09/10/2003 12:00AM

'Papa' Joe feels he's improving with age

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The defending champion in the Stardust Invitational is usually asked to come back the following year to compete in the opening matchup of the head-to-head, single-elimination tournament.

It's a happy coincidence this year that national sports radio talk-show host "Papa" Joe Chevalier, who won last year's event as well as the 1999 title, will be celebrating his 55th birthday on Friday.

"Oh, I'm definitely better with age," Chevalier said when asked how he views his birthday. "You know the saying about youth being wasted on the young? That's absolutely true. By the time you figure things out, you can't do them anymore, or not as often."

Chevalier won't have to perform any physical feats, but he will be asked to pick seven football games off the Stardust betting boards (college or NFL, sides or totals) in his matchup with Dave Malinsky. As will be the case with the rest of the 16-handicapper field (the eight first-round matchups will last through Halloween, with the winners advancing), both will give out their selections live in the racebook between 9 and 10 p.m. Friday. The shows will be broadcast live on KDWN AM-720.

Both are very comfortable with being on the radio. While working the better part of 10 years for Las Vegas-based SportsForm (the previous name of weekly newspaper GamingToday), Chevalier started doing guest spots on some radio shows in town.

"I did a two-week fill-in for a regular host in 1991 or 1992, I'm a little fuzzy," said Chevalier, perhaps hinting that the memory is the first to go. "The phone lines lit up. One week into the fill-in, they offered me my own show."

After some changes in ownership, he found himself based in Chicago, but he still makes several trips to Las Vegas each year. In fact, he has been doing his Sporting News Radio Network show (airing Mondays through Friday, 3-7 p.m. Pacific) the past four weeks from the booth at the Mandalay Bay sports book and was in discussions to extend his stay another week.

Even though Malinsky is a relatively young 42, he's not lacking in experience. A professional handicapper, Malinsky is a former host of the "Stardust Line" radio show, and a former contributor to vegasinsider.com. He is currently the handicapper director of majorstats.com, edits the "Winning Points" newsletter, and has been associated with some offshore books.

In fact, he is so well respected in the industry that the offshore Olympic sports book (thegreek.com) has Malinsky -135 (risk $1.35 to win $1) over Chevalier +105 (bet $1 to win $1.05) to win their matchup. Olympic also has Malinsky as the tournament co-favorite at 5-1 along with two-time champ Ken White. Chevalier is a 16-1 longshot at Olympic, though BoDog (bodog.com) has him at a more respectable 8-1.

Bob Scucci, race and sports book director at the Stardust, said there will be no such odds at the host property.

"We're only licensed to book sporting events," he said, "No elections. No awards ceremonies. While they're picking sporting events, they're not in and of themselves a sporting event."

Malinsky is in a rare position to be able to oust Chevalier. But Chevalier isn't conceding anything.

"He's a professional handicapper and I'm just a big-mouth radio host, so I guess I'd make him the favorite, too," Chevalier said. "Dave has a great reputation, but a lot of reputations have hit the road after they face Papa."

Talk about a real fight

Chevalier vs. Malinsky should be a good battle, but it's not expected to come to fisticuffs. The same can't be true of the big fight this weekend, Oscar De La Hoya vs. "Sugar" Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night.

It's already a sell-out, with scalpers seeking 10 times the ticket value. The buzz has been building as De La Hoya, always a huge draw in Vegas, will try to avenge his split-decision loss to Mosley in June 2000 in the welterweight division. This fight is for De La Hoya's WBC and WBA middleweight belts.

"A great heavyweight fight is like a Super Bowl, but this will be the next closest thing," said Robert Walker, MGM Mirage race and sports book director. "The heavyweight division is down and there's not a major fight on the horizon, so people are really gearing up for this one."

De La Hoya is a -250 favorite with Mosley at +210. "It's been holding strong," Walker said. "De La Hoya has a strong following, but Mosley won the first match, so we've been getting money on both sides."

The fight is expected to go the distance with the over/under set at 12 full rounds. The over is -185 with the under at +165.

More fights to come

A very popular sport (especially among the younger crowd) is the no-holds-barred Ultimate Fighting Championship series. "UFC 44: Undisputed" will be held on Sept. 26 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center and on pay-per-view.

UFC doesn't have the long tradition of boxing, but there are definitely people out there looking to bet on these fights, said Mandalay race and sports book supervisor Hugh Citron.

In the featured light heavyweight match, Mandalay Bay has Tito Ortiz (11-2 in mixed martial arts) as a solid -190 favorite vs. UFC interim champ Randy Couture (8-4) at +150. In the heavyweight title fight, UFC champion Tim Sylvia (17-0) is -150 vs. Gan McGee (12-1) at +120 in a fight being billed as the "battle of the giants." There will be seven more fights on the card, which begins at 7 p.m.

Bettors back Kobe in his fight

So, we've seen that Nevada sports books can book boxing matches (as well as other fights), but they can't book non-sporting events. And we've also seen that offshore books are under no such restrictions and are willing to fill the void.

That's the case with the Kobe Bryant sexual assault trial. The Casablanca Sportsbook and Casino (betCBS.com) is among the books that put up odds last month on Bryant's fight in the court of law. "Guilty" and "not guilty/hung jury" were both opened at -120.

"We've been getting a lot of action on it," spokesman Dave Johnson said Wednesday afternoon. "Currently we have the 'not guilty' at -155 with the 'guilty' at +115. We have about 10 tickets on Kobe to be acquitted for every ticket saying he will be convicted."