03/22/2002 1:00AM

Race books show locals the love

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The competitive nature of gambling in Las Vegas makes keeping up with the Joneses of key importance.

While the Strip casino-hotels wage their own duels, Station Casinos and Coast Resorts properties dominate the locals market. In the past year, both companies have quietly upgraded their race books to the betterment of all horseplayers.

A year ago, the race books at Boulder Station, Sunset Station, and Texas Station all underwent upgrades. At Texas, individual televisions were added to the back row.

Boulder Station traded floor space from sports to race, increasing seating capacity in the race book by about 40 percent. A giant-screen television was installed in front of the new race section.

Sunset Station built a 16-seat VIP section in the rear of the room, with individual televisions and oversize cushion chairs. On weekends, a ticket writer is assigned to that section to provide maximum convenience.

Most recently, improvements have come to Palace Station, which remains the center of the Station Casinos galaxy. Palace Station, named the Bingo Palace from the late 1970's until 1983, was the first Station Casino built by the company's owner, the Fertitta family.

"The number one complaint here were the televisions, so that's what we changed first," said Micah Roberts, manager of race and sports for Palace Station. Seven new 50-inch JVC plasma television screens were installed. "There will be more changes, but things are in preliminary stages.

"The executives have been supportive of good ideas, so we hope to do more. They believe in the importance of a race book to the overall gaming experience."

Bob Gregorka, director of racing for Coast Resorts properties, has overseen major changes in his race books.

"At the Gold Coast we've added 15 42-inch plasma screens running across the book," said Gregorka. "In addition, at the Orleans we've installed 18 new plasma televisions.

"It was important for us to upgrade the race book at the Gold Coast he added," he added. "Of all the places I've ever worked, there are no more loyal horseplayers than Gold Coast players. During the renovation, the scaffolding was literally above them. Sawdust was coming down on them."

But the horseplayers hung in, buoyed by free hot dogs, drink tickets, and a promise that things would be better.

A long-lost visitor to the Gold Coast race book would be shocked at the dramatic improvements.

Gregorka, recalling a discussion with Coast Resorts chairman Michael Gaughan, said, "Mr. Gaughan said to me the race books are very important to our entire operation. It's part of the total package. We'll be the last one standing with these giant race books."

Roberts may have best summed up the reason for the race book improvements. "The main reason for the changes is it's a very competitive market," he said. "The upgrades are necessary to satisfy our current guests and maybe attract some new ones. The bar gets raised all the time."

Richard Eng is turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up Show.