07/11/2003 12:00AM

At Hilton, it's as if The King's still alive

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LAS VEGAS - Elvis is returning to the building.

Nearly 34 years ago, on July 31, 1969, Elvis Presley stepped onstage at The International Hotel-Casino (which would be sold the following year and renamed the Las Vegas Hilton). Thus began the most successful run in the city's history as the King of rock 'n' roll performed 837 consecutive sellout shows over the next 7 1/2 years.

On Tuesday, "Trent Carlini: The Dream King," will begin a three-week run at the Las Vegas Hilton. It's only fitting that Carlini, the most accomplished Elvis impersonator today, is filling the King's blue suede shoes at his former domain.

A huge Elvis fan, I have seen Carlini perform. Just after college, in July 1990, I saw that "Trent Carlini: The Italian Elvis" was performing at the Algonquin Founders Day festival in a small town 40 miles west of Chicago, and I had to check him out.

I thought he was great, and obviously others did, too, as that was right around the time when Carlini's career was really taking off. Carlini was born in Chicago in 1968, but received his schooling in Europe - where he was on Aug. 16, 1977, when he heard the King was dead. He recorded some of his own music in Italy and then returned to the states in 1987.

"All I wanted to do was pursue a mechanical engineering career and perform at little clubs on the weekends," Carlini said Wednesday morning on his cell phone. "In 1991, someone sent a tape of one of my shows like the one in Algonquin to John Stuart, the producer of the Legends in Concert show at the Imperial Palace. He flew me out and hired me on the spot."

Carlini's stardom rose and you might have seen him on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Late Night with David Letterman," and "The Oprah Winfrey Show," among many others. But he chose to leave Legends in 1996 to go out on his own.

"I really wanted to expand more instead of doing the same thing every night," Carlini said. "Instead of being a caricature, I wanted it to be more of a tribute."

He headlined at the Boardwalk Casino on the Strip for five years as well as other venues, and is now excited about his big gig at the 1,500-seat Hilton Theater.

"I performed here a couple of years ago, but my show still wasn't fully developed," Carlini said. "I was using songs on tracks that played well in an intimate setting, but didn't work as well in a bigger room."

The new show will feature a five-piece band, a rhythm section, and three female backup singers, as well as a multi-media presentation on large screens.

"Trent has put everything into this production," said show producer Jerry Peluso. "He'll take the audience from Elvis' rockabilly roots, to the war years, to the bad movie years, to his famous 1968 comeback special in Hawaii, to his Hilton years."

Joining Carlini on opening night will be Joe Esposito, the best man at Elvis's wedding and his road manager, and Al Dvorin, the announcer who uttered the famous phrase, "Elvis has left the building."

"First of all, it's a tremendous honor to play at the Hilton where Elvis had so much success," Carlini said, "but what makes it even better is getting the approval of people from his inner circle who knew him well."

"The Dream King" tickets are priced at $35.50 and $46.50.

Tribute Town

Las Vegas has long been home to copy cats - not including the replicas of the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, the Sphinx, Venice, etc.

Among the many current productions are "Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean" at the Greek Isles, "Jazz Singer - Tribute to Neil Diamond" at the San Remo, and "Las Vegas' Original Tribute to Frank, Sammy & Dean" at the Cannery on July 18-19.

Also, Peluso will produce "Fab Four - The Ultimate Tribute to the Beatles" on Aug. 5-24 and again on Sept. 16-21 in the same theater. Carlini returns to the Hilton on Oct. 7-26.

And of course there are the ongoing variety shows with multiple impressionists like the aforementioned "Legends in Concert" at the Imperial Palace, as well as "American Superstars" at the Stratosphere, "An Evening at La Cage" at the Riviera, and the incomparable Danny Gans (who does all the impressions) at The Mirage.

Early returns from Gold Coast

The inaugural Gold Coast Summer Classic for horseplayers, which took place Thursday through Saturday, drew 506 entries at $400 apiece.

The off-the-Strip casino added $30,000 on top of the entry fees to bring the total purse to $232,400, with $92,960 going to the winner and paying down to 50th place. Those winnings will be awarded at 9 a.m. Sunday, but three players already earned back their entry fees (and then some) in daily side pools that were offered for the first time at a Coast Casinos tournament. A total of 36 contestants put up $200 apiece to take part in the contest-within-a-contest on Thursday, picking the final race at four contest tracks (Belmont, Monmouth, Arlington, and Louisiana Downs) and the first race at Hollywood Park.

Based on a $2 win and place bet, plus 10 bonus points for each winner and 5 bonus points for each second-place finisher, Ernie Alfonso of Glendale, Ariz., racked up a score of $73.20 and earned a cool $3,600. Bob Gianquitti of Boca Raton, Fla., and Dennis Seagle of Las Vegas each scored $63.40, and collected $1,800 apiece.

Dom Ippolito of Seal Beach, Calif., was kicking himself after Thursday's action. He put up his $200 for the side pool but wandered downstairs to the casino to play keno. By the time he returned, the first two races had been run. He inquired with contest officials but was told the prize pool had already been announced and they couldn't refund his money.

To make matters worse, he would have had the final three winners in the contest for a score of $60, good enough for fifth place even without being in the first two races.

But don't shed any tears for Ippolito, who has already qualified for Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in January at Bally's Las Vegas. He was holding a winning keno ticket for $1,700.