11/12/2001 1:00AM

Sweet Vegas charity for little spenders


Sunday was Veterans Day and the two-month anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and there were a number of events in Las Vegas marking the occasion.

An estimated crowd of 40,000 took to the streets of downtown Las Vegas for the annual Veterans Day parade, an event that was almost canceled last year for lack of funds but took on greater importance this year.

At 2 p.m., the 8,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center was sold out for the "Las Vegas Salutes the Spirit of America" USO benefit show. Wayne "Mr. Las Vegas" Newton has replaced Bob Hope as the USO's celebrity front man and he brought together his fellow performers to raise money to help entertain our troops overseas.

In a city famous for cheap meals, cheap rooms, and cheap thrills, this was the best deal of all. Nearly every headliner (with the notable exception of impressionist Danny Gans) on the Las Vegas Strip performed, and tickets were just $25. All of the proceeds - $200,000 from ticket sales alone, plus more from donations, raffles, and souvenir sales to be tabulated later this week - go to support the nonprofit USO. In an unprecedented move, all performers worked for free, as did the musicians and stagehands. Mandalay Bay donated the use of its facilities.

The show was originally scheduled to last 2 hours and 45 minutes, but with 35 performances it lasted four hours. However, it didn't drag at all, and I didn't even regret missing an afternoon of NFL games.

The cast included old-time singers Robert Goulet and Rick Springfield and new stars such as Jessica Simpson. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin also made appearances through the impressionist work of Bill Acosta, Frank Travelena, and Bob Anderson. Rich Little also did a medley of patriotic speeches from generals MacArthur and Patton as well as John Wayne, and also sang and danced as Richard Nixon.

Magicians are always popular fare for Las Vegas, and Lance Burton, Melinda, Steve Wyrick, and newcomer David Darkstone didn't disappoint.

The comedy lineup was impressive with Carrot Top, David Brenner, and the Amazing Jonathan. And the production shows were represented by acrobats from "Mystere" and "O," showgirls from "Jubilee," Irish dancers from "Lord of the Dance," and a short-but-sweet appearance by the Blue Man Group.

Siegfried and Roy didn't perform, but they introduced the valley's police and firefighters, including their animal co-workers in the K-9 unit.

But in a lineup of showstoppers, the most rousing ovation came for French artist Jean Francois. With two female singers and a 30-piece orchestra playing in the background, Francois threw paint on a canvas and made sweeping strokes with a six-foot long brush as he appeared to be creating an abstract piece of art. It didn't make much sense until he turned it upside down to reveal a three-dimensional, highly detailed picture of the Statue of Liberty that elicited an eruption of cheers.

The cheering was well deserved, from the opening number of Newton and Clint Holmes, among others, singing Neil Diamond's "America" to the entire cast singing "God Bless America" to close the show.

* The COMDEX technology convention opened Sunday night with a keynote address by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. There are only 150,000 COMDEX attendees in town this week (down from the roughly 200,000 who attended each of the past two years), mostly because of the economic downturn in the field and the aftermath of Sept. 11, but Gates said the industry is alive and well as we continue in what he calls the "digital decade."

Great Sunday for bettors

Nevada's legal bookmakers were probably hoping that Sunday would have been declared a day of remembrance with all games canceled.

Bettors rode roughshod over the books with 12 of 13 NFL favorites winning Sunday morning and afternoon. The Colts were the only favorite to lose outright in the day games, while the Buccaneers and 49ers won but didn't cover and the Steelers-Browns played to a 16-13 point spread push. Otherwise, it was a big day for the chalk players (especially with the Rams, Packers, Patriots, Broncos, and Giants), and that also meant that bookies were paying out an unusually high number of parlay cards.

If the Raiders had covered a 6-point spread Sunday night, it would have added to the bookmakers' losses, but the Seahawks pulled the upset, 34-27.

Bettors also scored small to moderate profits on college football. Bettors especially liked New Mexico against the local squad, UNLV, betting New Mexico from a 3- to as high as a 6-point favorite (6 1/2 at some outlets) after news came out that Rebel QB Jason Thomas was out with the flu. New Mexico won 27-17.

College winners for the public also included Maryland, Ohio State, Pitt, Penn State, and Rice.

Looking ahead

The early line moves in the Stardust "lottery" last week were an indicator of the bookmakers' poor weekend.

The NFL line moves were 4-0, with early money going on the Patriots, Rams, Steelers, and Jaguars. The early money on the Steelers came with the line at 2 1/2, so that bettor was a winner though the vast majority of money was refunded on that game as the 3-point line was pretty solid throughout the week. Early NFL line moves are now 26-18 for the season (59 percent). The Dolphins, Redskins and Vikings took early money on Sunday night. The Vikings opened as a 1-point underdog in next Monday night's game vs. the Giants but were bet to favoritism within 30 minutes of wagering.

The college line moves didn't do quite as well last week, going 4-5 and lowering the season-long record to 97-80 (55 percent). The biggest moves on this weekend's game were on Iowa, bet from a 10- to a 12-point favorite over Minnesota, and Utah, bet from a 10-point dog vs. unbeaten BYU down to 8.