07/24/2003 11:00PM

Royals world title would blister books

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LAS VEGAS - Baseball has pretty much been the only game in town the past month, since the NBA Finals concluded.

But with the NFL returning next weekend (even if it's just preseason games, with the American Bowl from Japan at 2 a.m. Pacific Time Saturday and the Hall of Fame Game next Monday night), baseball will quickly be relegated to second-class status in this city's sports books. So it's a good time to check in on how the baseball season is shaping up for bettors and bookies.

After the All-Star break, sports books all over town took down their props on who would hit the most home runs, who would get the most wins and saves by pitchers, etc. The focus the rest of the way will be on the pennant races.

Year in and year out, sports books face their biggest liability from Midwestern teams such as the Cubs and Twins. The same is true this year. The Cubs are as low as 5-1 to win the World Series, despite being in third place in their division, because of a lot of money wagered on them, while the Twins range from 6-1 to 30-1, depending on a given books' liability. But another team from the heartland is looming as an even bigger loss for the books. The Kansas City Royals opened the season as 200-1 outsiders at some books, and not lower than 100-1. They shot out of the gate and were quickly bet down. As of this past week, they were as low as 15-1 at the Stardust.

The Yankees are still the World Series favorite at between 2-1 and 7-2, depending on where you shop. At the Stardust, the other top contenders are the Mariners at 4-1, the Braves at 9-2, the A's, Red Sox, and Giants at 5-1, and the Twins at 6-1.

The Stardust also has odds to win some of the divisions, the ones with the best races. The Yankees are -900 (risk $9 to win $1) to win the AL East, with the Red Sox at 3-1, the Blue Jays at 15-1, the Orioles at 90-1, and Devil Rays at 300-1. In the NL Central, the Astros are -160 (risk $1.60 to win $1), with the Cardinals at even money, the Cubs at 4-1 (compare that to their World Series price elsewhere and it's a pretty good value), the Reds at 12-1, the Pirates 50-1, and the Brewers at 100-1.

Phone betting for convenience

Sports betting in Las Vegas isn't always the most convenient sports betting on earth. I was reminded of that this past Wednesday and Thursday as I made my rounds. I can't remember running into so much traffic on a weekday (I'll be interested to see the visitor totals and casino results for July - they should be through the roof). When you reach your hotel destination, the race and sports books are often in the back of the casino and you have to battle foot traffic, too.

But some casinos are making it a little easier to get a bet down, especially with football right around the corner.

On Monday, the Stardust is launching its automated sports betting phone system. The Stardust has had phone accounts for years, but they catered mostly to big bettors. The new system will require only a $100 deposit, and bets can be made for as low as $5. Other sports book with phone accounts include MGM Mirage, Station Casinos, Coast Casinos, and the chain of Leroy's books.

o At this time, Coast Casinos is the only company with horse racing phone accounts, but that is sure to change with the recently passed legislation allowing parimutuel wagers to be accepted by Nevada race books from other states in which phone betting is legal.

o Station Casinos has started its "cross-community cashing" system, in which tickets can be cashed at any of its properties (Palace, Boulder, Texas, Sunset, Green Valley Ranch, as well as its Fiesta-branded casinos in Henderson and North Las Vegas), not just the one where the bet was placed. With casinos all over town - and another being built on the west side - it's especially convenient for locals. Leroy's has a similar system.

* Locals haven't heard much about Stations' new policy, as they're making sure they work out the kinks. It'll be part of a full-fledged marketing blitz heading into football season as they also promote their popular "Great Giveaway" football contest ($25 entry fee), the high-end "Gambler's Challenge" football contest ($1,000 entry fee), phone and online wagering accounts, etc.

More marriages of convenience

The "Race Day Las Vegas" radio show is heard locally on KSHP-AM 1400 from 9-10 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 8-9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, but through advertising and word-of-mouth, the audience has grown to include Internet listeners at www.kshp.com and other sites that carry the show. Host Ralph Siraco has teamed up with www.cgplays.com for archiving of shows so that listeners can tune in at their convenience. The shows are broadcast live and then available on archive roughly 10-15 minutes after they conclude. The nightime "Race Day Wrapup Show" with Richard Eng (Wednesday through Sunday at 6 p.m. PDT, or following whatever game is being broadcast at that time) is also available at cgplays.com, a sports betting site.

* Another sure sign in Las Vegas that football season is on the way is the return of the "You Can Bet On It" show with Larry Grossman. Starting Friday, Aug. 1, it airs on KENO-AM 1460 from 2-3 p.m. Monday through Friday and can also be heard on the internet at www.larrygrossman.com. "You Can Bet On It" airs until the week after the Super Bowl, and while Grossman estimates 75 percent of its content is on football, as well as analysis from prominent handicappers such as Lem Banker, Mike Lee, Phil Steele, Tim Trushel, Andy Iskoe, Bryan Leonard, and Chuck Sippl. He also touches on all aspects of gaming, from blackjack to craps to horse racing. With the explosion of poker, Grossman has joined with www.cardplayer.com for the archiving of his shows, as well as past interviews.

Monday night golf

Before Monday Night Football starts next week, ABC will televise "The Battle at the Bridges" on Monday from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. The team of Tiger Woods and Ernie Els is a -160 favorite (risk $1.60 for every $1 you want to win) with the twosome of Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia is +140 (bet $1 to win $1.40) in the best-ball match play format.