A beauty pageant, a gambling-crazy town, but never the two shall mix

Posted: Thursday, October 12, 2000

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- They say Miss Iowa is the favorite to win the 80th annual Miss America Pageant.

And ''Boardwalk Bob'' Fab, 49, who sells Miss America souvenir programs in front of the hall and has picked two of the last five winners, says it'll be Miss Alaska, Audrey Solomon, walking the runway.

But don't bother calling your bookie just yet. Odds are, you won't be able to bet the farm on Miss Iowa, Miss Alaska, or anyone else.

The world's most famous beauty pageant isn't much of a betting proposition, even though it's held in a city where $4.2 billion was gambled last year.

Experts say there isn't enough interest in who wins the crown to attract high-stakes gamblers. Besides, it would be near-impossible to handicap the field, they say.

Who's the fairest of them all? Who has the best chance of wowing the judges? Only those who see the contestants here know, and they can't get any action bigger than a friendly $5 pool.

''Even when I worked in casinos, there was no interest in the pageant,'' said Casino Journal editor Roger Gros, a former dealer. ''The only thing people talked about was what little the pageant did for casinos.

''If it's anything more than an office pool, I'd be surprised. I suggested several years ago that the pageant poll the TV audience for the winner. Eventually, they did that. But that's as far as you'll see it go,'' Gros said.

Veteran Las Vegas oddsmaker Lenny Del Genio says the people who care about Miss America are not the type to bet big money on it.

''Look, I'm 57 years old, and I've never heard two guys sitting at a bar saying 'I'll give you 8-to-5 Miss New Jersey wins.' And I don't think I ever will,'' he said.

''Besides, who knows what the judges are gonna do if we start taking big money on it? You'd have to start investigating who the judges are to handicap the thing. And when you start betting anything that involves judges, you never know what's gonna happen,'' he said.

Try to place a bet on the pageant in a casino and you get laughed at.

''No, you'd have to go to Vegas for that, or bet with a friend,'' said a pit boss at Trump Plaza. ''They wouldn't allow it here because people would think the pageant is fixed.''

But even Vegas won't lay odds.

Pageant officials blanch at the very mention of ''gambling'' and ''Miss America'' in the same breath.

''Certainly, it's illegal in this town,'' said Robert M. Renneisen, CEO of the pageant. ''It might not be in other jurisdictions. But it's not something we'd like to see.''

Not that betting doesn't go on.

For years, members of the Convention Hall stage crew used to throw money into a hat and try to predict the winner, according to former pageant CEO Leonard Horn.

Others still do. Typically, a $5 bet will get you in a Top 10 pool. Whoever picks the highest number of Top 10 finishers wins the pot.

Still, handicapping the field is a favorite pastime. Volunteers, pageant fans, state pageant officials and others who attend Miss America year after year develop a keen sense of what appeals to the judges.

And predicting the outcome has gained a new forum with the advent of Internet chat rooms devoted to pageantry. One Web site -- the Unofficial Miss America Board -- is chock full of prognostications and Top 10 forecasts.

Miss Hawaii Angela Baraquio will win, says one person who claims to have picked two of the last five Miss America winners. No, Miss Michigan Che'vonne Burton will, says another.

A ''People's Choice'' poll on the site that claims to have received 112 responses says Miss California Rita Ng will win. Miss Illinois Jennifer Powers was the second-leading vote getter.

Around Convention Hall, the talk all week has centered on Miss Iowa Theresa Uchytil, a baton twirler who was born with only one hand. Some believe she'll be Miss America 2001.

Whatever the outcome, some ''grocery store money'' will change hands between couples or pool bettors, but nothing more, said Del Genio.

''The crowd that watches it is not disposed to gambling. Gambling is just so out of the realm for these people,'' he said.

------

On the Web:

Miss America Pageant. www.missamerica.org

Unofficial Miss America Board: www.InsideTheWeb.com/messageboard/mbs.cgi?acctmb1089620&TL96646310 3



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