02/21/2005 1:00AM

Plaza the place for innovative bets


It's not as if there weren't enough betting opportunities available in the race and sports books here on Saturday.

There were full cards from horse tracks all over the country, Nascar Busch Series auto racing from Daytona, the Bernard Hopkins-Howard Eastman middleweight title fight from Los Angeles, four arena football games, and 97 college basketball games from coast to coast.

All that action, yet Lou D'Amico, race and sports book director of the Plaza Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas, went above and beyond the call of duty by offering odds on the NBA's 3-point shooting contest during the All-Star weekend festivities in Denver.

(Note: The Plaza was not able to post odds on the slam-dunk contest because its scoring criteria are determined by judging. Nevada gaming regulations prohibit such bets, with boxing the lone exception. The 3-point Shootout has a scoring system that is determined on a field of play.)

Bettors who backed the Phoenix Suns' Quentin Richardson, the fifth choice at 5-1, were pleasantly surprised to be cashing their tickets when Richardson made his last nine shots in the final round to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers' Kyle Korver by a point. Richardson started the competition with an airball, barely made the finals by one point, and then missed his first four shots of the finals before getting hot.

The 3-point Shootout wager is in keeping with the Plaza's growing reputation of offering innovative bets for customers since the hotel was bought by Barrick Gaming last year. During the football season, bettors were able to bet any NFL game on the season schedule at any time during the season. D'Amico is offering the same bets during the Arena Football League season.

Meanwhile, NBA bettors are gearing up for the second half of the season now that the All-Star Game is behind us. The San Antonio Spurs had the best record at the all-star break at 41-12 (.774 winning percentage) and have been bet down all over town. At the Plaza, the Spurs are a prohibitive 5-7 favorite to win the NBA title.

The Suns have the second-best record at 41-13 (.759) and are the second choice at the Plaza at 4-1. The Eastern Conference, which pulled a 125-115 upset in Sunday's All-Star Game as a 5-point underdog, has the next two teams in the betting with the Miami Heat, led by Shaquille O'Neal and Dwayne Wade, and the defending champion Detroit Pistons at 5-1.

Other contenders include the East's Indiana Pacers at 12-1 and the West's Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks, and Minnesota Timberwolves, all at 15-1.

Considering that they have the fourth-best record at 35-15 (.700), the Seattle SuperSonics look like the value on the board at 25-1. Oh, and in case you're wondering how far the mighty have fallen, the Los Angeles Lakers are 50-1.

Big names top Nascar leader board

Tony Stewart won the Hershey's Take 5 300 Busch Series race on Saturday at Daytona at 7-1. He had a chance to complete a weekend sweep in Sunday's Daytona 500 Nextel Cup race, and in fact led for 107 of the race's 200 laps. But a series of late caution flags set up a thrilling finish in which four-time Nascar champ Jeff Gordon won his third Daytona title, holding off defending series champ Kurt Busch and last year's Daytona winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Stewart finished seventh after the frantic finish, which was extended three extra laps so that the winner could be determined under a green flag.

Gordon was the 8-1 co-third choice at Station Casinos and even lower at many books around town. His victory in his No. 24 Chevrolet also turned the tables in some prop bets at Stations, in which bettors won who took the winner of the race to drive a Chevy (-250, or odds of 2-5), that the winning car's number would be even (-240), and that the winner would be numbers 24-99 (+160, or 8-5). Most of the more established drivers in the series have lower numbers, which is why the 0-23 prop is favored, but Palace Station auto-racing oddsmaker Micah Roberts has said in the past that having the cutoff at Gordon's No. 24 gives the higher numbers a fighting chance.

The Nextel Cup circuit moves to California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., for the Auto Club 500 on Sunday, then takes a two-week break before coming here for the UAW DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 13.

Other weekend results

On Saturday night, Hopkins successfully defended his middleweight belt for the 20th time by winning a unanimous decision over Eastman. Hopkins, 40, was a decided -700 favorite but didn't look like it early. However, as is usually the case, he got stronger as the fight went along; the three judges scored it 119-110, 117-111, and 116-112.

* In the rain-shortened Nissan Open golf tournament, Adam Scott, a 30-1 longshot at the Las Vegas Hilton, won a sudden-death playoff Monday morning over former UNLV teammate Chad Campbell, a fellow longshot at 75-1.

* Underdogs went 5-3 against the spread in the Arena Football League over the weekend, with three teams pulling outright upsets - Dallas over Orlando on Thursday, Columbus over Chicago on Saturday, and Los Angeles over San Jose on Sunday. All three were home dogs, signaling that oddsmakers might either be overvaluing some teams on the road or not giving enough weight to home-field advantage.