10/06/2004 11:00PM

At Gaming Expo, horse racing for slots players


Sports betting is big business, and so is horse racing, but it's humbling sometimes to realize what a small niche they are in the gambling universe.

That really hit home this past Tuesday through Thursday at the Global Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It was slots, slots, and more slots. Sure, table games had their share of space, as did vendors for chip-making companies, uniform makers, surveillance companies, etc., but then it was more and more slots dominating the 255,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Any mention of race or sports betting was rare, and the two coolest games involving horse racing were merely a slots concept and a bingo game that use racing as a theme.

The coolest racing-related product was Waz Lian Gaming's "Royal Grand Prix Derby." Up to 150 people can play at a time by punching in their bets on a SAM-type monitor. The fake race is then run on a high-definition, 60-meter-wide screen with amazing three-dimensional detail. If you've ever played "Sigma Derby," think of it as that game on steroids.

The other new product is Video King Gaming System's "Horse Power Racing," a bingo-style game. When a horse's numbers are called, it moves ahead of the pack on an animated display featuring 15 horses. When the line under a horse's number gets filled in, the horse (and player) reaches the finish line.

"We've tested the game in bingo parlors, and people put down their regular bingo cards and cheer for their horse in our game," a spokesman for Video King Gaming System said. "It gives them something extra in entertainment value instead of just cheering for a numbered ball."

Horse racing also received an indirect mention during the Expo's keynote panel. In a discussion of Pennsylvania adding 60,000 slot machines at racinos, casino executives repeated the mantra that any expansion of gambling leads to more customers, most of whom will want to try their luck in the mecca of Las Vegas. Atlantic City opened in 1979 and made Vegas stronger, and the same thing happened with the riverboat boom in the 1990's.

Back to the college betting board

Last week I went 3-1 with my college bankroll plays, with the only loss being on San Diego St., the last game I landed on out of my four plays. The other games I considered went 5-2, so the plan to focus on fewer games backfired a little. This week, the plays that didn't quite make the cut are Ohio +9 1/2 vs. Marshall, Louisiana Tech +26 vs. Auburn, and Florida -3 vs. LSU.

Wisconsin (+3 1/2) at Ohio St.

One of those plays I almost used last week was Northwestern +11 vs. Ohio St. NU won in overtime. It was a continuation of the Buckeyes showing how overrated they are. Both of these teams are stronger on the defensive side of the ball, but last week Northwestern exposed some holes in the OSU defense that Wisconsin should be able to exploit. Wisconsin running back Anthony Davis looks healthy again (213 yards last week with three TD's vs. Illinois) and helps take the pressure off the slow-developing John Stocco. This game will likely be decided late - another overtime isn't out of the question - and I'd like to be on the side getting more than a field goal.

PLAY: Wisconsin for 1 unit.

Oklahoma St. at Colorado (+6 1/2)

This line, which opened at 3 1/2, continues to climb with the questionable status of Colorado running back Bobby Purify. I'll gladly take the extra points and hope he plays, though I'm confident the Buffaloes can keep this game close even if Purify sits out. During its 4-0 start, Oklahoma St. has really only been tested by UCLA this season and is stepping up in class for this Big 12 matchup. OSU will get its yards against Colorado's bend-but-don't-break defense (which allowed Missouri only 17 points last week despite giving up 417 yards), but the Buffaloes will be able to keep the game close and likely pull off the mild upset at home.

PLAY: Colorado for 1 unit.

Arizona (+11) at UCLA

UCLA hasn't lost since its season-opening 31-20 setback against Oklahoma St., but the Bruins have sometimes looked like they're going through the motions vs. weaker opponents. Granted, Arizona isn't an upper-echelon program either, but coach Mike Stoops is well on his way to having the second coming of the Desert Swarm defense. The defense allowed just 23 points in a loss to nationally ranked Utah four weeks ago, 9 points in a loss at Wisconsin, and 20 points in a loss two weeks ago to Washington St. Now, with two weeks to prepare for the UCLA offense, led by tailback Maurice Bell, the Wildcats should be ready. That the Bruins might be missing five defensive starters to injury gives me more confidence that the Wildcats will do enough to stay within the number.

PLAY: Arizona for 1 unit.

Nebraska (+7) at Texas Tech

Back to the Big 12, and perennial power Nebraska, which is obviously at a low point in its recent gridiron history. But this play really comes down to the fact I can't pass up getting a touchdown with the Cornhuskers vs. a team that doesn't play defense. Texas Tech definitely has an explosive pass offense, but the Nebraska defense should be able to pressure quarterback Sonny Crumbie and force some turnovers. That should allow the offense, led by tailback Cory Ross, to rack up some yards and points of its own against a porous Tech defense. This should be a shootout - as shown in the over/under of 55 - and I'll side with the team that can offer some resistance.

PLAY: Nebraska for 1 unit.

Last week: 3-1 for a net profit of 1.9 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Season college record: 11-6-1 for a net profit of 4.4 units.