03/07/2003 12:00AM

NCAA bettors brace for McCain attack

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LAS VEGAS - "Here we go again."

That was a one-line e-mail I received last Tuesday from a race and sports book director after he saw an article in the Las Vegas Sun headlined, "New NCAA president backs bet ban."

The story was actually a lukewarm endorsement of the ban by Myles Brand, who took over the NCAA's top post last year from Cedric Dempsey.

The good news is that Brand did not even mention gambling during his prepared statements at the National Press Club in Washington on Tuesday, and was asked about this issue only on the next-to-last question at the press conference. Clearly, Brand knows the NCAA has other priorities, and he called on Sen. John McCain, the chief sponsor of the Amateur Sports Integrity Act, to lead the charge.

"We worked with him [McCain] last year, and our expectation for that bill is strong," Brand said. "As it moves forward, and it looks like it has a chance to succeed, we will be very much behind it."

The bill is on everyone's radar screen because in past years McCain has scheduled publicity- and support-seeking press conferences during March Madness since everyone has college basketball on the brain as they're set to fill out their brackets.

Brand said he hasn't spoken with McCain, and McCain's office isn't tipping its hand about any similar events this year.

The other good news is that Nevada and the gaming industry isn't letting its guard down. Nevada's two senators, Harry Reid and John Ensign, teamed up to successfully kill the bill two years ago when it barely passed the Senate Commerce Committee (which is chaired by McCain) and died before reaching a vote on the Senate floor. This week, Reid says he's confident they will have the votes to defeat it again.

Jack Finn, a spokesman for Ensign, said: "Senator Ensign will not alter his strategy on the betting ban legislation due to any perceived changes in the NCAA's aggressiveness on the issue."

More good news for sports bettors

For years, Ralph Engelstad, founder and owner of the Imperial Palace, had contemplated selling the property that sits on a valuable piece of land in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip. But he could never part with his pride and joy, which he built in 1979.

The IP stands across the street from Caesars Palace and is flanked on the east side of the Strip by the Flamingo and Harrah's. Other mega-resorts such as The Mirage, Treasure Island, The Venetian, Bally's, Paris, and the Bellagio are all within walking distance.

When Engelstad died last November, there was a lot of speculation as to the IP's fate. However, this past week, Betty Engelstad, the late owner's widow, told the Nevada Gaming Control Board that she does not plan to sell the Imperial Palace, which with 2,700 rooms is the second-largest individually owned hotel in the world.

That's good news for bettors who enjoy playing where they have, according to the IP, "the most props on the planet." But beyond the props, it's also good for those who like to shop for prices.

In the past decade, corporate consolidation has taken control of the Strip. Park Place Entertainment owns four of the mega-resorts (Caesars, Flamingo, Bally's, and Paris), while MGM-Mirage owns three (The Mirage, Treasure Island, and Bellagio). That means all of those books have the same odds as their sister properties. To find other odds, bettors on the Strip have to trek to The Venetian on the north end, the Barbary Coast, or all the way down to the Aladdin. The hotels are so big that they look close, but that's a lot of walking (or a lot of driving in traffic and parking).

It would be a shame to lose that pit stop in the middle. History tells us that the IP will probably be bought by a corporate entity, torn down, and rebuilt with a shiny new building in its place, but it's nice to know it'll be around for the foreseeable future.

Eddie D. to be honored

Eddie Delahoussaye gave a lot of thrills to a lot of Las Vegas horseplayers over the years. They will have a chance to say thank you at a retirement party at The Orleans at 8:45 a.m. on Monday, March 24.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer will also be on hand, and both will take part in a question and answer session with Ralph Siraco. To cap off the festivities, The Orleans will also give away $1,000 in a free handicapping contest on that day's Gulfstream Park card.

New York-New York's 9-11 tribute

In the days following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, visitors to Las Vegas began leaving memorials outside the New York-New York Hotel-Casino just like they did at Ground Zero in New York.

The ritual continued for months, as more than 4,000 T-shirts were left on the fences outside the resort, as well as baseball caps, and other items, many of which included inspirational messages and heartfelt pleas for peace. Some items were starting to fade from exposure to the sun and the water in the location's man-made New York harbor. Hotel management couldn't bear to throw out the items and decided to erect a permanent tribute to those whose lives were lost.

A granite wall was built with 20 shadow-box like cases to hold the momentos. The rest of the items were itemized and are in storage on the UNLV campus. They will be periodically rotated, so that the memorial is always changing, including the addition of new items that are left.

To the hotel's credit, no press release was issued and no publicity-grabbing unveiling was held.