05/20/2001 11:00PM

Preakness win-win for books


LAS VEGAS - The first instinct of race and sports bettors is that bookmakers don't have a heart - they only want to separate you from your hard-earned money.

But the vast majority of Las Vegas bookmakers are fans themselves, and sometimes they find themselves cheering for a result that wouldn't help their casinos' bottom line.

So, even though Park Place kept every dollar bet in its "odds to win the Triple Crown" prop after Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos lost the Preakness last Saturday, John Avello wasn't necessarily happy about it.

"We took in between $5,000-$6,000, so that was good for us," said Avello, who sets the Park Place horse racing odds from his office at Bally's, "but a part of me was certainly cheering for Monarchos to win and go on to the Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown."

Of course, this isn't to say that the house would have suffered if Monarchos had won Saturday. Avello said Park Place would have made a small profit even if Monarchos had won the Triple Crown (22-1 to win the Triple Crown before the Derby), and the casinos would have benefited with much larger crowds for the June 9 Belmont. (Let this be a lesson to you: Often the house can't lose no matter what happens.)

"I had handicapped the Preakness and didn't really like Monarchos' chances," Avello said. "You have to weigh what you want to happen and what's likely to happen. Realistically speaking, Point Given - based on size and maturity - was the only horse in this group that had a legitimate chance to win the Triple Crown."

Bettors agreed with Avello, as most of the money bet on the Triple Crown prop was on Point Given, who opened at 7-1. But Avello said a Point Given Triple Crown would have been okay, too.

"We're always looking for the next superhorse," Avello said. "It makes it easier to get people to our race books, and it's good for the sport."

Spoken like a true fan.

Spaniard crowned king of poker

Poker players learn to play the percentages, but for the second year in a row the World Series of Poker was clinched with a red nine winning the final hand for the player with the inferior hand. Last year, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson benefited from some divine intervention and caught a nine of hearts to eliminate T. J. Cloutier and claim the world championship.

A similar coup was pulled off Friday night, by Carlos Mortensen, a 29-year-old from Madrid, Spain, who was at a final table on any tournament for only the third time in his life (he won all three times).

Mortensen and Dewey Tomko, a 54-year-old tournament veteran from Haines City, Fla., were the last survivors from a record field of 613 in the Texas hold 'em championship at Binion's Horseshoe. They had outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted the other seven players at the final table after a seven-hour, 205-hand marathon session.

The tournament was decided on hand No. 206. Tomko held a pair of aces, the strongest starting hand in Texas hold 'em. Mortensen held a king and queen of clubs (also a strong hand). After an initial bet by Mortensen and call by Tomko, the three of clubs, the 10 of clubs and the jack of diamonds were dealt on the flop (in Texas hold 'em, both players receive two cards and then five community cards are dealt and players make a five-card hand from the seven available cards).

Mortensen, holding a $4 million to $2 million chip advantage, bet all his chips. Tomko called and would have to win the hand to stay alive. It looked good for Tomko as his pair of aces was still the best hand. But Mortensen could win if the last two cards included a nine or ace (giving him a straight) or any club (giving him a flush).

After a three of diamonds was dealt on the next-to-last card, Mortensen was a 3-1 underdog. But the final card was the nine of diamonds giving him the hand, the title, the $1.5 million first prize, and the traditional gold bracelet.

Book Notes

* Nevada race books handled $1,416,775 on the Preakness, shattering the previous record of $1,183,193 (set last year) by a whopping 20 percent, according to Vinny Magliulo of the Las Vegas Dissemination Company.

* In the NBA Sunday, the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks advanced to the Eastern Conference finals by winning Game 7 at home. That wasn't surprising. Of the last 31 Game 7's in the NBA playoffs, the home team is 28-3.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers upset the San Antonio Spurs 104-90 on the road Saturday in Game 1 of the Western Conference title matchup. The Spurs opened as a 3-point favorite and drifted down to 2 1/2 as the bettors backed the Lakers.