10/23/2001 11:00PM

Let the parties - and the action - begin

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Tuesday and Wednesday were very slow days in Las Vegas's race and sports books. With no football games between Monday night and Thursday night, baseball's league championship series winding up early, and the NBA still in preseason, hockey was just about the only sport to bet.

But that was just the calm before the storm. There were two football games scheduled for Thursday night, and on Friday a lot of high-rolling horse players (at least those that weren't already at the Las Vegas Hilton for the Pick the Ponies tournament) will be arriving in town.

On Saturday, in addition to a full day of racing with the World Thoroughbred Championships, there's a great college football card, highlighted by Oklahoma-Nebraska, and the World Series begins Saturday night in Phoenix.

Right around the corner, the NBA season tips off next Tuesday, and the NCAA season does the same on Thursday, Nov. 8.

Here's a quick glance at these upcoming events:

Championships Day parties

A lot of casinos, including most of those on the Strip, only have private VIP parties on Saturday, but there still are plenty of parties open to the public as well as Championship-related betting opportunities.

The biggest parties in town that are open to the public are at the Coast Resorts properties. The Orleans, Suncoast, and Gold Coast will open ballrooms and showrooms to accommodate big crowds, with free refreshments and a Breeders' Cup T-shirt with a $20 wager.

Binion's Horseshoe will host the biggest party downtown, with food specials, a Breeders' Cup glass with a $15 wager, and drawings for BC logo watches.

Every other race book will be crowded, with most also giving T-shirts or glasses. Station Casinos will be giving away T-shirts and cups in its race books. At Arizona Charlie's West, a $20 bet gets you a food item and a ticket for drawings ($50 cash or free meals) after every race. In addition, Charlie's Club members get double points on race wagers.

Big events like this always mean expanded betting menus, and a number of race books are stepping up. Head-to-head matchups, in which a horse doesn't have to win but only beat the other horse in the matchup, are the most popular props. Frank Minervini, oddsmaker for Coast Resorts, was the first to put up matchups earlier this week. John Avello at Bally's was waiting for Wednesday's post-position draw, but will have two matchups in each race and three in the Classic. Those matchups will be available at all Park Place properties, including Caesars Palace, Paris, Flamingo, Las Vegas Hilton, Caesars Tahoe, Reno Hilton, and Flamingo Laughlin.

Mark Marion at the Poker Palace in North Las Vegas will use BC races on his head-to-head parlay card, which is also available at the Imperial Palace on the Strip. Marion also will post individual matchups.

For serious players, Hugh Citron at Mandalay Bay promises matchups with the highest limits in town.

If you're looking for more help in picking winners, Friday is seminar night, with Jerry Jacovitz holding court at the Excalibur after the Santa Anita races. Jacovitz will move his tack to the Santa Fe Station race book for Saturday's races.

Over at Sam's Town, Gordon Jones and his "Track Talk" radio crew will host their seminar at 6 p.m., and they will also be on hand Saturday. In the northern part of the state, DRF's Lauren Stich will be joined by John Lindo and Steve Fierro for a seminar at 6 p.m. Friday in Reno's biggest party, at the Hilton. Twenty people will win $100 betting vouchers to be used on Championships Day.

Yankees take the money

The Arizona Diamondbacks, in just their fourth year of existence, have made it to the World Series against the dynasty called the New York Yankees. Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened the series price at pick-em, with bettors laying -110 on either side. The Yankees have been a shorter price all year in future books, but oddsmakers are giving the Diamondbacks a chance because of their one-two pitching punch of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson (who will both probably be favored in every game they start), plus their home-field advantage.

Regardless, bettors rushed to the windows this week and made the Yankees a -130 to -140 favorite, with the D-backs at +110 to +120. I guess it's not surprising. The Stardust put up a prop a few weeks ago asking which league would win the World Series, and the American League opened as a -120 favorite and was bet up to -210 within a few days.

Schilling is a -135 favorite over Mike Mussina in Saturday's Game 1. Both pitchers have combined to go under the total in their last 11 starts (six for Schilling, five for Mussina). That will be a tough feat to duplicate as LVSC set the over/under at a miserly 6 1/2 runs.

Lakers, Jordan attract bets

The Lakers are favored to "threepeat," something they never did under Pat Riley, who coined the word and had it trademarked. LVSC has the Lakers at 7-5 to win the NBA title, with the Spurs and Kings a distant co-second choice at 6-1. The Allen Iverson-led 76ers are the Eastern team with the lowest odds, at 8-1.

But the gap between the top team and the also-rans isn't as ridiculous as the 15-1 on the Washington Wizards. While Michael Jordan was contemplating his return, most sports books were not taking bets on the Wizards. When he officially returned, LVSC posted 15-1 for a team that has an over/under season win total of 38 1/2. The Wizards were 2-4 this preseason heading into the final two games Thursday and Friday.

To illustrate Jordan's impact on everything related to the NBA, Caesars Palace and the other Park Place properties have a proposition bet on his average points per game (over/under 27 1/2) and head-to-head props against the young gunslingers Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Jerry Stackhouse, and Tracy McGrady. Jordan is an underdog in each matchup.

NCAA futures on the boards

Duke is just as big of a favorite to repeat its title as the Lakers. LVSC opened the Blue Devils at 3-1, while the Imperial Palace has them at 9-5. Ed Salmons at the IP teamed up with Jeff Sherman of the soon-to-be-opened Palms to come up with odds on 99 teams, plus a field bet. Other top contenders are Maryland and Illinois at 7-1, Kentucky and UCLA at 12-1, Kansas 15-1, Florida 20-1, and Stanford and Arizona at 25-1.

This is the first time Nevada sports books have been able to take future bets this early in the season. Before a gaming regulation was passed in February allowing Nevada colleges on the betting boards, books had to wait until UNLV was eliminated from the NCAA tournament to take these wagers. UNLV is at 100-1 and not expected to get much action.