Updated on 09/17/2011 2:17PM

Really early cry of 'Play ball'


Opening day of the baseball season sure has changed.

It used to take place on an April afternoon. If you were from a northern clime, as I was, opening day could very well have been a very cold day, but it still warmed your heart as it represented the start of spring and the feeling that this could be the year.

This year, the season will start Tuesday and half a world away in Tokyo, Japan. And even though we live in an age when everything seems to be packaged to get maximum prime-time TV viewership, the opener between the Yankees and Devil Rays will take place when most of us are asleep. It will be 5 a.m. Eastern when the first pitch is thrown out, 2 a.m. here in Las Vegas.

Ken White of Las Vegas Sports Consultants said he expects his firm to send out its lines on the season-opener on Sunday. With the game starting in the middle of the night here (and local sports books not expected to be open at that hour), bettors are advised to get their wagers in Monday night.

It will be interested to see how high the line is made for the neutral-site game. Mike Mussina is slated to start for the Yankees, who have the majors' highest over/under season win total of 101 1/2, while the Devil Rays, with the fourth-lowest total at 69, are expected to send out Victor Zambrano. Expect the Yankees to be between a -300 and -400 favorite.

The Yankees, with the richest payroll by far, are the even-money favorites to win the World Series. The Devil Rays are listed by LVSC at 250-1, but a cynic would say that's their odds even to make the playoffs.

While the Yankees and Devil Rays are playing for real in Japan, the rest of the teams will still be playing spring training games through the end of next week.

Locally, baseball fans will get a chance to get a look at the Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers in person as they square off for two exhibition games next Friday and Saturday at Cashman Field, home of the Las Vegas 51's, the Los Angeles Dodgers' AAA farm club. Game time Friday is 7:05 p.m.; first pitch Saturday is at 12:35 p.m.

No shortage of openings

The baseball opener might not get any fanfare in Las Vegas, but this city loves any excuse for a party. And openings - whether they are "grand" or not - call for such a celebration.

* Champagne was popping just after midnight Thursday as the Barrick Gaming Corp. assumed ownership of four downtown hotel-casinos - the Plaza, Las Vegas Club, Gold Spike, and Western - that it bought from gaming pioneer Jackie Gaughan for $82 million. Barrick is planning to renovate the downtown hotels, including plans to tear down the brick wall facing the Fremont Street Experience to make it an open-air venue with nightly entertainment.

* The most anticipated opening so far this year is actually a re-opening, as Harrah's is set to reopen Binion's Horseshoe on April 1 - no fooling - in plenty of time for the start of the World Series of Poker on April 23. Harrah's purchased Binion's, which had closed on Jan. 9 after U.S. marshals seized more than $1 million in overdue pension and heath care benefit payments. Harrah's then turned around and sold it to MTR Gaming. Harrah's will operate the property for a year before MTR is able to fully take over.

A Harrah's spokesman, Gary Thompson, said the race and sports book will not open April 1 with the rest of the casino because MTR, which has a gaming license for its Speedway Casino in North Las Vegas, does not have a license to operate a race and sports book. Thompson said Harrah's needs to get approval from the state's Gaming Control Board at its April 7 meeting before being able to add Binion's to its network. He said the company is hoping that it does not have to wait for final approval from the Nevada Gaming Commission on April 22, but if that's the case then that would be the latest possible date that the book would open.

Thompson said, however, that anyone with winning race or sports tickets from Binion's Horseshoe may cash them at the main cage when the rest of the casino opens.

* The biggest opening of next year was also announced this past week. Wynn Las Vegas, being built on the former site of the Desert Inn, will have its grand opening on April 28, 2005. That will be the 55th anniversary of the opening of the Desert Inn, as well as the birthday of Steve Wynn's wife, Elaine, for whom Wynn bought the property as a birthday gift.

* The Las Vegas Monorail, originally expected to be opened this spring, has now been delayed until summer, a spokesman at the Las Vegas Monorail Company said.

Bookmaker halfway home

Here is an update on a story we have followed in the past: Jay Cohen, the only American to be convicted of operating an offshore sports book, left Nellis Federal Prison Camp in Las Vegas on Monday. The founder and former president of the Antigua-based World Sports Exchange (wsex.com) will spend the next 30 days in an Oakland, Calif., halfway house before being released and subject to two years' probation. He has said he intends to return to his former career as a stockbroker, which is what he was doing when he and his colleagues came up with the idea to start an offshore sports book that would operate like the commodities markets.

Cohen was one of the most visible offshore operators during the late 1990's and was charged in March 1998 with violating the U.S. Wire Act for accepting sports wagers by phone and over the Internet. Dozens of other offshore operators were also indicted, but only Cohen returned to the States to fight the charges. He maintained he was running a legal business in a foreign country and was not subject to U.S. laws, but the government won the case in a New York federal court trial in February 2000 and Cohen was sentenced to 21 months in jail. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal. His full story is available at freejaycohen.com.

* Looking for analysis of the NCAA regional finals on Saturday and Sunday? As of press time, the first of the regional semifinals had not been played Thursday, so it was impossible to make selections. Nevertheless, with no such deadline constraints on the Daily Racing Form website, my coverage of the NCAA tournament will continue at www.drf.com, with a recap of each day's results with the point spread in mind, along with selections for each day's games available one day in advance of tipoff.