Bracket contests are synonymous with basketball in March. But the madness is not limited to one month, and Tony Miller is betting on the popularity of a football handicapping bracket battle this fall.
The newest Las Vegas show opens at noon today at the Golden Nugget, where 16 professional handicappers will duel over the next 15 weeks in the Friday Football Showdown.
The $25,000 contest, presented by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, will be staged in a multimedia format, with videos posted on reviewjournal.com and a live broadcast held at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM).
Two handicappers go head to head each Friday. The contestants paid $1,500 to enter, and the Golden Nugget added $1,000 to the prize pool. The winner earns $20,000, with the second-place finisher collecting $5,000.
The field includes a variety of well-known personalities, including two-time LVH SuperContest winner Steve Fezzik and veteran oddsmaker Kenny White.
“It’s the March Madness of handicappers,” said Miller, Golden Nugget sports book director. “People like to see the pros go head to head and follow what they do. I think it’s going to be really cool.”
For several years, a similar contest drew large crowds on Friday nights to the old Stardust Invitational. The Golden Nugget event is tailored more for video and radio shows as opposed to a live casino audience.
Each handicapper makes seven selections against the spread, from all college and NFL sides and totals posted on the Golden Nugget board at noon Fridays. The seventh selection — designated as the Best Bet — is the first tiebreaker.
The winners of the eight first-round head-to-head matchups are not guaranteed to advance; the eight contestants with the highest winning percentages on seven plays advance. Beginning with the second round, when eight contestants remain, the winner of each head-to-head matchup moves on in a true bracket format.
The LVH SuperContest, which also requires a $1,500 entry fee, is the undisputed contest king. It is an NFL-only handicapping challenge, and it might hit 1,000 entries with a $1.5 million prize pool this year.
“The SuperContest is great because it’s so big and so many people are in it,” Miller said. “But this is good, too, because it’s only 16 guys and it’s the big-name pros. It’s a good handicapping lesson.”
A blind draw determined the following first-round schedule for the Friday Football Showdown:
Chuck Edel/Ken Thomson vs. Erin Rynning/Ted Sevransky
■ A team entry from SportsXRadio.com and Pregame.com. Edel is a longtime winning sports bettor, and Thomson has hosted radio shows across the country for more than 25 years.
■ A team entry from SportsMemo.com. Sevransky has been a Las Vegas handicapper since 1998, and Rynning won the 2006 Leroy’s Money Talks Invitational.
Steve Fezzik vs. Cris Zeniuk/Frank Perez
■ The only two-time winner of the LVH SuperContest, Fezzik is one of the biggest names in the sports wagering game and the highest-profile handicapper at Pregame.com.
■ Winners of the 2011 $100,000 Wynn Survivor contest and 2011 Palms NFL contest, Zeniuk and Perez are high-volume Las Vegas bettors and specialists in sports betting arbitrage.
Dave Tuley vs. Paul Stone
■ A noted college and NFL underdog player, Tuley is a handicapper and journalist who runs ViewfromVegas.com and writes for ESPN Insider and the Daily Racing Form.
■ A Texas-based handicapper for more than 20 years, Stone won the 2011 Leroy’s College Challenge and is a partner at VegasSportsAuthority.com.
“Big” Al McMordie vs. Frank Betti
■ One of the nation’s top technical handicappers, McMordie won the Stardust Invitational in 2004. He is a corporate attorney from Hollywood and handicaps on BigAl.com.
■ A former finalist in the Cantor Football Showdown, Betti is a longtime professional sports bettor who is teaming with Anthony Curtis of LasVegasAdvisor.com.
Ron Boyles vs. Scott Kellen
■ A longtime professional sports bettor who splits time between Las Vegas and Pennsylvania, Boyles is a respected college football handicapper.
■ The 2011 winner of the Cantor Football Showdown, Kellen runs SixthSense Sports.com out of Minnesota and is recognized as one of the nation’s top NFL handicappers.
Scott Pritchard vs. John Kwan
■ A professional sports bettor for more than 30 years, Pritchard hosts “The Odds Couple” radio show in Las Vegas and offers handicapping advice on PritchardsPicks.com.
■ A regular participant in the LVH SuperContest, Kwan is a professional bettor from Los Angeles who specializes in horse racing and football handicapping.
Richie Baccellieri vs. “Fat” Jack Ross
■ A former top oddsmaker at Caesars Palace and the Palms, Baccellieri is a handicapper at RichieBwins.com and on “The Linemakers” on SportingNews.com.
■ A professional gambler from Norman, Okla., Ross can be heard on radio shows around the country and runs his handicapping website, thefatjack.com.
Bryan Leonard vs. Kenny White
■ In his 25th season as a professional handicapper, Leonard is featured on Footballwinners.com and Pregame.com. He was runner-up each of the past two years in the Cantor Football Showdown.
■ The former top oddsmaker at Las Vegas Sports Consultants, White is an analyst for DonBest.com and appears on “The Linemakers” on SportingNews.com.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.