07/04/2006 11:00PM

Let's legalize light betting on 'fun' events

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There was a huge variety of sports action available to bettors over the long holiday weekend, from baseball to soccer to auto racing to tennis, and all the other sports in between.

But one of the most talked-about sporting events, the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest on Tuesday at New York's Coney Island, was not available for wagering here in Las Vegas.

Offshore books were able to take bets, including odds to win (Japan's Takeru Kobayashi was the 1-3 favorite), over/under 50 hot dogs for Kobayashi, and a prop on whether the record of 53 1/2 dogs would be broken. Everyone who backed Kobayashi came out a winner as he defeated 22-year-old American Joey Chestnut by almost two dogs by eating 53 3/4 dogs in the 12-minute competition.

Since 1980 when the late great Sonny Reizner posted odds on "Who Shot J.R.?" at the old Castaways Hotel, Nevada gaming regulations have been written to prohibit sports book wagers on any event in which someone knows the outcome (such as TV scripts) or that are decided by a vote (elections, Oscars, MVP awards). The prohibition even extends to coin flips before football games, which is why you will see the prop worded "Who will receive the opening kickoff?" instead of heads or tails.

The end result is that all sports bets are limited to what happens on the field of play. The hot dog eating contest would seem to meet the criteria for betting, because it's a timed event that has an outcome decided by the participants and without an outcome that's known by anyone. However, according to several sports book directors, the Gaming Control Board has shot down requests to book action on this event as well as others in this kind of gray area, and it's basically not worth it to push the subject with just a few thousand dollars in handle at stake. They have to choose their battles when dealing with regulators.

But it's a shame that Nevada is shut out of this type of wagering and that people are pretty much funneled offshore if they want action. The same thing will happen later this month when the World Series of Poker, which you can bet at offshore books, takes place at the Rio, and Nevada books are out of the game. Imagine the betting handle that would attract.

Obviously, the difference is that Nevada is regulated while the offshore companies are not.

Now, I'm not saying that Nevada gaming regulators should loosen the reins to the extent that everything goes, but what's the harm in having odds on the Oscar results or American Idol or Survivor? Or on the next NFL commissioner or MVP? It could be made clear that these are fun props with low limits, and it's not likely that someone at Price Waterhouse is going to fly to Vegas to get down a few hundred dollars on the winners' names he sealed in the envelopes.

I wouldn't go as far as approving some of the more off-the-wall offerings, such as the number of hurricanes that will hit the U.S. this year, movie box office over/unders, or the sex of celebrity babies, but there should be a middle ground to keep everyone happy and not give bettors yet another reason to send their money elsewhere.

Back to the "real" sports

Tony Stewart won the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway last Saturday night as the 6-1 co-third choice at local sports books. This Sunday's Nextel Cup race, the USG 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, has Stewart and Jimmie Johnson as the 6-1 co-favorites at Station Casinos with Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth at 7-1 and Kasey Kahne at 8-1.

* Sports books had to scramble last Friday to take down Tour de France odds after the top two betting choices, Ivan Basso of Italy and Jan Ullrich of Germany, were banned from the race in a doping scandal. What little betting was being done on the race became almost non-existent after adjusted odds were posted.

- There aren't any major boxing matches here this weekend, but hardcore fight fans will tune into Showtime for Saturday night's card from St. Louis. Roman Karmazin puts his IBF junior middleweight belt on the line as a -190 favorite vs. Cory Spinks, who is best known for being the son of Leon Spinks. Spinks hasn't fought since losing to Zab Judah last year in the same arena, with many people saying he was distracted by fighting in his hometown. In the other featured fight, Steve Cunningham is a -200 favorite over Guillermo Jones. Both dogs have a chance.

- Mandalay Bay will host "UFC 61: Bitter Rivals" on Saturday night. Tito Ortiz is a solid -500 favorite around town in the marquee match vs. Ken Shamrock. Andrei Arlovski is a -280 favorite vs. Tim Sylvia.