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Gaming Guru

Matt Youmans

Football contests fuel Vegas sportsbooks

2 September 2009

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- It's easy to see when football season has arrived. Las Vegas sports books, which sometimes resemble ghost towns during the summer months, become the busiest parts of many casinos.

Football contests play a big role in triggering the foot traffic. Almost every casino off the Strip hosts a contest, and a wide variety of them are offered, some free and some for big money.

'There's something for every player in Las Vegas,' South Point sports book director Bert Osborne said. 'You have free contests, all the way up to high-end ones.

'You can see the general buildup of the interest. Football definitely drives the town.'

Osborne oversees one of the biggest contests, the Friendly Frank's Pro Championship Challenge. It requires a $2,500 entry fee, and the South Point guarantees $250,000 in prize money. All of the entry fees are returned to the players as prize money. Entrants pick five NFL games against the point spreads each week.

As of Tuesday, Osborne said, about 25 entrants had registered. The casino needs 100 entries to break even, and the signup deadline is Sept. 12, the day before the first Sunday of the NFL season.

'I'm actually kind of happy about it at this point,' said Osborne, who expects a late rush of entrants.

Osborne said South Point owner Michael Gaughan knows the value of attracting local customers, and Gaughan wanted to continue the contest even though it did not reach 100 entries the past two years.

Station Casinos stages four football contests, including The Challenge, which has a $500 entry fee that is refunded if an entrant turns in picks all 17 weeks in person.

At Coast Casinos, players can enter a free contest -- select NFL games with no point spreads, and $30,000 is awarded to the weekly winners.

Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky's sports books, started a free pro football contest last year that attracted about 7,000 players, all dreaming of winning a weekly $6,000 prize.

'These contests mean a lot, and they mean more this year because everybody is fighting to keep their base crowd in this economy,' Vaccaro said. 'In the long run, it's hard to change something that has proven over the last 25 years that it has a positive effect.

'If these contests were really burdensome and really not cost effective, they would go by the wayside. But they do serve a purpose. The market is there, and I don't see it changing in the near future.'

The Las Vegas Hilton has hosted its SuperContest for more than 20 years. It requires a $1,500 entry fee, and the prestige that comes with being successful in it draws the sharpest NFL handicappers.

But Vaccaro said some contests are designed to attract 'females who were intimidated by going to the betting window' and other casual football fans.

'There are contests for people who play for fun and people who play to win,' Vaccaro said.