06/13/2001 11:00PM

School's out, but betting on college games isn't


"School's Out," the 1972 Alice Cooper hit, has been going through my head this past week.

Part of the reason is that local schoolchildren are wandering the neighborhood (when they dare face the 100-degree heat), but the main reason is that the College World Series has been taking place in Omaha, Neb., and Nevada sports bettors have been able to wager on the games.

The championship game is set for 10 a.m. Saturday between Stanford and the Tennessee-Miami (Fla.) survivor.

"It's obviously not on the level of other college sports, like football and basketball," said Stardust assistant race and sports book director Bob Scucci, "but we've been having decent handle, on par with past years. With hockey over, and basketball finishing up, it's a slow time in the book. The games are pretty exciting with a lot of scoring, and a lot of games are played during the day, so that brings people in, and they've been including them in parlays with major league games."

Any handle that the books get from the College World Series is gravy. Just a few months ago, it was assumed that the college betting ban bill would pass in Washington. The thinking last summer and fall was that this year's NCAA Tournament would be the first casualty. As passage of the bill stalled, it was still assumed that it would pass this spring and that the College World Series would be Nevada's last stand.

"It would have been a sad day Saturday if that was the last time we could bet on college sports here," said Jay Kornegay, race and sports book director at the Imperial Palace. "It was certainly looking grim."

But that has changed and the bill is, to borrow from Cooper's lyrics, "blown to pieces."

Nevada's Congressional delegation - Senators John Ensign and Harry Reid, plus Representatives Shelly Berkley and Jim Gibbons - did an admirable job of educating their fellow legislators on the bill, and key testimony at the Senate Commerce Committee hearings April 26 by Hall of Fame basketball coach Pete Newell, USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan, and Harvard professor Howard Shaffer went a long way toward gathering support for Nevada's position. An amendment proposed by Ensign to drop the word "college" from the bill fell one vote short (a 10-10 tie), but it showed that Sen. John McCain had lost momentum.

With the switch of power in the Senate after Jim Jeffords from Vermont defected from the Republican Party, McCain loses his chairmanship of the Commerce Committee, and Reid becomes the No. 2 man in the Democrat-controlled Senate, meaning that he will have greater power in shaping bills that go to the Senate floor.

The casino industry's top lobbyist, Frank Fahrenkopf of the American Gaming Association, told me last week that he hasn't heard any rumblings in the Senate or the House about bringing a betting ban bill to the floor or attaching it to another piece of legislation. "In this case, no news is definitely good news," Fahrenkopf said.

And sports book operators around town are feeling the same way.

MGM/Mirage race and sports book director Robert Walker said his staff is "cautiously optimistic" about college football betting, and discussions have begun on future wagers.

"We can't put up a prop on who will win the national championship," said Walker, citing the state rule that prohibits wagers on results that are voted upon (examples: Academy Awards, Heisman Trophy, MVP awards, etc.).

"However, the BCS title game is the Rose Bowl this year, so we can put up a prop on who will win the Rose Bowl."

Kornegay said the IP is also putting together odds for the college football season. In addition to a Rose Bowl future book, he said he expects to post 50-60 college "Games of the Year" (mostly traditional rivalries and national TV games) and over/under win props on 20-25 teams by the first week in July.

So school's out for summer, but fortunately not forever.