03/15/2002 1:00AM

There's money on Tyson-Lewis

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Las Vegas sports books have long had a love-hate relationship with Mike Tyson.

The former champ's fights always draw a good betting handle, especially when he has fought in town, but he has often gives sports book directors headaches from having to explain the house rules to customers after Tyson is disqualified (for biting off Evander Holyfield's ear) or has a bout declared a no-contest (for hitting Orlin Norris after the bell).

Some things never change.

The fight that boxing fans have wanted for years was supposed to happen April 6 between Tyson and Lennox Lewis. Several books made Lewis a -180 favorite (bet $1.80 to win $1) with Tyson a +150 or +160 underdog depending on the books' straddle in boxing odds. Other books, such as the Stardust, opted to wait until the fight became official.

That nearly happened until a melee broke out at the Jan. 22 news conference to announce the fight.

"I stopped taking bets on the fight after the press conference because it was ugly and really put the fight in jeopardy," said Art Manteris, director of race and sports book operations at Station Casinos. "I didn't want to write any more tickets until the fight was officially rescheduled."

Both fighters' camps are negotiating with Washington and Memphis, Tenn., to see if either city can hold the fight June 8.

Manteris said he received "quite a bit" of action before taking the odds down. All those bets are still alive since Manteris, from his years of experience in booking Tyson fights, issued a disclaimer that all bets were valid if the Tyson-Lewis bout happens by Dec. 31.

Caesars Palace, where Manteris used to work, had the same house rule, but has opted to keep taking bets on the fight. Lewis has been bet up to a -250 favorite.

Shoemaker Golf Classic

The Orleans is hosting the ninth annual Shoemaker Foundation Invitational Golf Classic at Spanish Trail Country Club on April 8. People can donate $200 ($300 earns donators two nights accommodations at The Orleans) to play with top jockeys and other sports personalities in a shotgun scramble tournament. There will be a barbeque lunch and an awards dinner, where a silent auction will be held to raise more money for the Shoemaker Foundation, which benefits riders with a debilitating illness or injuries.

In conjunction with the golf event, Coast Resorts has sent invitations to Turf Club members to attend a free breakfast on April 9, that will also include a seminar and autograph signings by the jockeys.

* Palace Station has added seven 50-inch plasma TV screens in its race book, which continues to undergo renovations. The crystal-clear pictures blow away the other big-screen TVs in the book. "It's the wave of the future," Manteris said. Stations is trying to keep pace with its competitor in the locals market, Coast Resorts, which has also recently added plasma TVs at the Gold Coast and The Orleans.

* Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager wraps up Sunday with the pool closing at 2:30 p.m. Pacific, before the running of the San Felipe. Nevada bettors will continue to be able to compare the parimutuel odds in Churchill Downs' pool to the fixed odds in the race books' futures.

NCAA picks

Now we get to see if the first-round Cinderella teams can make it to the Sweet 16. Here are four matchups:

Pittsburgh (-3) vs. California

Pitt used its home-court advantage in pulling away from Central Connecticut State, 71-54, Friday as a 14 1/2-point favorite. Brandin Knight, who suffered a tendon injury in the Big East title game and was considered questionable earlier in the week, carried the Panthers to the victory and looks capable of doing the same Sunday vs. California, which beat Penn, 82-75, as a 5-point favorite. With underdogs faring so well in the NCAA tournament so far, it appears oddsmakers are leery about making favorites lay too many points, so I will try to take advantage of a short line here, especially with the Panthers having the home crowd behind them.

Oklahoma (-8) vs. Xavier

This line also appears a little short to me. Oklahoma, the No. 2 seed in the West Regional, didn't come close to covering an 18-point spread in its 71-63 victory over Illinois-Chicago, but still won comfortably. The Sooners should do the same with Xavier, which beat Hawaii, 70-58,as a 2 1/2-point favorite. Hawaii looked in control with a 40-33 lead at halftime. In the first 17 minutes of the second half, however, Hawaii only scored eight points (that's right!). Xavier won't be able to shut down Oklahoma like that.

NC State (+3) vs. Connecticut

Both these teams looked in trouble at times, but then coasted to wins on Friday. North Carolina State, a 1-point dog, trailed Michigan State, 30-18, at halftime but thoroughly dominated the rest of the way to win 69-58. UConn, the No. 2 seed in the East, kept letting Hampton stay close before winning, 78-67, as a 12 1/2-point favorite. I really like how N.C. State has played down the stretch and see the Wolfpack winning straight up.

Creighton (+11) vs. Illinois

Illinois, the No. 4 seed in the Midwest, looked awesome in its 93-64 rout of San Diego State as an 11 1/2-point favorite, and showed why it was the preseason No. 2-ranked team. But Illinois has a habit of following up a performance like that with a clunker. Creighton, a No. 12 seed, upset No. 4 Florida, 83-82, in double overtime on a last-second shot. It certainly wasn't a fluke as the Bluejays battled the Gators close all afternoon. They can do the same with Illinois, at least staying within single digits.