07/07/2003 12:00AM

Summer Classic is not just a re-run


The Orleans National Handicapping Championship debuted in March 1998 and quickly grew into the biggest tournament in the land.

It reached its peak in October 2000 with 936 entries at $500 apiece, and even though the name has changed to the Championship at The Orleans and the number of entries has settled in the 600-700 range, it is still the equivalent of "must-see TV" on the handicapping tournament circuit.

And just like a successful TV series, it has spawned spin-offs at The Orleans's sister properties in Coast Casinos Inc. The Suncoast Invitational debuted in March 2001 and Suncoast combined with the Barbary Coast this past January for the Coast to Coast Super Tournament.

The newest spin-off comes this week with the inaugural Gold Coast Summer Classic, Thursday through Saturday at the locals casino on Flamingo Road, just west of the Strip.

Regular tournament players will notice a few changes, most of which have come from their own suggestions. For instance, for the first time, a Coast contest will not have its typical cutthroat, win-only format. Players will make 15 mythical $200 win and $200 place wagers on each day.

"When we would send out surveys, a lot of people would ask for win and place," said Liz Lucas, race book manager at the Gold Coast. "When we found out we would get to host this tournament, I wanted to make sure we had that."

Another change is the entry fee of $400 (as opposed to the standard $500 at The Orleans), with a limit of 10 entries per person and no partners. The Gold Coast is adding $30,000 on top of all entry fees to bring the purse to $250,000 if the field includes 550 entries.

As of noon Monday, 395 people had already signed up, with many more walk-ups expected since there was no early-bird deadline for this tourney.

Replacing the previous early-bird contest and daily prizes will be daily side pools that will cost $200 to enter. All fees will be returned as prizes, with 50 percent to the winner, 30 percent for second, and 20 percent for third.

NBA futures on hold

Last week there were some moves in the NHL futures at the Stardust because of some off-season free-agent signings in Colorado. There was no such movement in the NBA futures.

And on Sunday afternoon the Stardust took down its NBA odds after news reports out of Colorado about Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant being accused of sexual assault. The Lakers were 3-1 at the time, and race and sports book manager Bob Scucci said he took down the odds as a "precautionary measure" to await more details. Scucci said Monday morning that he didn't expect to keep the odds down much longer. As a reaction to the news, Scucci lowered the Sacramento Kings from 4-1 to 7-2.

Scucci also said the NBA futures could be further in flux as everyone waits to see where free agents Gary Payton and Karl Malone sign. Both are being courted by L.A.

"That would certainly have more of an immediate impact on the odds than anything that is speculative," Scucci said.

Tiger romps in British Open prep

Tiger Woods's recent "slump" ended abruptly this past weekend as he ran away with the Western Open, his fourth victory of the year. Some bettors at the Palms took advantage of his inflated odds by cashing in at 3-1, the highest Woods has been in a long time.

"We took some bets on him at 3-1 and he went off at 5-2," said Jeff Sherman, Palms sports book supervisor and golf oddsmaker, "but we didn't have too much exposure on him. All things considered," including head-to-head matchups, "it turned into a break-even week."

Sherman said he didn't wait to take any more bets on Woods for the upcoming British Open, July 17-20, lowering him to 9-4 based on his convincing performance. He had been listed at 3-1 for that tournament also.

Woods, as is his custom before a major, is taking this week off. Kenny Perry is the 8-1 favorite in the Greater Milwaukee Open, which tees off Thursday with very few big names.

More results from the weekend

Winston Cup rookie Greg Biffle picked a great time and place to win his first race on the prestigious circuit, taking the checkered flag in the Pepsi 400 at the storied Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night.

Station Casinos opened Biffle at 60-1, and when no bets were taken on the former Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, Palace Station race and sports book director Micah Roberts raised him to 75-1. The few who bet him at that number also picked a great time.

Roush Racing teammate Jeff Burton finished second and Ricky Rudd was third, but the biggest threat to Biffle was former Winston Cup champ Bobby Labonte, who was closing ground and looked capable of passing Biffle until running out of gas on the final lap. Labonte finished on fumes to place fifth, right behind his brother, Terry.

Matt Kenseth finished sixth to hold onto his Winston Cup series lead, and he is even-money at Station Casinos to win the title. Dale Earnhardt Jr., the Pepsi 400 favorite, finished seventh to move ahead of Jeff Gordon in the standings. Earnhardt is the 5-6 Winston Cup favorite at Stations, with Gordon at 2-1.

* Serena Williams won the women's singles title at Wimbledon as expected, beating her sister, Venus (who was the second choice), in the championship match last Saturday. Serena Williams was the 3-5 pre-tournament favorite.

* The men's tournament didn't play as much to form. Roger Federer, who was the fourth betting choice at 6-1, won his first Grand Slam title. Top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt was ousted in the first round by a qualifier, and Andre Agassi also failed to make the quarterfinals. That opened the door for Federer, who was as precise as a Swiss timepiece (he is from Switzerland, after all) in his semifinal victory over American Andy Roddick and against Australian Mark Philippoussis in the finale.