12/17/2001 1:00AM

Offshore books proved quick on the draw


No sports organization likes it when its game officials make headlines. It's never a good thing. No one makes a big deal about a well-officiated game.

Decisions by officials and judges dominated last weekend's action, with the main focal points being the draw between Evander Holyfield and John Ruiz and the instant replay snafu in the Browns-Jaguars NFL game in Cleveland.

But neither controversial decision affected bettors much (at least in Las Vegas).

The Holyfield-Ruiz fight was pretty much a pick-em affair around town - with some books making Holyfield a slight favorite between -120 and -140 - and all straight bets were refunded. The way Vegas casinos handle boxing, they include the draw at odds of about 12-1 with other props such as Holyfield by decision (2-1), Holyfield by KO (5-2), Ruiz by KO (2-1), Ruiz by decision (5-2). Bookmakers paid off the draw and pocketed all the money on the other props, including the round-by-round knockout props. (Note: In the Lennox Lewis-Hasim Rahman fight last month, I recommended a bet on the draw; I was one heavyweight fight too early.)

Caribbean books and those based in Britain were another story. Many books included the draw as a betting proposition along with the fighters to win (in the same way that soccer matches usually have a draw option). When the fight ended in a draw, it was a shocking loss for bettors who are used to Vegas-style rules, because foreign bookmakers pay off only on the draw and keep all bets on either fighter.

The old adage applies: let the bettor beware. And read your casino's rules.

Another rule book controversy happened in the Browns-Jaguars game. Officials on the field allowed a play to be run (though it was only QB Tim Couch spiking the ball to kill the clock) and then decided to go back and review the previous play, even though the rule states there can be no review after another play is run. It's been this way for three years.

In case you've been in a cave or Christmas shopping and haven't seen the play, the Jaguars were leading 15-10 in the final minute with the Browns facing fourth and 2 on the Jaguars' 12. Couch threw a pass to Quincy Morgan that was called a catch at the 9-yard line.

After the officials huddled and determined they had the right to review the play, the ruling was changed to an incomplete pass and the Jaguars were given the ball. Browns fans littered the field with beer bottles and anything else they could throw. The referee declared the game over and the game officials and players ran for their lives.

There were no such riots in Las Vegas sports books, partly because all sports books show all the games but only have audio from one at a time (Bears-Bucs was the game of choice in the early games). Another reason is that the Browns were 2- to 2 1/2-point favorites and would have needed a touchdown and two-point conversion to cover the spread (no sure thing, since they hadn't scored an offensive touchdown all day and would have had only three attempts from the 9-yard line). The over/under also wasn't in question because it was at 37 1/2 and would have taken two TD's to go over (though the second half over/under, 17 1/2, could have been exceeded with another TD).

Eventually, the players returned to the field to run off the final 48 seconds. If the Jaguars hadn't been required to kneel down twice, the game still would have been official because 55 minutes had been played.

But both cases show that it's imperative to read the house rules where you're betting because anything can, and will, happen.

Palms ropes Rodeo action

The National Finals Rodeo wrapped up Sunday at the Thomas and Mack Center. The Palms, which was Las Vegas's newest resort until the scheduled opening of Green Valley Ranch on Tuesday night, posted the city's only odds on the rodeo in its continuing effort to offer bettors more choices at its off-Strip location.

Five NFR events were on the board, with 12 competitors and a field wager offered for each. Results were based on the most money won at the NFR and not necessarily the person who won the world championships in each event.

"We put the odds up before the NFR started and kept the numbers up for a few rounds," said sports book supervisor Adam Pullen. "We adjust the odds based on the early results and how people were betting."

Cody Ohl, who went on to win the All-Around Cowboy title, cashed tickets for his fans as the 2-1 favorite the calf-roping event. Lan LaJeaunesse prevailed as a 7-2 favorite in the bareback riding.

Bull riding, probably the most popular event among spectators, was won by Blue Stone, a member of the field, which was a 6-1 proposition. Billy Etbauer won the saddle bronc competition at 5-1 and longshot Janet Stover rode to the barrel racing title at 12-1.

In other promotions to draw players, the Palms offers free Daily Racing Forms on Mondays, free lunch in the food court with a $20 race bet on Tuesday, and a free hat or T-shirt with a $20 race bet on Wednesdays.

o The handicapping contests are on hiatus this week but will start again with the opening of Santa Anita on Dec. 26.