Hilton’s SuperContest faces more competition

It’s not easy to become recognized as the king of NFL handicappers. For two decades, the winner of the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest has been awarded that Elvis Presley-like status, minus the sequined suits and crazy groupies.

The SuperContest has always attracted many of the biggest gamblers and sharpest minds in football forecasting — and winning the title meant everything.

But Elvis is dead, and the SuperContest’s status is being challenged.

Where there used to be one high-end contest, now there are four. The Hilton still has the premier name, but the game is changing.

“We were the only game in town. We’ve got more competition now,” Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “Because of the history and tradition of the SuperContest, I think it has more name recognition and is the most prestigious contest in Las Vegas.”

The Hilton contest, with its $1,500 entry fee, requires entrants to pick five NFL games against the spread each week during the regular season.

It’s a simple concept, and one that became so popular it is copied in some form by other Las Vegas casinos.

Art Manteris started the SuperContest in 1989, when he ran the Hilton sports book. Manteris said the idea was a takeoff from a contest the late Sonny Reizner staged at the old Castaways.

“There were the $25-type contests,” Manteris said. “Were there any serious contests for the serious sports handicappers? I’d say no.”

As vice president for sports book operations at Station Casinos, Manteris now oversees the $1,000-entry fee Gamblers Challenge, which has rules that differ slightly from the Hilton’s format.

The Hilton and Station Casinos got high-end competition last year from Harrah’s, which unveiled the Glory of the Gridiron contest, with a $2,000 entry fee. Harrah’s reduced the entry fee to $1,000 this year.

Now comes the South Point, which has raised the stakes with the Friendly Frank’s Pro Championship Challenge, a $2,500-entry fee contest that guarantees a $250,000 prize pool with a minimum $100,000 payout to the winner.

The Hilton drew a record 505 entrants in 2005, but the total dropped to 416 last year.

With more competition in the market, and with next season marking the SuperContest’s 20th year, changes could be coming.

“I think we will take a look at possibly enhancing it to stay ahead of the competition,” Kor- negay said.

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