02/25/2002 12:00AM

New York Yankees 2-1 to win World Series


LAS VEGAS - It has been more than 3 1/2 months, but it seems like just yesterday that the Diamondbacks knocked off the Yankees in the World Series.

The exhibition season begins Wednesday, with the Reds and Twins throwing out the first pitch at 10:05 a.m., Las Vegas time. Nine games are scheduled for Thursday, and all teams will be in action by Friday as the regular-season opener is only 32 days away.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which supplies odds to the state's sports books as well as to bookmakers worldwide, has the Yankees as the 2-1 favorites as spring training games begin. When LVSC first released its 2002 World Series odds back in November, the A's were the second choice at 5-1, but they've been raised to 12-1 after losing slugger Jason Giambi to - who else? - the Yankees.

The Mariners, winner of an AL-record 117 games last year, are the second choice at 4-1, followed by the Diamondbacks and Braves at 7-1, and the Mets at 8-1. The Mets opened last fall at 12-1, but a slew of off-season acquisitions improve their chances.

The Cubs, who always get bet down in future books because of their loyal fans, are 15-1 in LVSC's odds. The Palms, located west of the Strip on Flamingo, opened the Cubs at 25-1 and have lowered them to 10-1 because of all the money they took.

The Twins and the Expos, the two teams targeted for league contraction before they were reprieved, are 30-1 and 150-1 at LVDC, respectively. The Palms has the Expos, a team being run by Major League Baseball, at 250-1.

The Palms also has odds up for the AL and NL pennant and all the division races, plus props on the home run champion with 49 sluggers plus a field bet. Sammy Sosa is the 3-2 favorite to end up leading the majors in homers, just ahead of Barry Bonds at 5-2. For most wins by a pitcher, Randy Johnson is the 5-1 favorite, followed by Pedro Martinez at 6-1, and Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens at 7-1.

February great for casino business

February is the shortest month, but it may be the most profitable for Las Vegas's casino industry. Official results will not be released until early April, but all indications are that it will be a record-setting month.

February started with the Super Bowl, which traditionally has been played in January but was moved back a week this year because of the Sept. 11 tragedy. Another bonanza for the city was the string of holidays running from Chinese New Year on Feb. 12, to Valentine's Day on Feb. 14 to Presidents' Day on Feb. 18. Visitor volume was high and the casinos were packed.

Figures for all of 2001 were released last week. While Las Vegas's visitor count was down 2.3 percent (mostly because of a downturn in the tourism industry in the wake of Sept. 11) to 35 million, casino revenue rose 3.6 percent to $15 billion in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas. The revenue upturn has undoubtedly continued in January and February.

The good news should continue into March. The NASCAR circuit comes to town this weekend for Sunday's UAW DaimlerChrysler 400, followed by the NCAA men's basketball tournament and St. Patrick's Day the weekend of March 17.

Horse-racing contest on Sundays

Las Vegas horse-racing contest players usually can find tournaments any day of the week, but Sunday usually has been a day of rest - except for players who play every day at the Poker Palace, which runs a contest on Wednesday through Sunday.

Now, the Fiesta on Rancho Drive in north Las Vegas is looking to fill the void with a free "Big 5 Pony Express" Sunday contest starting this week. Race and sports book manager Bert Cirincione will choose five races from various tracks each Sunday, concentrating on the top stakes races of the day. Contestants select one horse, plus an alternate in case of a scratch, in each race and receive points based on where the horses they pick finish. A win is worth the win mutuel plus 10 points, second is worth the place mutuel plus 5 points, and third is worth the place mutuel plus 2 points. First prize is $500, second is $100, and third is $50, and there are smaller prizes through 10th place.

The Fiesta, along with its sister property in Henderson, also has a free NBA contest on Friday nights.

Sports book notes

Underdogs ruled sports betting over the weekend:

* Matt Kenseth won the Subway 400 at North Carolina Speedway as a 30-1 longshot. The race ended under a caution flag after an accident left debris on the track. A postrace inspection raised a question if Kenseth's Rousch Racing Ford was too low, and a review was under way on Monday. For betting purposes, Sunday's result stands.

* Kevin Sutherland won golf's Match Play Championship as the No. 62 seed in the 64-player field. Sutherland was part of the 12-1 field at the Palms, which had individual odds on 49 players and lumped the other 15 longshots into a field wager. Sutherland was 2-down to No. 3 seed David Duval with two holes to play in Wednesday's first round, but battled back to win that round in sudden death. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the top two seeds, lost in the first round of the upset-filled tourney. Sutherland defeated his childhood friend, Scott McCarron, in the title match on Sunday.

* Paulie Ayala won a unanimous decision over Bones Adams Saturday night at Mandalay Bay. The fight opened at pick-'em at most Vegas books, and early money on Ayala drove the price on him up to -130 (you bet $1.30 to win $1). But late money came in on Adams, and he closed as high as -130 at some books. Ayala had won a controversial split decision against Adams in August, in a fight that many consider the fight of the year. But this time, Ayala left no doubt as he retained his IBO superbantamweight belt. Ayala (34-1) is considering a step up in class to featherweight to take on the winner of the June 22 Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Berrera fight.