03/21/2003 12:00AM

'Chicago' 9-5 (but no bets down)


LAS VEGAS - With the Oscars presentation set for Sunday night, it's a good time to check John Avello's odds at Bally's. Nevada regulation forbids the state's casinos from taking wagers on anything that involves a vote (since someone knows the result, no matter how secretive the accounting firm claims to be), but Avello posted odds just for entertainment.

Avello has "Chicago" as the 9-5 favorite to win Best Picture, edging out "Gangs of New York" at 5-2. The other nominees are "The Hours" at 4-1, "The Pianist" at 6-1, and "Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers" at 12-1.

If you're looking for help in filling out Oscar contests, here are Avello's favorites in the other major categories.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (8-5), a slight pick over Jack Nicholson (9-5).

Best Actress: Nicole Kidman (2-1).

Best Supporting Actor: Chris Cooper (9-5).

Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Zeta-Jones (2-1).

Best Director: Rob Marshall (7-5).

Dogs keep making noise

Underdogs continued their winning ways (at least for bettors) Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Dogs went 12-3-1 against the spread on the day.

The push was Connecticut's 58-53 victory over BYU as a 5-point favorite. Most bettors were happy with that result, as UConn opened as a 3 1/2-point favorite and was backed by the public. Only the bettors who waited until the line was 5 didn't win their bets (but they got their money back).

Amazingly, of the three rare covers by favorites, two covered the spread only because of last-second "meaningless" dunks, though they were only meaningless for viewers without betting slips in their hands. If those teams - Stanford, which beat San Diego 77-69 as a 7-point favorite, and Wisconsin, which beat Weber St. 81-74 as a 6 1/2-point favorite - had dribbled out the clock, dogs could have ended up with an absolutely unheard-of 14-1-1 mark.

The sports books had a pretty good day overall. Of the 10 point spreads that moved off the opening number, the bettors were on the right side four times while losing six.

In Friday's early action, dogs went only 2-2 as Kentucky poured it on late in a 95-64 win over IUPUI as a 25 1/2-point favorite. Syracuse also extended its lead to cover a 7 1/2-point spread in a 76-65 victory over Manhattan.

The underdogs to come through were Auburn, which beat St. Joseph's outright 65-63 in overtime as a 3 1/2-point dog, and NC-Asheville, which covered a 29-point spread in its lopsided 82-61 loss to Texas.

Celine Dion has a new home

Las Vegas is a regular stop these days for most concert tours, but the city has always used singing acts to draw in the crowds. It all started with the Rat Pack, and continued with Elvis Presley and Wayne Newton.

On Tuesday night, Celine Dion will begin a three-year run in a show called "A New Day" at Caesars Palace's Colosseum, a 4,000-seat theater that was built specifically for her. Inspired by the Roman stadium, the theater sits on the Strip-side of Caesars with entrances from the casino. The building is 120 feet high and 256 feet in diameter and covers 171,235 square feet. The stage is 22,450 square feet by itself.

Opening night should be a star-studded gala, as this is the most highly anticipated show to open in recent memory.

"A New Day" promises to be more than just the diva belting out tunes and strutting around the stage and waving to fans. It's a full-production show with a cast of 58 acrobats, musicians, and backup singers.

After the opening week, the regular schedule calls for Celine to do five 8:30 p.m. shows per week (Wednesday through Sunday).

Tickets are $200 for the VIP orchestra, $150 for the rest of the orchestra, $127.50 for the first balcony, and $87.50 for the second balcony. The good news is that, because of the circular construction and the design intended to bring Celine close to her fans, no seat is more than 120 feet from the stage.

If those prices are too steep for your non-gambling Vegas budget, other name singing acts in town include singer/impressionist Danny Gans at The Mirage ($80-$100), Clint Holmes at Harrah's ($59.95), Newton at the Stardust ($54.95), and The Scintas at the Rio ($54.95), among others on a regular or semi-regular basis.

And, of course, there are more Elvis impersonators than you can throw a peanut butter and banana sandwich at.

Keeping up with Jones

In addition to bringing a entertainment extravaganza to Las Vegas, Caesars is also trying to reclaim its place in the boxing ring.

Caesars hosted last month's Roy Jones Jr.-John Ruiz fight (though it was actually held at the Thomas and Mack Center) and now has odds on Jones's next fight. Actually, the sports book has odds on six Jones fights.

Say what?

Since there has been much speculation about who Jones will fight next in the heavyweight division, Chuck Esposito, director of the Caesars sports book, put up odds on all the potential matchups. USA Today reported Wednesday that it is increasingly likely that Jones will face Evander Holyfield on Oct. 4 at Madison Square Garden. Esposito has Jones as a -300 favorite (bet $3 to win $1) with Holyfield at +220 (bet $1 to win $2.20).

In another fight a lot of people would like to see, Jones would be a -140 (lay $1.40 to win $1) favorite vs. Mike Tyson. Jones would also be a -160 favorite over Chris Byrd.

Jones is an underdog in the other three potential matchups. Heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis is -500 (Jones +350), Vitali Klitschko is -140 (Jones at even money), and Wladimir Klitschko has been bet down from -200 to -160 (Jones +120) after his loss in Germany last month.

All bets are live if the fight takes place by March 31, 2004. At that time, all bets will be refunded on any that don't occur.