04/22/2009 11:00PM

Derby festivities galore

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Las Vegas continues to struggle through the recession like everywhere else. Bankruptcies (and rumors of more to come). Layoffs. Cutbacks up and down the line.

So, as the Kentucky Derby approaches, one might have assumed that the hotels here would chop all the frills and amenities that have traditionally made this city turn into Churchill Downs West in the days leading up to the first Saturday in May.

But one would be wrong.

If anything, there's a noticeable increase in the number of handicapping seminars being hosted by race books around town and all-day parties on Derby Day. In fact, by the time you read this, the first Derby seminar in town will have already taken place Thursday at the Fiesta Henderson. But there's more:

* Thursday, April 30: Ralph Siraco of the "Raceday Las Vegas" radio show and Richard Saber of GamingToday will join Palace Station race book manager Vic Viveo at 6 p.m. to discuss the Derby, and probably offer their insight on Friday's Oaks card as well.

* Friday, May 1: Yours truly, Dave Tuley, will be joined by Richard Eng of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Dan Shapiro of Lucky's race & sports books at the Plaza for the "Lucky's Derby Seminar sponsored by ViewFromVegas.com."

In Reno, Lucky's CEO Joe Asher and Steve Fierro will be hosting another seminar at the Grand Sierra race book at 6:30 p.m.

Santa Anita publicity director/horse owner/breeder/Renaissance man Mike Willman will join Gordon Jones and Patrick McQuiggan of the "Track Talk" radio show at 6 p.m. in the Sam's Town race book for the longest-running seminar in town.

* Saturday, May 2: Siraco and handicapper Jon Lindo of the "Lindo Report" will kick off the actual Derby Day festivities with a seminar at 10:15 a.m. in the Mardi Gras Ballroom at the Orleans.

Obviously the race books are fighting to bring in what they know will be a captive audience for the biggest single race of the year. And even though the main event will last just about two minutes the casinos also haven't cut back on hosting bigger all-day parties.

The biggest and longest-running free Derby party is the one at the Orleans, which opens up its ballroom with big screens and plenty of betting windows. There are also food and drink specials all day long. The South Point, which is owned by the former owner of the Orleans, Michael Gaughan, will have a similar setup.

For those looking to step up from the "stadium food" type of setup, the Stratosphere has teamed up with Del Mar to host a party from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in its "American Superstars" showroom. Del Mar is bringing a group of players from California for the event, but the public is invited to join in. The cost of admission is $59 but includes a buffet, an open bar, plus welcome gifts and drawings. For those looking for a place to stay, a better deal would be $129 for two nights at the hotel plus two passes to the party. Call 800-827-1514 for details.

Of course, every race book in town will be packed during the Derby Day card and most will have Derby T-shirts and/or mint julep glasses (check with the book for minimum wager, which is usually $20 or $25).

NFL Week 1 lines already posted

If you think the Derby is creating a lot of talk around Vegas race and sports books, you should hear the football discussions. Obviously the talk of the football world this weekend is the NFL draft, but the sports books here in Vegas didn't wait for the draft to put up lines for the opening week's games. Last Tuesday, the NFL announced the full-season schedule and less than 24 hours later the Las Vegas Hilton had its Week 1 lines posted, starting with the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers opening at home vs. the Titans on Thursday night, Sept. 10, through a Monday night double-header, Sept. 14. Here were the openers (home teams in CAPS):

STEELERS -5 vs. Titans

FALCONS -4 vs. Dolphins

RAVENS -7 vs. Chiefs

PANTHERS -3 (+105) vs. Eagles

Broncos -3 vs. BENGALS

Vikings -3 vs. BROWNS

TEXANS -3.5 vs. Jets

COLTS -7.5 vs. Jaguars

SAINTS -11 vs. Lions

Cowboys -3 (Even) vs. BUCCANEERS

CARDINALS -7 vs. 49ers

GIANTS -6 vs. Redskins

SEAHAWKS -7 vs. Rams

PACKERS -3 vs. Bears

PATRIOTS -9.5 vs. Bills

Chargers -7 vs. RAIDERS

The wise guys in town jumped all over the opening numbers with the biggest move being the Ravens bet from -7 to -9 within the first day of wagering. As more casinos posted lines, other significant adjustments were the Broncos being lowered to a 1-point favorite over the Bengals (with the Palms making it pick-em) and the Panthers being lowered to a 1 1/2-point choice over the Eagles.

The rest of the lines are all within 1 point of the openers and there won't be much change between now and the start of the season barring any major trades or injury news. Even the draft doesn't affect the lines much because the oddsmakers know the worst teams usually get the best players but also have more holes to fill, plus rookies aren't expected to excel right away, though there are exceptions such as Matt Ryan last year with the Falcons.