06/14/2005 11:00PM

Harrah's $9 billion buy sets record


Buildings get made and torn down fast here in Vegas. And so do records.

On Monday, Harrah's Entertain-ment Inc. bought Caesars Entertain-ment Inc. for $9 billion, breaking the record for biggest casino merger that was set less than two months ago, on April 25, when MGM Mirage bought the Mandalay Bay Resort Group for $7.9 billion.

Harrah's, which in addition to its own branded hotel also had the Rio just west of the Strip, now adds Caesars Palace, Bally's, Paris, and the Flamingo to its portfolio. MGM Mirage is the king of the Strip with 12 properties, but Harrah's nationwide holdings total $17.5 billion in assets, annual revenues of $8.5 billion, 4 million square feet of casino space, and nearly 100,000 employees.

Rumors abound about what Harrah's will do with its properties, especially around the intersection of the Strip and Flamingo Road. Harrah's now owns two of the four corners with Caesars and Bally's, and looms next to the Barbary Coast with the Flamingo on the northwest corner (the fourth corner is the Bellagio, owned by MGM Mirage). Some expect a purchase of the Barbary Coast, or a redevelopment of the aging Bally's property.

No official word yet on if the sports books will be consolidated or run separately, as Boyd Gaming did when it bought the Coast Casinos last July.

Two Benches for a Rose

If you want to do your own financial wheeling and dealing (on a much smaller scale), the place to be Saturday is the Las Vegas Hilton sports book, aka the SuperBook.

From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Alan "Mr. Mint" Rosen, the world's largest buyer of baseball cards and sports memorabilia, will be appraising items for anyone who wants to bring them, and possibly buying them with the $500,000 he will have on hand.

Other items, including pictures, cards, signed balls, jerseys, et. al., will also be for sale. Of course, in this business, everything's for sale - a price for everything and everything for a price.

Al Bernstein, mostly known as a boxing analyst but who also hosts a daily talk show here in Vegas, will be doing a live remote from 9-10 a.m. on ESPN Radio AM-920.

Last but certainly not least, Pete Rose will be on hand to meet fans and sign autographs (again, for a price).

Zen master back in the game

Tuesday's big news was that Phil Jackson was returning to coach the Los Angeles Lakers after a one-year hiatus. The Lakers didn't make the playoffs this past season without Jackson (and Shaq, too), and the zen master is being brought back despite his very publicly aired problems with Kobe Bryant.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants had the Lakers as 25-1 before the announcement and still had the line there as of Wednesday morning.

"Maybe we should change it, and I guess I would make them 18-1 or 20-1," LVSC oddsmaker Mike Seba said, "but they have a lot of holes to fill and they still have salary-cap restraints. It'll certainly be hard for them to win it next year, but obviously Jackson has to think they can do it before his contract expires in three years."

That begs the question of whether LVSC could put out a prop on the Lakers winning the title in the next three years. The catch would be getting people to tie up their money for that long.

"The books would love that," Seba said.

For the record, LVSC has the Spurs as the 7-2 favorite to win the 2006 title, with the Heat and Pistons both at 5-1, the Suns at 6-1, and the Mavericks and Pacers at 10-1.

Tennis, anyone?

If Jackson's return had little impact on NBA futures, Andre Agassi's announcement on the same day that he was skipping Wimbledon had even less impact on tennis lines.

Agassi had been listed as a 20-1 longshot to win Wimbledon, which starts Monday and runs through July 3, before he pulled out with an undisclosed injury.

Roger Federer is the heavy 3-5 favorite to win his third straight Wimbledon title, with Andy Roddick at 9-2, Lleyton Hewitt at 8-1, Mario Ancic at 10-1, and French Open champion Rafael Nadal at 12-1.

The women's tournament looks more wide open, with Maria Sharapova as the 2-1 favorite followed by Justine Henin-Hardenne at 5-2, Serena Williams at 7-2, Kim Clijsters at 5-1, Lindsay Davenport at 7-1, and Venus Williams at 8-1.

Sports book notes

The College World Series starts Friday and runs through June 26 or 27 (if necessary in the best-of-three championship series) at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb. Just as in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, all of the games will be televised, which certainly leads to bigger betting handle. LVSC has Tulane and Nebraska as the co-favorites at 3-1, followed by Baylor at 5-1, Tennessee at 6-1, Florida at 8-1, Oregon St. and Texas both at 9-1, and Arizona St. at 15-1 in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament.

* On Saturday night, Antonio Tarver and Glencoffe Johnson will fight for the light heavyweight (a contradiction in terms if ever there was one) belt at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn. Tarver is a -200 favorite (risk $2 for every $1 you want to profit), with Johnson offered at +170. This is a rematch from Dec. 18, when Johnson won a controversial decision as a 3-1 underdog.

Holy shameless advertising, Batman!

Corporate sponsorships are, by their very nature, a blatant form of advertising, but leave it to Nascar to go above and beyond. That's the case this Sunday with the Batman Begins 400 Nextel Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.

Yes, "Batman Begins" is the movie that opened in theaters on Wednesday.

Station Casinos has Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle as the top masked men at 8-1, followed by series points leader Jimmie Johnson at 9-1 and Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin at 10-1.