03/31/2004 12:00AM

Tourney's not over, just the madness


The sports books won't be nearly as packed. The betting won't be as frantic. In essence, the madness is over, even though the NCAA tournament is reaching its climax with the Final Four this Saturday and the title game on Monday.

The NCAA tournament is celebrated in this town during the opening rounds, when it is truly wall-to-wall basketball. When there's just one game being played at a time in these later rounds - when you can't glance at another game during commercial breaks - the tournament loses its luster.

Some casinos, however, will try to keep the excitement going. The Imperial Palace is having what it calls a Big 4 party - just like the NFL's trademark of the phrase "Super Bowl," the NCAA doesn't look kindly on the commercial use of "Final Four." You actually have to earn the souvenir T-shirt by making 3 of 3 free throws, but 2 of 3 will also win a prize. In addition, there will be plenty of drawings, highlighted by a Shaquille O'Neal autographed Lakers jersey.

Bally's is hosting a Horses and Hoops Weekend for casino customers who paid a special rate of $239 for two nights' accommodations, free buffets, free Daily Racing Forms, and exclusive drawings. But one part of the weekend is open to the public, as DRF pedigree handicapper Lauren Stich and Southern California clocker Bruno De Julio will host a handicapping seminar from 9:30-11 a.m. Saturday.

"We're holding it in the glass-enclosed VIP area in the back of the race book," said John Avello, Bally's director of race and sports. "The more the merrier."

De Julio is also expected to have special guests phone in with their insights.

* We'll be seeing an influx of seminars in the next month as Las Vegas's next big marketing weekend approaches: the Kentucky Derby. The next seminar is scheduled for April 12 at the Gold Coast, where jockey Tyler Baze and trainer Doug O'Neill will have a meet-and-greet with fans from 9-10 a.m. In addition, a free handicapping contest on that morning's races from Gulfstream will offer a $1,000 prize.

Derby drawings for horseplayers

For the most part, casino marketing departments are waiting to get out the word on their Kentucky Derby promotions until March Madness is over, but the Terrible's hotel and casino on Paradise Road and the New Frontier on the Strip are off and running.

Terrible's is giving away a trip to this year's Kentucky Derby. From now through April 24, customers receive a drawing ticket for every $10-or-more wager made in the sports book. The drawing will be held at noon on April 24. The winner must be present and will have three minutes to claim the prize or another ticket will be drawn.

The New Frontier is giving away a 42-inch plasma TV on each day of the Triple Crown (Derby on May 1, Preakness on May 15, and Belmont on June 5). Any losing race ticket at the Frontier (same day only) may be redeemed for an official drawing ticket, and entries will remain in the drum until the conclusion of the promotion. A ticket will be drawn about an hour after each Triple Crown race, with the winner having one minute to claim the prize or another ticket will be drawn.

From horse power to horsepower

The Nascar circuit gets the most media attention in the auto-racing world, as was the case when the Nextel Cup race was held here last month. But the Las Vegas Motor Speedway holds another big event this weekend, with the National Hot Rod Association's Summitracing.com Nationals on Friday through Sunday.

Station Casinos, which already has the most varied auto-racing betting menu every weekend, has odds up on the top championships for the NHRA. Drag-racing legend John Force is a name that even non-racing fans may have heard (or maybe not), but he's not the lowest-priced favorite of the three top divisions.

Force is the 3-1 favorite to win the competitive Funny Car division, followed by Del Worsham (7-2), Jerry Toliver (9-2), and Gary Desham (5-1). Tony Schumacher is 5-2 to win Top Fuel, followed by Doug Kalitta (3-1), Larry Dixon (4-1), and Brandon Bernstein (4-1). Greg Anderson is a huge 7-5 favorite in Pro Stock, with Kurt Johnson (5-2) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (7-2) seen as the main contenders.

In addition to the odds to win each division, Stations has matchup props on the top drivers in each class, plus props on whether the Top Fuel elapsed-time record of 4.499 seconds will be broken ("no" is -130, with "yes" at even money) and which manufacturer will win Pro Stock (Pontiac is 5-8, Chevy is 7-5, and Dodge is 5-1).

* Nascar is also in the spotlight this Sunday, with the Samsung/Radio Shack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Stations has Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the favorite at 7-1, followed by Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth at 8-1, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch at 9-1, and Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart at 10-1.

Busch, a Las Vegas native, won his first race of the year last week in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. It was his fourth win in the last five races at Bristol and moved Busch within 21 points of defending champ Kenseth in the Nextel Cup standings. Earnhardt is the 2-1 favorite to win the season-long title, with Kenseth, Johnson, and Gordon at 7-2. Busch is still a generous 8-1.

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