02/19/2007 12:00AM

Books avoid All-Star drubbing

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LAS VEGAS – After hosting the NBA All-Star Weekend, Las Vegas came out a winner in every conceivable way. The exposure for the city was unprecedented, and anyone who watched any of the festivities on TNT had to come away feeling that the whole extravaganza was a tourism infomercial. It was truly a case of Las Vegas putting on another show, and the city did it in the only way it knows how - over the top. The crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center was more star-studded than the the one at Academy Awards, and the stories are just starting to filter in about the big money being thrown around the casinos.

My job is to look at things from a sports betting perspective. A lot has been made about how Nevada gave in to the NBA's request to take the game off the betting boards. The conventional wisdom all along was that the casinos felt that giving up what money could be made in booking the game would be far outweighed by all the ancillary income from hosting the All-Stars and their entourages and fans. That's certainly true, especially since the All-Star Game isn't a big betting event, but the books actually came out smelling like a rose because it's very possible that they saved themselves a lot of money by not booking the game.

At offshore sports books, the West opened as a 3 1/2-point favorite over the East with a total of 255. The lines closed at West -4 1/2 and a total of 256o1/2 at Pinnacle and CRIS. The money was clearly on the favorite and the over in the offshore world, and I can tell you from experience that that's nothing compared to what would have happened if lines were available in Las Vegas. The public tends to bet the favorite and the over in general, and it's almost always the case that the favorite/over parlay is the worst-case scenario for bookmakers, and that's usually even more pronounced in Vegas with a higher concentration of unsophisticated bettors. If the people here had been able to bet at their hotels before going to the game, it's practically certain that they would have backed the favored West and been cheering for a lot of scoring in a game that is known for a lack of defensive effort.

With the West winning 153-132, there's no doubt that the sports books dodged a bullet.

Some more notes from a betting perspective:

* If you thought Sunday's game was a blowout, it still doesn't compare to the Rookies vs. Sophomores game on Friday night at Mandalay Bay. Offshore books had the Sophomores as an 11-point favorite and they romped to a 155-114 victory.

* Okay, so there was no legal betting on the game or any of the related events over the weekend, so it's impossible to quantify how much was wagered illegally on anything. But if I had to guess the highest handle, I would go with the Charles Barkley vs. Dick Bavetta race as part of All-Star Saturday Night. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on whether the race would be won by the 43-year-old overweight former athlete or the current 67-year-old referee who runs five to eight miles a day. Barkley led start to finish over the 3o1/2-court race and mockingly backpedaled the last several yards as Bavetta dived in vain for the finish line. I don't think my eyes were deceiving me, but watching on TV, I could have sworn I saw some people reaching for their wallets in the crowd shots after the race concluded. It was probably the most bet event in bars across the country. One last thought on that: It was a nice plug for horse racing that Bavetta chose to refer to Barkley as War Admiral and himself as Seabiscuit in interviews leading up to the match race.

* Along the lines of no betting (wink, wink), TNT commentators Doug Collins and Steve Kerr talked about having a bet on who would win the MVP during Sunday's game.

Sports book notes

The NBA returns to the betting boards here with games starting on Tuesday and every team in action by Thursday. In the future books, Las Vegas Sports Consultants has the Suns as the 9-5 favorite to win the title, followed by the Mavericks (2-1), Spurs (7-2), Heat (7-1), Pistons (8-1), Rockets (10-1), and Nuggets (12-1).

* I don't profess to be a great auto racing fan, but Sunday's Daytona 500 had one of the most exciting finishes I've ever seen. After clearing the track from a wreck, there was a restart with two laps remaining. Kevin Harvick, the 13-1 fifth betting choice at Station Casinos, ran down Mark Martin to challenge for the lead on the final lap as cars were crashing behind them, including one that flipped upside down and caught fire. Harvick and Martin sped away from the wreckage and raced side by side to the checkered flag, with Harvick winning by 0.02 of a second to claim his first Daytona 500 and deny Martin his first. Both were driving Chevys, which was a heavy -330 favorite to win the race over a Ford, Dodge, or Toyota as Chevrolet continues to dominate the restrictor-plate races.

* In the Nissan Open at the Riviera Country Club in Palisades, Calif., Phil Mickelson was the 10-1 favorite in betting at the Las Vegas Hilton and it looked like he would cruise to his second straight victory on the left coast. However, Charles Howell III, a 40-1 longshot who hadn't won on the PGA Tour in 4 1/2 years, rallied to force a playoff and won on the third extra hole. The WGC Accenture Match Play Championship takes place Wednesday through Sunday in Tucson, Ariz., with Tiger Woods as the overwhelming 3-1 favorite in the 64-player field, followed by the trio of Mickelson, Ernie Els, and Jim Furyk (all at 12-1), then Adam Scott (15-1), Vijay Singh, and Retief Goosen (20-1). The Hilton has odds on all 32 first-round matches, with Woods a heavy 1-5 favorite over J.J. Henry.