06/16/2004 12:00AM

Mega-mergers consolidate sports books


MGM Mirage Inc. is in the process of buying Mandalay Resort Group to form the world's largest gaming company.

If you've followed this story, you've probably heard these figures: total sales price of $7.9 billion, with Mandalay shareholders receiving $71 per share, up from MGM Mirage's original offer of $68 per share. The new company would have about half of the 72,000 hotel rooms on the Las Vegas Strip and roughly 64 percent of the high-roller suites. The resulting questions have revolved around whether the new company would pass federal and state antitrust laws.

But we'll leave the financial details for the business pages. In this space, we're more concerned with how it will affect the race and sports book landscape. For those who like more betting outlets with different odds, the initial impact of the sale won't be good news.

"Robert Walker does a great job overseeing our books now, so what we probably would do is combine the Mandalay books with ours," Terry Lanni, MGM Mirage's chairman and CEO, said Wednesday morning.

However, there has been speculation that MGM Mirage might sell off some of its properties after the sale, so those could turn into more betting outlets if bought by independent operators.

Lanni praised the race and sports books at the Mandalay properties, as well as their overall operations and personnel. He said that even though, with this sale, he will have been involved with three of the four biggest casino company purchases in history - all of them mind-boggling, multibillion-dollar deals - the business is still about people.

"You kind of take it in stride when you're talking about those kind of figures, but what we're buying, even more than buildings, are a lot of good people assets," Lanni said. "When there's a takeover, there's always fear and concern for people's jobs, but we've had a history of friendly acquisitions. When we bought the Mirage, the vast majority of workers stayed, and I expect the same will happen with Mandalay."

For those who remember Lanni as co-owner of 1999 Breeders' Cup Mile winner Silic and multiple stakes winner Ladies Din along with his partner, Bernie Schiappa, Lanni said they have five promising 2-year-olds. He declined to name names because he didn't want to play favorites, but said to watch for their debuts in the coming months.

Hilton purchase almost complete

While the MGM/Mandalay merger is just getting started, the purchase of the Las Vegas Hilton was expected to be completed by midnight Thursday. The Gaming Control Board unanimously approved Colony Capital's purchase of the Hilton from Caesars Entertainment, and the Nevada Gaming Commission was expected to give its approval Thursday.

Jay Kornegay, who made his name running the independent Imperial Palace race and sports books, will take over the Hilton's SuperBook, which had been operating as a satellite book of Caesars.

See? Even in this age of consolidation, additional betting outlets are popping up.

Reno Hilton tourney this weekend

While Caesars has sold the Las Vegas Hilton, it still hasn't sold the Reno Hilton, so it's business as usual there - and that means that Steve Fierro continues to run the biggest horse handicapping tournaments in the northern part of the state.

This Saturday and Sunday is Summer Showdown IV, which has a $200 entry fee. Players then make $300 in live wagers at the parimutuel windows each day. Players keep their live winnings, with the entry fees being paid back as prizes to the people who build the biggest bankrolls. Since the payoffs are in real money, there is no cap on the contest points that can be earned. The only restriction is that there are no pick six (or more) plays allowed, and no parlays.

In previous tournaments, the Reno Hilton has sent players to the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, but this time the top two finishers will qualify for the $1 million Horseplayers World Series hosted by Coast Casinos. In addition to the free entry, qualifiers will receive hotel accommodations, plus $300 to be used for airfare to Las Vegas.

Fierro said he hasn't received any negative feedback about switching to a World Series qualifier. In fact, he said it has been a marketing opportunity for players who want to compete in both championship events next January. Among the entrants for this weekend's tourney are Reno resident Dick Kistler, who qualified for the DRF/NTRA in February at the Hilton's Winter Challenge tournament, and Joe Hinson of Germantown, Tenn., who has already earned a spot in both championships.

"Hinson is the human version of a dual qualifier, so you know he has the dosage to go the distance," Fierro said.

Pistons' win good for books

The Pistons beat the Lakers four games to one in the NBA Finals, and that was good news for a lot of Vegas sports books, which annually take a lot of future-book action from loyal Laker fans. The odds on the Pistons were much higher - in the 15-1 to 20-1 range - than those on the Lakers, who were around even money and rarely higher than 3-1 at most books. But there were a lot more tickets bought on the Lakers, and for bigger money from those who felt L.A. had bought itself the best team.

However, an interesting sidebar is that the books probably could have won more. When the playoffs started, I put in a call to Las Vegas Sports Consultants to get the odds. After discussing with Ken White how all the best teams appeared to be in the West, I asked if he was going to release a price on West vs. East.

"We do that with the Super Bowl because it's a neutral site," he said. "But the only thing keeping us from doing it is that the Pacers have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, and that makes it hard to figure. The West champion would obviously be favored, and I'd say the price would be around -500 against any other Eastern team, but if the Pacers have home court, then the price would be much lower."

As it turned out, the Pacers lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Lakers opened at -500 at some books and were bet up as high as -900, winning more for the books. However, the books did miss out on potentially more winnings as bettors almost certainly would have taken the West vs. the East at any price if it had been offered.

Lakers' No. 1 fan coming to Vegas

Jack Nicholson, he of the courtside seats at Laker games, will have a lighter travel schedule this weekend. He was in Detroit on Tuesday night and was expected to go to L.A. for game six on Thursday, then fly to Las Vegas to receive the Marquee Award at the CineVegas Film Festival on Friday night at the Palms Resort-Casino in Las Vegas, then go back to L.A. for a potential game seven on Sunday if the series went that far.

Instead, he's expected to be on hand Friday for the 7 p.m. screening of his 1971 film "Drive, He Said," and then receive his lifetime achievement award afterward.