Summer dreams and couch potatoes

The latest sports book scene takes a look at handicapping contests, and those very resourceful brits

There are dreams, and then there are Las Vegas dreams.

Despite all the activity in recent years that has effectively quashed the city’s claim as the sports betting capital of the world, the desert is still teeming with handicappers dreaming of making not only their fortune, but also a big name and prestigious reputation.

Perhaps the best way to do that is to win a local contest.  But not just any contest.  There are two that have a little more panache when it comes to building a rep:  The Hilton contest, which costs $1500 to enter, and the Stardust Invitational Handicapping Tournament.

The Hilton allows multiple entries, so fat cats with big bucks can take a shot at illegitimate glory.  But despite the potential for mischief, each year this contest is won by legitimate handicappers.

Last year, for instance, Russ Culver took top prize with a winning percentage just under 67, which earns a nice additional payoff.

Reportedly once, many years ago, a well known tout bought enough entries in the contest to secure the winning spot.

The Stardust tournament is by invitation only.  Only well-respected analysts with name recognition, and some celebrity-type contestants to add a little sex appeal, are invited.

The highlight of the contest is that the entrants give out analysis along with their picks.  So observers can, in effect, handicap the handicappers by evaluating the reasoning behind the selections.

The picks, incidentally, are made each Friday night on a radio show broadcast from the ‘Dust sports book which is generally standing room only.  Occasionally, unpopular picks are heckled by the lively, well-informed and opinionated audience.

Stardust race and sports book manager Joe Lupo is proud of the way the contest contributes to the book’s traffic, and has become a popular and traditional event among the sporting crowd.

Lupo credits local broadcaster John Kelly, who hosts the show, for much of its success.  Kelly is familiar with the contestants and asks the right kinds of questions – probing, but never insulting – which makes for an illuminating and congenial hour.  He also seems to know every sharp and wiseguy seated in the audience.

Lupo and Kelly work long and hard at selecting contestants.  Those chosen represent a select and prestigious group, which is crucial to the success of the tournament.

The handicappers bring their own integrity and reputation with them, Lupo stated.  “Equally important is the combination of humor, banter and solid handicapping that is on display each week,” he added.

Joe once told us some handicappers are so convincing, that he feels like changing the numbers on the board after listening to them.

Every year there is talk of perhaps including a local sharp who is simply a good analyst, not a big name.  Kelly alludes to that possibility every once in a while.  There is no shortage of hopefuls who would love the opportunity to go up against top names like Culver, Jimmy Vaccaro, Dave Malinsky, Ken White and Dave Cokin.

Lots of little known and marginally recognized bettors dream big, and getting a crack at this contest is one of their fantasies.

Although it takes victories in four rounds to emerge as top dog, winners in the last two years have been radio talk show hosts, Peter Brown and Papa Joe Chevalier.

Announcement of the year’s competitors is usually made in late August, so there is still time to dream.

Couch Potato Alert.  The British are a resourceful people, and when we think of them, many images are conjured up including stiff upper lip, lousy sportsmanship at soccer matches, and warm beer.

But our neighbors ‘cross the ocean, who claim to share a common language with us (yeah, sure), have hit the sports wagering jackpot. has laid title to booking the first interactive bet to be placed via television.

The Alderney (UK)-based sports book accepted a bet placed by Robert Pine, a Streatham journalist, over the company’s interactive television betting service.  He bet £10 on Malta against England at odds of 25-1 for a match scheduled for June 3.

The new service, which became operational on June 1, puts in 1.6 million British homes in time for Euro 2000 Football.

Managing director Mark Blandford said, “We are proud to have become the world’s first interactive television site to take a bet and we look forward to providing customers with even greater service and invention.”

He noted that although there are bigger companies servicing punters, “We are single minded about becoming the household name in new media bookmaking.”

Way to go, Mark!  Millions of Americans await the same opportunity, to combine vegging out in front of the set with wagering.

Now TV can shed its well-known sobriquet as the Boob Tube and become the Bet Tube. | June 2nd, 2000

– – – – – – – – – – – –About the writer
A long time sports betting columnist, Buzz Daly

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