04/16/2003 11:00PM

Seattle Slew gets call on Palms playing chips

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During last year's Triple Crown, the Palms Hotel-Casino distributed casino chips with the likeness of Secretariat. They went nearly as fast as the legendary racehorse.

Poker room manager Gene Trimble, who had brokered the deal, was already contemplating which horse he would choose to commemorate in 2003. When he learned that Seattle Slew, the last living Triple Crown winner, had died May 7, 2002, on the 25th anniversary of his Kentucky Derby win in 1977, Trimble knew he had his next subject.

"It was sad to hear that Seattle Slew died, but it made my decision easier," Trimble said.

Mickey Taylor, who owned Seattle Slew with his wife, Karen, said they were humbled by the interest expressed by Trimble and the Palms.

"We thought it was such a nice thing for them to do for Slew," Mickey Taylor said. "When you're around someone for 27 years like we were with Slew, they're part of you. It's wonderful to see other people honoring him, too."

Trimble kept in contact with the Taylors as they got some pictures together and started designing the chips. The deal was finalized when Trimble flew to Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Lexington, Ky., for Slew's memorial service July 19, the 27th anniversary of the Taylors' bargain purchase of Slew for $17,500 at the Fasig-Tipton July sale.

"He was such a loved horse; there was not a dry eye in the house," Trimble said. "I knew we made the right decision."

There will be four sets of chips distributed by the Palms. The first set will be available at the casino cage at 10 a.m. Thursday. They will commemorate his Kentucky Derby victory and be available in denominations of $2.50, $5, $25 and $100. The Preakness chips will be sold starting at 10 a.m. May 8, followed by the Belmont chips May 22, and Triple Crown chips June 5.

The Triple Crown set will include a $1 chip depicting the statue of Seattle Slew at Hill 'n' Dale.

George Maloof, owner of the Palms, said: "We had a tremendous response for the Secretariat chips last year, and we're getting just as much for Seattle Slew."

Be forewarned: horseplayers and collectors lined up early last year to get the Secretariat chips. It was the first time a Las Vegas casino has put a racehorse on a chip, and the first time the Palms - which appeals to a young clientele - put an athlete instead of a musician on a chip.

Kings have support at the Palms

Maloof doesn't own racehorses, but he knows all about trying to reach the winner's circle. He is a co-owner of the Sacramento Kings along with his brothers Joe and Gavin, who run the team's day-to-day operations while he runs the casino.

Unlike in past seasons, when the Kings played second fiddle to the Lakers, the Kings are favored to win this year's championship, ranging from 2-1 to 5-2 at most sports books.

The Palms, by virtue of the Maloofs' ownership of both the team and the casino, isn't able to take bets on the NBA, but the casino still draws a crowd on nights when the Kings play.

"The Real World," the MTV program show that is credited as the forerunner of today's reality-show craze, was filmed last spring at the Palms, and the series just wrapped up two weeks ago. Now the Kings have caught on - almost like another reality series.

Kings games are shown throughout the casino whenever they play, and they have become the city's adopted team. George Maloof argued that there is a strong comparison between the NBA playoffs and reality series, especially from his perspective.

"As an owner, you live it daily," Maloof said. "It's live. It's unscripted. This is the real thing."

Maloof said he believes this will be the year the Kings finally steal the crown from the three-time defending champion Lakers.

"It's going to be a exciting playoffs in the Western Conference," Maloof said, "but we have the best team. No one is as deep as we are. The home court is major for us. We have the league's best record at home [35-6]. The key will be avoiding injuries and making our free throws."

Lakers still get respect

The Lakers are the No. 5 seed in the West, but oddsmakers and bettors still respect their chances. Despite not having the home advantage for their first round vs. the Timberwolves, the Lakers are a -400 favorite (bet $4 for every $1 you want to win) for the best-of-seven series.

The Kings are the biggest favorite in the first round at -1400 vs. the Jazz. The Spurs, who are the No. 1 seed in the West based on having the best regular-season record, are -1000 over the Suns. Rounding out the West, the Mavericks, who fell to the No. 3 seed after having the league's best record most of the season, are -320 to beat the Trail Blazers.

Conventional wisdom says the winner of the West will have no problem handling the winner of the Eastern Conference. A team from the East hasn't won the title since Michael Jordan's second retirement in 1998, after leading the Bulls to their third straight title and sixth in eight years.

The Pistons, whose record was 50-32, or the same as the Lakers and Blazers (the No. 5 and 6 seeds in the West) are -240 over the Magic, with the other Eastern favorites the Nets, -300 over the Bucks; the Pacers, -300 over the Celtics, and the 76ers -145 over the Hornets.

The four favorites should prevail in the West, but I'd look to the underdogs in the East.