05/31/2001 11:00PM

Strip sports book revives horseplayer contest

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LAS VEGAS - Handicapping contests in this town come and go.

A race book, mostly the ones that cater to locals, will launch a free or low buy-in weekly contest with the hopes of drawing tons of horseplayers to its property. If it fails, or isn't seen as cost effective, the contest gets canceled. Other times, a contest will succeed but will get killed anyway when it has served its purpose.

But it's not often you see a contest reincarnated after six years. That's the case at the Excalibur, which has launched a $10 buy-in contest on Hollywood Park's Friday racing cards. And what makes this situation unique is that the Excalibur is on the Strip while every other low-end contest in town is either downtown or in the outlying areas.

"The Excalibur was one of the first to have a contest when it opened in 1990," said Jeff Stoneback, race and sports book director at the Excalibur. "It was a huge success, but as more race books started doing contests of their own it was no longer unique and we stopped doing it."

So why is the Excalibur getting back in the contest game, especially when lots of its clientele are tourists?

"We've remodeled our race and sports book," Stoneback said. "We have five large 8-foot by 10-foot projection TVs and another dozen 60-inch TVs, plus new chairs and carpeting. I talk to a lot of locals who come in here after not being here for a while and they're blown away by the changes. We want more locals to see what we've done."

Compared to many Strip hotels, the Excalibur's race and sports book is easily accessible from the north parking lot off Tropicana Avenue or by valet parking.

In the new contest, players pick two horses in each race at Hollywood and get points if their top choice wins plus bonus quinella points if their horses finish 1-2 (win prices are capped at 42 and quinellas at 102). The contest has a guaranteed $1,250 going to the winner, $300 for second, $100 for third, and $50 for fourth through 10th.

In addition, drawings will be held after the first seven races with food prizes awarded after the odd-numbered races and $100 given out after each of the even-numbered races.

Stoneback didn't have a specific length of time this contest will run, but he said it will definitely switch to Del Mar in mid-July and they will evaluate the contest at the end of the summer.

o Terrible's Hotel & Casino, located just east of the Strip at Flamingo and Paradise roads, will have an eight-week contest on Wednesdays starting June 13. The entry fee is $10 and contestants make mythical win-place show wagers on the last six races at Hollywood or Del Mar. It's a winner-take-all contest (with all entry fees making up the weekly jackpot). As a major bonus, the eight weekly winners will meet in a championship event Aug. 8 in which the winner will receive a free trip for two to the Breeders' Cup Oct. 27 at Belmont Park.

Book Notes

In addition to the NFL over/under props that the Imperial Palace released last week, the innovative sports book also has lines up on 79 games (nearly 32 percent of the entire season's schedule). That includes all 15 Week 1 contests and four games each from the other 16 weeks. These bets are popular with tourists who know they won't be in town when a game is played and want to get their money down early. Adding to the attractiveness of these wagers is the fact that most are traditional rivalries.

While tourists use these lines to root, root, root for the home team, wise guys like to bet these to set up middles down the road. For instance, the bettors who jumped on the Vikings +7 1/2 vs. the Ravens on Sept. 17 will be hoping for a line in the neighborhood of the Ravens -5 or -6 when the game is actually played. Then they can lay the points with the Ravens and have a chance to cash both tickets while risking just the vig of one losing ticket (For example: betting $110 on the Vikings +7 1/2 now and $110 on the Ravens -5 1/2 later. If the Ravens win by 6 or 7, the bettors would profit $100 on each bet for a total profit of $200. Any other result would be one win and one loss for a net loss of just $10).

o With some people accusing the NBA of having a conspiracy to set up a Lakers-76ers final (fueled by the Bucks) so that Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant get to face MVP Allen Iverson, Stardust assistant sports book director Bob Scucci said that's fine with him.

"We'll definitely have more handle with a Lakers-76ers final," Scucci said Friday morning on the "Stardust Line" radio show. Scucci also went on to say that, because of liability in the future book, the best result for the house would be for the Eastern champ to knock off the Lakers.

o The Avalanche took a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals over the Devils with a 3-1 victory Thursday night. Game 4 was slated for Saturday night with the Devils as a -200 (bet $2 to win $1) favorite to even the series. Game 5 is Monday night in Colorado.