01/22/2007 12:00AM

Plenty for everyone this week


There is a giddy feeling in the air in Las Vegas, a holiday atmosphere like that week right after Christmas until the ball drops on a new year. Those celebrating the most are horseplayers and racing fans.

On Sunday, Jan. 21, we will be congratulating the winner of the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans. There is just enough time to catch the breath and reload the bankroll before the National Thoroughbred Racing Association/Daily Racing Form National Handicapping Championship down the road at Bally's Las Vegas on Jan. 26-27. Squeeze in a commuter flight to Los Angeles for the 36th annual Eclipse Awards at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, this Monday evening, and you have a celebration of the full spectrum of the sport.

Those who benefit from the money bet on horse racing and other forms of gambling also are enjoying good times.

National handle and purse figures for 2006 rose over 2005, and both Las Vegas and Atlantic City are enjoying unprecedented popularity, including in their race and sports books.

There is no doubt that the robust fourth quarter handle in racing last year - handle was up 2.69 percent from the 2005 fourth quarter - was buoyed by Breeders' Cup Day. And next year at Monmouth Park there will be a two-day betting bonanza.

Atlantic City has beaten the previous year's record for win - that is, the amount of money won by the casino from bettors - every year since it opened for gambling in 1978. But, the increase of 4 percent from 2005 to 2006 was accomplished even though the New Jersey casinos were closed for three days in July due to a budget impasse in the state legislature. Nevada casinos racked up their second-best monthly revenue ever in November 2006 - $1.14 billion, a 14.1 percent increase from November 2005 - which was just a high-roller wager away from the all-time record, set in January of last year, according to numbers released by the Nevada Gaming Commission. The Nevada race books rode the upward trend, too. Parimutuel betting was up 24 percent in November from the previous year to almost break the $8 million barrier.

The sports books in Nevada also have been having a big season. After starting the NFL season giving ground to the punters in September, Nevada sports books won 538 percent more money from bettors in November over November 2005 on a betting increase of more than $35 million. Parlay card action provided sports books with a 229 percent increase in November, with a hold of over 44 percent.

With bettors in town playing the big handicapping tournaments and dabbling in a little NFL playoff action, it is an exciting time to be in Las Vegas.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.