10/05/2003 11:00PM

Early money is big on Florida State


This is an exciting time of year in Las Vegas's race and sports books: football action every day from last Thursday through Monday with more on the way, the baseball playoffs in full swing, a big boxing match, a PGA golf event ready to tee off, and horse handicapping tournaments each of the next three weekends leading up into the Breeders' Cup.

To paraphrase local radio host John Kelly, I will run out of space before I run out of topics.

Opening lines in football

Looking forward until we look back, the Stardust released the opening lines Sunday night for next weekend's action (see the accompanying chart).

The most interesting line move came in the biggest game of the upcoming weekend. Florida State opened as a 4-point favorite over Miami and was quickly bet up to 5 1/2. The line was then lowered to 4 1/2 by the end of the opening betting session. Later in the evening, it settled at 5 1/2. Monday morning, most books around town posted Florida State -5 1/2 and it got bet up to 6 at the MGM Mirage books.

In another marquee game, Oklahoma was bet from -6 to -6 1/2 vs. Texas, but then that line came back down to 6. In the Southeastern Conference, Tennessee opened as a 1-point favorite over Georgia but money came in and turned Georgia into a 1-point favorite.

Only four NFL games moved off the opening numbers with bettors backing the Giants, Packers, Jaguars, and Saints.

Rare five-day PGA event

The Las Vegas Invitational, a five-day PGA Tour event at three area golf courses, begins Wednesday. Jim Furyk, this year's U.S. Open champion, has won this event three times and Jeff Sherman, the golf oddsmaker at the Palms, has him as the 8-1 favorite. This isn't a major, so Phil Mickelson certainly has a chance as the 15-1 second choice, followed by Sergio Garcia (18-1) and the threesome of Darren Clark, Charles Howell III, and Stuart Appleby, each listed at 20-1.

* The Fall Classic at The Orleans, previously called the National Handicapping Championship and The Championship at The Orleans, runs Thursday through Saturday and is still the biggest and richest tournament out there. Based on an anticipated field of 700 (as of Monday morning, 607 had already signed up), the purse would be $400,000 with $112,000 going to the winner and cash prizes awarded down to 80th place (an estimated $700). Handicappers make a dozen $100 mythical win each of the three days. Entries are $500 apiece and will be accepted until around noon Thursday in the Mardi Gras Ballroom. The early-bird contest for those who signed up by Sept. 10 will take place on Sunday.

Yankees likely 2-1 favorites

The survivor of the A's-Red Sox series, still to be determined as of early Monday night, will likely be a 2-1 underdog to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Many sports books were happy to see the Twins eliminated by the Yankees because of considerable future-book liability.

Sports book operators had no such luck in the National League as the Cubs (the biggest potential loser for the books) and Marlins (with some longshot tickets also on them) upset the Braves and Giants, respectively. The Cubs, who inherit home field advantage as the NL Central division winner against the wild-card Marlins, opened between a -180 and a -200 favorite to win the NLCS, which was to start Tuesday night. Both these teams would also be between 2-1 and 5-2 dogs to the Yankees in the World Series, though perhaps slightly less on the Cubs if sports books are trying to discourage more money on them if the possibility continues to increase on paying off all those futures.

Late money on Toney was right

The Evander Holyfield-James Toney bout last Saturday wasn't a major fight, but try telling that to bettors who were cashing their tickets. Depending on where you shopped the past few months, Holyfield was between a -130 and a -150 favorite. But on fight night, all the money seemed to be coming in on the underdog, as Toney was bet all the way to a -120 favorite at the host hotel, Mandalay Bay. Toney came through for all of his backers when Holyfield's corner threw in the towel in the ninth round. A Toney knockout, or in this case a technical knockout, paid 4-1 at Mandalay Bay.

* Up the Strip at the MGM Grand, tennis star Andre Agassi held his annual fund-raiser for local charities with many of his celebrity friends (Elton John, Billy Joel, Sheryl Crowe, Robin Williams, Dennis Miller, etc.). The concert, along with a VIP dinner and a live auction, helped raise $12.6 million for underprivileged, abused and at-risk children in the Las Vegas community. Actually, the festivities raised $6.3 million, but Ty Warner (the toymaker of Beanie Babies fame) agreed to match the earlier donations.

* That was good news, but the biggest story coming out of Las Vegas last weekend was bad. During Friday night's world-famous "Siegfried and Roy" show at The Mirage, Roy Horn (the brunette) was attacked onstage by one of the duo's rare white tigers, 7-year-old Montecore, a regular performer and featured in many advertisements for the show. Montecore grabbed Roy by the arm and then by the neck, dragging the illusionist off the stage to the shock of a packed house (many of whom initially thought it was part of the act).

Roy was rushed into surgery at University Medical Center and later that night suffered a stroke, resulting in more surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. As of Sunday, Roy was reportedly able to move his arms and legs and make a "thumbs-up" sign in response to doctor's requests and is expected to survive. Montecore remained in quarantine as of Sunday and friends told the news media that Roy reportedly asked that the cat not be destroyed.

Millions of visitors have seen "Siegfried and Roy" perform in Las Vegas and countless more have seen them on TV. They've been performing for 35 years, exclusively at The Mirage since 1990, averaging six shows a week for 44 weeks a year. The Mirage has announced the show is on hiatus until at least Christmas and has told the estimated 260 crew members that it will help them look for other employment.