05/20/2004 11:00PM

VIP treatment at no extra cost


Horseplayers are a hearty sort. They really don't ask for much. And sometimes, depending on when and where they play, they get less than they ask. Most of the time, they endure because they love the game and its challenges.

Comparatively, Las Vegas is a horseplayer's paradise. Big plush race books, free parking, and free seats pave the way for discount Racing Forms and other non-Turf Authority publications, complimentary beverages, and, of course, those famous food comps. If one can forego the "live" racing experience for a little more horseplayer TLC, then Las Vegas is the place.

Take last Wednesday, for example. Hollywood Park was sitting on a weekend pick six carryover that began the week's racing bonanza with a $700,000-plus kick start. Bay Meadows chipped in with a smaller version for those who were Bay area players. Of course, with Las Vegas sitting as an all-encompassing simulcast center, players in this desert oasis could dive into any or all of those carryover pools, and they aren't confined to limited racing signals and betting pools in the Silver State. If you wanted action, you could find it in any parimutuel pool the country was offering.

Not restricted to what the pari-mutuels may offer, many casino race books have sweetened the pot for horseplayers with daily contests to attract those loyal pony players. Since Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the Southwest, local casino operators know the value of a steady customer base. Marketing the Las Vegas horseplayer has become as intense as marketing real estate to house buyers here.

While a local pick six club was mapping out a community ticket at Sam's Town for the Hollywood Park stash, Station Casinos and Coast Casinos - two of the largest local gaming companies in Las Vegas - were staging multirace contests of their own. Each location was offering a free entry. Free!

Coasts offered a "pick five" on the first five races on the Hollypark card. The highest point-getters cut up $1,500, with an additional $7,000 bonus for sweeping the five races. Free.

Stations had a head-to-head "match-race challenge" with a dozen pairings for a $2,000 winner-take-all format. Again, the entry was free. Another bonus was added if an entry swept a perfect match-winning ticket of $750. Free.

The Station and Coast bonus pools grow with each contest that does not have a perfect winner. By Friday, the Coast pick-five bonus was $9,000, and the Stations bonus reached $1,000. Again, at a no-cost entry.

Add a couple of "Twin-Q" propositions each day - one at Stations starting at $5,000 per day and another at the downtown Plaza casino starting at $1,200 daily - and you have a horseplayer smorgasbord of options.

Wednesday, the combined carryovers offered in pick six pools, contests, and Twin Q's in Las Vegas towered over $750,000. Of that, over $11,000 was offered in free contests and another $9,000 in Twin Q carryovers.

Each week, a growing number of contests and giveaways stream up and down the race book corridors of Las Vegas to attract horseplayers to the race books. Imagine that. Catering to horseplayers.

What a city.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.