10/17/2001 11:00PM

The high season for sports betting fans

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This is a great time of year to be a sports fan, and there's no place I would rather be than watching all the action than Las Vegas.

After Barry Bonds's home run chase, there have been a bunch of great baseball playoff series, with the Yankees and Mariners battling back from the brink of elimination and the Diamondbacks winning a classic Game 5 against the Cardinals. The league championship series are shaping up to be close as well.

Of course, football is also in full swing. The sports books here are packed on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as for Monday Night Football. But this year there have been even more football games spread during the week. In the past, college and pro football would only be on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Then Thursday night games were added, and this week alone we have had football every day except for Wednesday. After the NFL on Sunday and Monday, Tuesday had Louisville against Southern Miss, Thursday scheuled the Jaguars and Bills and Friday night was to feature unbeaten Fresno State against Boise State. It's a cornucopia of pigskin.

Throw in the NHL and the anticipation of Michael Jordan's return to the NBA, and our sports cup runneth over. The overlapping of sports season is really evident in New York as the Giants and Jets play on Sunday, Oct. 28, the Rangers are at home on Monday, Oct. 29, and the Islanders and Knicks (vs. Jordan's Wizards) play at home that Tuesday, which will also have Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, if the Bronx Bombers advance.

As if that weren't enough, the PGA's Tour Championship is next week in Houston, NASCAR is nearing the checkered flag, and the heavyweight title bout between Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman is coming to Vegas on Nov. 17. There is something for every sporting taste.

And racing is also gearing up for its championship day with the World Thoroughbred Championships just a week away.

Next Saturday could be the second-biggest betting day of the year in Vegas. The Kentucky Derby obviously draws a crowd of well-heeled bettors, but the focus there is on one huge race. With eight championship races on Breeders' Cup Day and with a full slate of college football games - including such potential blockbusters as Oklahoma-Nebraska, South Carolina-Tennessee, Maryland-Florida St., Oregon-Washington St. and UCLA-Stanford - and the opening game of the World Series, it's going to be a banner day.

Boulder Station rewards losers

Race and sports books often come under criticism when they cancel contests or promotions. Sometimes they reduce prizes, or cancel the events altogether if they bring in players who only do the contests and leave without giving the books some of their business.

But it's been shown time and time again that when customers stay to play and the books' handle increases, they're more than happy to keep treating the players right.

That's the case at Boulder Station, which has been running a "losers" contest on the races at Philadelphia Park each Tuesday. That is traditionally the slowest day of the week in race books, but because of the contest, Boulder Station's Tuesday handle has risen significantly.

The contest, with a $10 buy-in, requires each player to pick a horse to finish out of the money in all the races on the Philadelphia card. If no one accomplishes the feat, the jackpot carries over to the next contest.

"The Tuesday contest has been really successful and we've decided to add a similar contest on Monday," said Brad Bryant, race and sports book manager at Boulder Station. "We've gotten a lot of input from players and we've made it bigger and better thanks to their suggestions."

Starting this Monday, the stakes have been raised. The prize pool is guaranteed to be $1,000 on each day and there's now a $500 bonus (to be shared among all qualifiers) for anyone who wins both the Monday and Tuesday contest. There is a limit of 10 entries per person and another new wrinkle is that a free entry for Tuesday's contest will be awarded for every entry that has 9 of 10 losers on Monday.

In addition, all winners will be invited to take part in a championship event in January for a loser-take-all prize of $2,000. No one will be allowed to buy into the event, though people can also qualify by having their name picked in drawings on each contest day.

Those drawings add another way for players to win. Free weekly contest entries will be given away after the third and fifth races, an entry into the championship event will be rewarded after the seventh race, and $50 in pari-mutuel wagers are up for grabs after the eighth, ninth and 10th races.