12/20/2005 12:00AM

New South Coast has state-of-the-art book

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Everyone likes opening a big present at this time of year.

How about one that's 60 acres big and costs $600 million?

Just in time for the holidays, the South Coast - the crown jewel of the Coast Casinos family which already operates the Orleans, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, and Suncoast - opens Thursday night with a fireworks display at 7 p.m. and the doors opening to the public at 7:15.

The South Coast is located on the far south end of the Las Vegas Strip at Silverado Ranch Road, five miles south of Mandalay Bay and just off of I-15 for those driving in from California.

Coast Casinos is a wholly owned subsidiary of Boyd Gaming, but under the direction of Michael Gaughan it continues to run pretty much independently from the parent company, especially when it comes to the race and sports book operations.

The South Coast will continue that emphasis on race and sports book bettors with a 300-seat room.

Bert Osborne, Coast's director of sports book operations, is moving his office there from the Gold Coast and said he plans to continue taking the biggest bets in town.

Coast Casinos is well-known for its major handicapping tournaments, but no tournaments are planned for 2006 at South Coast, though it will be included in the weekly contests that are held concurrently at other Coast properties.

In addition to watching the ponies on simulcast, equine lovers will be able to see their favorite animal up close and personal at the Equestrian Complex, which the casino claims to be the finest indoor facility of its kind in the country, with a 4,400-seat arena and 1,200 climate-controlled horse stalls. The arena floor is 250 feet by 125 feet, with another 150,000 square feet of exhibit, meeting, and banquet space.

Located in the booming southwest suburbs, the South Coast will have all the amenities that have become standard for locals casinos: 16 movie theaters, a 64-lane bowling center, 600-seat bingo hall, pool and spa, child-care facilities, seven restaurants for every taste, and, oh - I almost forgot - an 80,000-square-foot casino. The hotel has a 25-story tower of 660 rooms (with plans already for a second tower) with 42-inch plasma TVs and high-speed Internet access.

Who's hot, who's not

The Colts' first straight-up loss of the season dropped them from being alone at the top of the point-spread standings and in a five-way tie with the Chargers, Broncos, Bears, and Giants at 9-4-1 (69 percent after throwing out the push). The only other team in the league covering at least 60 percent of its games is Kansas City at 8-5-1.

With the Vikings having their six-game cover streak snapped by the Steelers, the longest cover streak is three, by the Patriots and Texans.

* The Rams' 17-16 loss to the Eagles dropped them to an NFL-worst 4-10 (29 percent) against the spread. The Eagles and Jets both covered to put them into a tie with the Dolphins, Packers, and Raiders at 5-9 (36 percent).

No other teams are below 40 percent, so that means 20 of the league's 32 teams are between 40 and 60 percent.

* The Bears continued to be a stone-cold under team with their 16-3 win over the Falcons Sunday night to improve to 10-2-2 (83 percent) with the under. The Vikings, who have a six-game under streak, and the Browns both easily went under in their games versus, respectively, the Raiders and Steelers, and are right behind the Bears at 11-3 (79 percent). Other top under teams are the Ravens at 9-4-1 and the Packers at 9-5.

The games on Sunday and Monday night don't figure to have much scoring as the Packers host the Bears on Christmas Day with a total of 31 and the Ravens host the Vikings with a total of 34.

The Browns play the Steelers on Saturday afternoon with a total of 33.

* The Seahawks went over a league-high third straight time (matched by the Bills) to improve to 10-4 (71 percent) with the over. The only other teams at better than 60 percent are the Jaguars at 8-5-1, and the Broncos and Cardinals at 8-5.

NFL league-wide betting trends

Underdogs were barking on Sunday as they went 7-5 against the spread, but faves swept the three games on Saturday and the Monday night game to go 9-7 on the weekend to still be hitting at 58 percent on the season at 126-91-7.

* Home-field advantage continues to be negligible this year. Last week, home teams went 7-9 against the spread and lead on the season just 110-106-7.

* Home underdogs continued to be a big part of that downward trend as they went just 3-4 last weekend and are an abysmal 27-41-3 (40 percent) overall. Home dogs this week are the Browns +7 vs. the Steelers, Texans +6 vs. the Jaguars, Packers +6 vs. the Bears, and the Jets +4 vs. the Patriots.

* The AFC continued its superiority over the NFC, going 6-2 both straight up and versus the spread in interconference games. For the year, the AFC is 32-24-1 (57 percent).

* After three straight weeks in which the unders dominated, totals were split 8-8 this past weekend. For the season, unders have the edge at 116-101-7.