04/14/2004 12:00AM

Power outage remains mystery

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The Bellagio was buzzing with activity Wednesday morning, but it wasn't business as usual.

Workers at the resort were scrambling to get everything up and running for an anticipated reopening around 5 p.m. Wednesday. A short in the main power line to the Bellagio brought action to a halt shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday. Gamblers were asked to cash out and leave, and hotel guests were moved to other MGM Mirage hotels, as well as hotels owned by competitor Caesars Entertainment

As of Wednesday, no cause had been determined for the outage, and investigators don't expect a definitive answer for several weeks. The Bellagio has a backup power system, but its design has been under criticism during the extended blackout, because the lines run through the same ducts that house the main lines. For workers to safely repair the main lines, the backup lines had to be shut down, too.

The emergency system runs through a different conduit and had been supplying minimal power to the property, but not enough to keep the Bellagio open.

Before the anticipated reopening Wednesday, the hotel had to get approval from the county and the power company that all systems were working properly, as well as clearance from the Gaming Control Board that all the surveillance equipment was up to its standards.

The Gaming Control Board was also overseeing the restarting of all gaming devices. Keith Copher, enforcement director for the GCB, said all patrons with claims of less than $100 were paid Sunday morning and that he hadn't received any disputes over large jackpots. Copher said the computer programs on all machines had to be checked before the property could reopen.

Professional poker players, who already had to sweat out whether Binion's Horseshoe would open after its Jan. 9 closure and run the World Series of Poker, were anxiously awaiting the reopening of the Bellagio, which had to halt play in some of the smaller events at the World Poker Classic. The championship event, the $25,000 buy-in World Poker Tour Championship, is slated to begin Monday and run through next Friday.

According to a Bellagio spokesperson, the Bellagio is losing an estimated $3 million a day during the closure, but some of that is expected to be covered by insurance. On Tuesday, the Bellagio announced it is taking care of its employees by paying all workers, both union and non-union, for missed shifts.

* When the lights went out, the first thought in a lot of people's minds was of the 2001 movie "Ocean's 11," in which a band of thieves cuts the power to the Bellagio during a Lennox Lewis-Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight fight. Coincidentally, Klitschko had his lights punched out by Lamon Brewster six hours earlier on Saturday night at the MGM Grand.

Free contests - with a twist

Bally's Moolah, the handicapping tournament with a $5,000 entry fee and an automatic berth in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship to the winner, takes place Friday and Saturday at Bally's.

Even if you don't have that kind of cash, you can qualify for a big-money tournament here in Vegas. This Friday, the last Friday of the Santa Anita meet, is the last day of the Coast Casinos' free $2,000 handicapping contests. But starting next Wednesday, opening day at Hollywood Park, Coast is sponsoring a free $2,500 pick five contest every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday through July 9.

Each player gets one entry and will select the first five races at Hollywood. Players receive points based on a mythical win-place-show wager, plus bonus points based on their horses' finish position. When Hollywood races on Friday nights starting May 7, the fifth through ninth races at an afternoon track will be substituted.

There will be a $1,500 daily prize to be paid to the contestant who compiles the most points. A $1,000 progressive jackpot will be paid to a contestant who goes 5 for 5. If no one has a perfect ticket, the bonus will be carried over to the next contest day with another $1,000 added to the jackpot.

But here's where the really big money comes into play: The person who accumulates the most points from all the contests through July 9 will earn a free berth into the $1 million Horseplayers World Series on January 27-29. In addition, the contestant earning the most points during shorter time frames (April 21 through May 21, May 26 through June 18, and June 23 through July 9) will also earn a free berth to the World Series.

Station Casinos adds Derby futures

Station Casinos added Kentucky Derby futures this past week. When looking over future-book prices around town, they are often skewed by how much money has already been bet, so Station's prices give a fresh look at what the morning line prices might be the week of the Derby.

Tapit is the favorite at 4-1, followed by Smarty Jones (5-1), Master David (7-1), Eddington (7-1), The Cliff's Edge (8-1), and Imperialism, Lion Heart, Rock Hard Ten, Read the Footnotes, and Borrego, all at 10-1. In all, 23 horses are listed, and, unlike other fixed-odds offerings in Las Vegas, there is a field bet. It opened at 10-1 and was still there as of noon Wednesday.

Big baseball dogs bark early, often

Sports books have their smallest profit margin (traditionally around 3 percent) during baseball season. With no point spreads involved on straight bets and the availability of 10-cent lines (as opposed to the 20-cent gap in other sports), baseball is considered the most beatable sport.

Bettors have proven that adage so far this season. Sports book operators around town are struggling to make any kind of profit, and bettors are cashing in on the underdogs and hitting their share of parlays.

And it's not just small-priced dogs that are getting the money. Through Tuesday night's action, half of the 2-1 underdogs - 6 out of 12 - have won their games outright. If you had placed $100 on each 2-1 dog, you would be up $700 (or 7 units) already this season. Big-name pitchers who have lost in that situation are the Yankees' Mike Mussina and Jose Contreras, the Diamondbacks' Randy Johnson, the Blue Jays' Roy Halladay, the A's Barry Zito, and the Cardinals' Mike Morris.