellow handicappers is to relax, enjoy this movie, and see it as what it is - fictional entertainment," Root said. "It's relation to the real life lives of professional sports handicappers may or may not be based on fact. And if it is based on fact, it is only based on the life of one handicapper who I've never met, and whose goal is to sell movie tickets. Don't take them too seriously."

Root realizes, however, that the fast lifestyle portrayed in the movie is appealing, and he has created and is co-producing a reality show for SpikeTV called "King of Vegas," which will have a 10-episode run starting in January and award the champion a $1 million first prize.

Application forms for those who want to audition can be filled out at spiketv.com. Invited applicants then will audition - which could including written gambling tests and actual game play before the producers - on either Oct. 23 in Chicago, Oct. 29 in Las Vegas, Nov. 6 in Atlantic City, or Nov. 9 in Los Angeles. Actual tapings of the show will take place in Las Vegas during the first two weeks of December.

Producers are obviously looking for the most skilled gamblers, but as in all reality TV shows, appearance will also be a factor.

"Both gaming skill and personality are crucial components to being chosen," Root said.

The show will profile the contestants and have them take part in weekly challenges, including playing Texas hold'em, blackjack, craps, roulette, and even horse racing. Sports betting will not be included, since it is only legal in Nevada, and the producers want the competitions to include games that all Americans can play at their local casinos.

* For those who dream of a job in the sports advisory business, Root's website, winningedge.com, has a contest called "Win Your Dream Job," in which the person who picks the most winners against the spread each week will win a trip to Vegas and qualify for a tournament during the NFL postseason. The champion of that tournament will win a one-year contract with Root's handicapping firm.

Other tout news

For those already in the business, the invitational tournaments roll on here in Vegas. In the $50,000 Leroy's Money Talks Invitational this Friday night, in which each contestant puts up $2,500 of their own money, Lee Sterling of paramountsports.com takes on "Chicago" Pete Ventrella at 8 p.m. at the Riviera. The tournament can be heard live on KDWN AM-720 and kdwn.com. Last week, Bill Krackman advanced by defeating Jorge Gonzalez of vegaswise.com.

In the $10,000 Stardust Invitational, Dave Malinsky of covers.com takes on Andy Iskoe of thelogicalapproach.com at 9 p.m. in the Stardust sports books and also on KDWN. Last week, it was a battle of bookmakers, and they showed why it is so hard for bettors to win. Ed Salmons of the Las Vegas Hilton went 6-1 to defeat Rich Dressler of the Imperial Palace, who was 5-1-1.

Sports book notes

On Saturday night at the Thomas and Mack Center, Diego Corrales puts his lightweight belts on the line vs. Luis Castillo. These two were involved in what most boxing experts have already called the fight of the year. On May 7, in what was already a fantastic fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Castillo knocked Corrales down twice in an epic 10th round that saw Corrales spit out his mouthpiece after each knockdown to buy a little more time to recuperate. Corrales came back to knock out Castillo. Corrales is a slight -140 favorite in Saturday's rematch, with the over/under set at 10 full rounds, a very appropriate line considering their first meeting. The fight is only available on pay-per-view.

* The Nextel Cup circuit moves to Kansas City, Kan., this Sunday for the Banquet 400. Las Vegas Sports Consultants has Tony Stewart as the 6-1 favorite, followed by points leader Jimmie Johnson and defending champ Kurt Busch both at 7-1, Matt Kenseth at 8-1 and Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle at 10-1. Micah Roberts, the race and sports book director at Palace Station and who writes the auto racing column for the weekly GamingToday newspaper, has selected the winner in three of the last four Nextel Cup races. His pick this week would not make Jerry Seinfeld happy. It's Newman.