11/12/2003 1:00AM

Palms anniversary party a weekend affair

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It used to be that parties in Las Vegas were tied to other events, like conventions, big boxing matches, rodeos.

But now the party is the event. There are major drinkfests happening every weekend in this town - including many that you never hear about. And then there are the mass gatherings that turn into major marketing events, the most noteworthy recently being the parties thrown by Playboy, Maxim, and Stuff magazines. Coincidentally - or perhaps not so coincidentally - all were held at the Palms, which is rolling out the red carpet again.

The Palms opened on Nov. 21, 2001, and the Maloof family is hosting its second anniversary bash this weekend. George Maloof, who runs the day-to-day operations of the hotel-casino, and his brothers Joe and Gavin, who handle the duties as owners of the Sacramento Kings, even went on the Howard Stern radio show last Thursday to promote the event.

At 10 p.m. Friday, there is a $20 general admission concert at the Rain nightclub with a yet-to-be announced surprise guest. Last year, it was Macy Gray. On Saturday, the actual birthday of the resort, George Maloof will be serving free cake and champagne from 1 to 4 p.m. to everyone who visits (there is no admission charge). There is another $20 admission event at 11 p.m. Saturday as well as some invitation-only parties, and a concert by Seal on Sunday night.

The celebration is expected to attract A-list celebrities from the world of entertainment and sports. It's too bad the NFL is done with its bye weeks, because the Palms has been a popular hangout for some of pro football's highest-profile players during their off weeks, including the Bears' Brian Urlacher, 49ers' Terrell Owens, and the Giants' Jeremy Shockey (since he's out with a sprained knee, maybe he will be here after all).

Another big gathering this weekend will be the "Big Smoke" event thrown by Cigar Aficionado magazine at Mandalay Bay on Friday through Sunday. Anyone who hangs out in race and sports books knows that this appeals to that demographic. Nearly 6,000 people attended last year's event. A package - including seminars on the history of cigars, wrapper tasting and discussion, and how to roll your own - has been on sale at the www.cigaraficionado.com website for $495 for all of the weekend's activities, but tickets to the "Big Smoke" parties from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night will still be available at the door for $175, according Samantha Shanken, the magazine's vice president of marketing. The ticket gets you samples from 20 premium cigar producers from around the world as well as premium spirits, wine, beer, and food from many fine Las Vegas restaurants.

Football contest updates

Another event Friday night is the Stardust Invitational, with two handicappers making seven plays (college or pro, sides or totals) in the head-to-head, single-elimination, winner-take-all $10,000 tournament. This week's match, slated from 9-10 p.m. in the sports book and broadcast live on KDWN AM-720 and www.kdwn.com, is a quarterfinal contest between handicapper Kevin O'Neill and GamingToday's managing editor, David Stratton. In his first-round victory back in September, O'Neill became only the second person in the nine-year history of the contest to post a perfect 7-0 record. Last week, Steve Fezzik went 5-2 to defeat David Malinsky, who went 2-4-1.

Fezzik's winning record was a rarity in handicapping contests last week. In the Hilton SuperContest (where Fezzik went only 2-3), the contestants averaged only 2.15 points, which takes into account the people who earned half-points for pushes, from their five NFL selections. The leader, "Peter and Paul," entered the week with a record of 33-12 (73.3 percent) but could manage only a 1-4 mark. However, they still held onto the lead with a record of 34-16 (68 percent) because no contestant in the Top 20 posted a record better than 3-2. In fact, of the 335 contestants who submitted plays, only two went 5-0, while a whopping 16 went 0-5. "Moxie" is a half-game back in second place at 33-16-1 with "Three21" and "Uncle Dave 777" another game back at 32-17-1.

The selections in the Station Casinos Gambler's Challenge weren't much better. "AJ Sports" barely held onto the lead with a record of 2-1-2 to stand at 31-16-3 for the season. Ties count for half a point, so he has 32 1/2. "Jarhead" also went 2-1-2 to remain in second at 30-16-4 for 32 points. Due to some lines being different between the two contests, "Jarhead" went 3-1-1 in the SuperContest and has moved up to 12th place, just three games off the pace.

Race book notes

The "Laffit Pincay Jr. Farewell Celebration" scheduled for Dec. 6 at Bally's-Paris has been postponed indefinitely, John Avello, the race and sports director there, said Thursday. Avello said plans fell through for a group that he was hoping to get to visit from Pincay's home country of Panama, and that there were some scheduling conflicts with people unable to make the trip from California.

Even with that cancelation, Avello has a lot on his plate. The Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship returns to Bally's for the second straight year on Jan. 23-24, and then there's the Horseplayers Expo at Paris on Feb. 26-29, featuring Andrew Beyer, Steven Crist, Jim Quinn, Tom Brohamer, Mark Cramer and other luminaries in the handicapping field.

The Expo costs $399, which includes all 16 sessions, two cocktail receptions, and a Saturday night banquet. In addition, there will be a $10,000 "Beat the Pros" handicapping contest on that Sunday. There is also a special $125 per-night rate at Paris for attendees. Complete details are available at www.drf.com or by calling (800) 306-3676.

* This Friday and next, Hollywood Park will be running race cards at 7:05 p.m. Many horseplayers in Nevada prefer these late posts because it gives them more time to get around town to enter as many low-end handicapping contests as possible, including the ones at the Sunset Station, Texas Station, Las Vegas Hilton, and Circus Circus (and also the Circus Circus up in Reno). Hollywood returns to its 12:30 p.m. Friday first post Nov. 28.