11/22/2006 12:00AM

Orleans plays host to Vegas Invitational

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It's been a long time since UNLV was a major college basketball power, so many people will be surprised when they find out that the biggest game of the weekend is taking place in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

Florida, the defending national champion and current No. 1 team, will play Kansas at the Orleans Arena, west of the Strip on Tropicana Avenue, connected to the Orleans Hotel-Casino. It is part of the Las Vegas Invitational holiday tournament, which organizers hope to move into the upper echelon of preseason tournaments, along with the Preseason NIT, the Maui Invitational, and the Great Alaska Shootout.

The tournament will mark the first time the NCAA has allowed games to be played at a hotel-casino - previously, college tournaments here were held at local high schools - but sports books here are planning to have a line on the game, just as they have for all UNLV games since February 2001.

A Florida-Kansas game certainly makes a big splash, though it lost a little luster after Kansas, the preseason No. 2 team, dropped to No. 3 and then lost last week to Oral Roberts and plummeted to No. 10 in the AP poll and No. 12 in the coaches' poll.

It is still a marquee game, however, between two top programs and will be televised live by ESPN2 at 8 p.m. Pacific.

It's the last game of the two-day Las Vegas Invitational, which also includes Western Kentucky, Ball State, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee State, Towson University, and Prairie View A&M. The full schedule is available at orleansarena.com.

Not your father's local casinos

Major events like the Vegas Invitational could continue to come to the local casinos, which more and more are resembling destination resorts. The relatively recent openings of the off-Strip Green Valley Ranch, Red Rock, and the South Coast (now renamed the South Point) are the most glaring examples, but even previously established casinos like the Orleans are forced to expand to keep up with the competition.

That's what's happening at the Santa Fe Station in the northwest part of the valley. After adding movie theaters last year, it is now in the midst of a $130 million expansion that includes a new parking garage and new restaurants, an increase to 14,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, and, of course, more gambling areas.

The Santa Fe Station had planned to open its new race and sports book this Friday, but when I visited Tuesday night, there was a sign that the old book was closing at 8 p.m. and reopening in the new space at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

The new book blows the old space away. It has a crystal-clear five-screen, 114-foot-wide video wall, which is similar to the layout of the new Green Valley Ranch book. There is seating in the book and adjoining lounge for 260 people, with 168 seats in the race book (all with individual TV's), and plenty of room for your Racing Form, plus reading lights. The sports side has 30 comfortable leather chairs, with another 30 leather chairs in the VIP area, which also has five booths with individual TV's.

Bill Walkowski has moved over from Texas Station to run the book.

New Nugget book downtown

If the Santa Fe book is the jewel of the northwest valley, downtown has a gem in the new book at the Golden Nugget.

The Nugget is under new ownership of the Landry's restaurant chain, which has been renovating the downtown property. Tony Miller has been brought in to run the new race and sports book, which has moved to the northwest corner of the casino, where the buffet used to be. Miller counts the Santa Fe as one of his former employers, along with Caesars Palace, Las Vegas Hilton, and the Hard Rock.

"The space is just about 5,000 square feet, but we have more TV's per square foot than any book in town," Miller said.

Miller said there are four video walls with nine 27-inch high-definition plasma screens and another 60 plasmas surrounding the book. In addition, there are 33 race seats with individual monitors. For comfort, there are leather couches in front of the video wall.

Beat Bogdanovich promo winds down

Friday is the last week of the Beat Bogdanovich promotion between former bookmaker Nick Bogdanovich and professional gambler Steve Fezzik, which was held on the second floor of the Fitzgerald's casino. Bogdanovich and Fezzik each put up $25,000 of their own money and gave out six plays a week each during the Leroy's Sports Hour show on KENO AM-1460 from 2-3 p.m. Pacific time. The handicapper with the highest winning percentage takes the pot.

Both have exceeded expectations. Heading into the final week, Fezzik is 40-19-7 (68 percent), and Bogdanovich is 41-23-2 (64 percent). Bogdanovich has one more victory, but also has four more losses. Fezzik has five more ties to save his winning percentage. Of course, Fezzik is just doing what the title of the promotion says. During last basketball season, Brent Crowe beat Alan Boston in the Beat Boston contest.

(Hmm . . . maybe I'll agree to do a challenge if they name it after my competitor.)

To celebrate the success of the promotion, Leroy's is having a party and serving lunch to all those who come to the final show.

Texas A&M vs. Texas (o/u 57 1/2)

Friday offers 12 college football games, and I'll make a play on an under in the battle for Texas supremacy. These teams are capable of a shootout when they play more explosive offenses and weak defenses, but this game should be competitive enough to keep the scoring down. This should be more like each of their games vs. Oklahoma and Nebraska - all four games were under this total.

PLAY: Under for 1 unit.

Last week: 3-3 for a net loss of 0.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). College season record: 33-29-1, including 1-1 on 2-units plays, for a net profit of 1 unit.