06/24/2002 12:00AM

Featherweight fight, heavyweight dispute


Do two wrongs make a right?

That's what some people were asking after Marco Antonio Barrera won a controversial decision over Erik Morales Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Was the decision a make-up call?

The two Mexican fighters, who have not been shy about their dislike for each other, first fought in Ring Magazine's 2000 Fight of the Year at Mandalay Bay. Most observers thought Barrera won, but the decision went in favor of Morales.

It took 28 months to arrange a rematch. It wasn't an out-and-out brawl, like their first meeting, in which an estimated 1,500 punches were thrown, but it lived up to its billing. There were "only" 1,206 punches thrown in this one, though the 12th round was a flurry of fists.

Despite losing the first bout, Barrera was a -180 favorite Saturday, and he took a more tactical approach. His persistent jabs closed Morales's right eye, and he dominated the final rounds. Regardless, many observers thought Morales controlled the fight and landed the bigger punches. But in the end, only three opinions mattered: Two judges scored it 115-113 for Barrera, with the other having it 116-112.

Bettors who bet Barrera to win by decision were rewarded with +190 payoffs.

A major point of contention among fans was a seventh-round knockdown of Barrera that was waved off by referee Jay Nady, who ruled that Morales stepped on Barrera's foot and wouldn't have knocked him down otherwise. All three judges scored the round 10-9 for Barrera. If the knockdown had been allowed, the judges would probably have given Morales the round 10-8. Nady also gave Barrera several warnings for low blows but never deducted any points.

Each fighter received $2 million for the bout, and the near-sellout and estimated 400,000 pay-per-view buys made it the most lucrative featherweight fight in history. Barrera-Morales III looks like a sure bet.

Betting until the bell rings

Fewer Nevada horseplayers (and weekend visitors) were getting shut out of races over the weekend as the result of a new gaming regulation that went into effect. Bettors are now able to bet up until the bell rings and the starting gate springs open.

Previously, state gaming rules called for the Las Vegas Dissemi-nation Company to close betting on a race when the last horse entered the gate. Once that happened, even if a horse got loose or if there was a late scratch and every horse had to be removed from the gate and reloaded, Nevada bettors were helpless to make any more bets.

Back when bets were booked by hand, Nevada bettors had to complete their wagers by five minutes to post. When parimutuel wagering became more widespread, it was two minutes to post. In 1990, betting closed when the first horse entered the gate, then a few years later it shifted to when the last horse entered the gate.

The LVDC did a test of 589 horse races this spring and found 10 percent of them were closed to betting at least 20 seconds before the tracks.

"We took that information and, along with the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, presented it to regulators and they were very receptive," said Vinny Magliulo, director or corporate affairs for LVDC. "We were able to show that this is an important improvement and puts us on equal footing with the rest of the horse racing industry. It was all of us working together to ensure that Nevada bettors can participate in pools right until the gate opens just like at the track."

NBA draft a yawn to oddsmakers

Wednesday's NBA draft is important to many people. Obviously, the draftees will see their lives change. Team owners, generals managers, coaches, and potential teammates of draftees are highly interested in who they will get to add to their teams. Diehard fans will be following the proceedings with interest. TNT announcers will report on each selection.

But one group of people who won't take much of an interest is the oddsmakers. That's because the only NBA bets you can make now is on which team will win the 2002-2003 NBA title, and the Lakers are a prohibitive 6-5 favorite, according to odds by Las Vegas Sports Consul-tants. The teams that might be a player away - such as the Kings (9-2), Mavericks (8-1), Spurs (10-1), Nets (12-1), 76ers (15-1), Magic (15-1), and Hornets (15-1) - do not pick until deep into the first round. Even though this is considered a deep draft, it's not that deep.

The teams that have the top picks - the Rockets (75-1), Bulls (300-1), Warriors (300-1), Grizzlies (250-1), Nuggets (200-1), and Cavaliers (120-1) - need much more help than they would get with only one star rookie.

Only a major trade involving impact players will lead oddsmakers to adjust the lines on the next NBA champ at this point.