08/03/2001 12:00AM

Trades stir little interest in baseball futures


LAS VEGAS - Major League Baseball teams trying to strengthen their rosters for the pennant drive were wheeling and dealing leading up to last Tuesday's trading deadline.

The Cubs finally got Fred McGriff, the Yankees traded for Sterling Hitchcock, the Giants added Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal, the Astros picked up Pedro Astacio, and the Red Sox strengthened their bullpen with Ugueth Urbina.

So, all this movement must have meant a lot of action on baseball futures, right? Wrong.

"Teams that made trades have already been bet down, like the Cubs and the Yankees," said Chuck Cunningham, sports book supervisor at the Imperial Palace. "The only line we changed was the Astros to win the National League from 5-1 to 3-1."

Through Thursday night, the Astros were

3 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central, but only one game behind the Diamondbacks in the wild-card race.

At the Imperial Palace, the Braves are the 2-1 favorite to win the NL, followed by the Cubs

(5-2), Astros (3-1), Diamondbacks (4-1), Dodgers (5-1), Giants (6-1), Phillies (12-1), Cardinals

(20-1), and Marlins (25-1).

In the American League, there are only six teams with legitimate playoff hopes. The Mariners are now the 10-13 favorite, followed by the Yankees (even-money), Red Sox and Indians (each at 4-1), Twins (5-1), and A's (7-1). The White Sox, however, have been lowered from 40-1 to 30-1 after a recent surge to pull within eight games of a wild-card spot.

Unlike the Imperial Palace, many books have already taken down their baseball futures, including the Coast Resorts. Station Casinos took down its AL and NL futures at the All-Star break, but is still taking World Series bets.

Stations has the Mariners as the 4-5 World Series favorite and the Twins (2-1) as the second choice. Those odds are more a reflection of earlier bets on those Cinderella teams and a reluctance to get any more liability as opposed to their real chances.

The Imperial Palace World Series futures have the Mariners at 8-5, followed by the Yankees (2-1), Braves and Cubs (both at 6-1), Red Sox, Indians, and Diamondbacks (all at

8-1) and the Twins (10-1).

Contest for expensive tastes

The highest of the high-end handicapping contests taking place this month is the MGM Grand's Surf & Turf, set for next Saturday and Sunday. The entry fee is $2,000 and the field was approaching 70 on Thursday, with entries still coming in.

This event is a qualifier for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship and is expected to draw many top tournament players who are still trying to earn a berth.

The Surf & Turf is intended as a summer celebration of the premier meets at Saratoga and Del Mar. Players will make a mythical $2 win and $2 place wager on every race at the two tracks Saturday and Sunday. Payouts are capped at 20-1 to win and 10-1 to place. Selections must be made two minutes to post, though late scratches can be voided and re-bet (or given the post time favorite).

550 so far for Orleans Championship

Entries have passed the 550 mark for the Championship at The Orleans (formerly called the National Handicapping Challenge), set for Aug. 16-18.

Organizers aren't expecting to approach the record 936 entries in last October's tournament, but 700 is not out of the question. The entry fee is $500 and will be accepted until there are 12 contest races to go on the first day.

Tough luck for Leija bettors

When the New York Athletic Commission ruled last week that Hector Camacho's July 7 welterweight win over James Leija would be changed to a no-contest (Camacho said he couldn't continue after allegedly being told he was ahead on the scorecards), it brought up an interesting question about what happens with the wagering in Nevada.

It's just like when a racetrack rules after the fact that they are changing the order of finish and redistributing purse money. The original result stands for wagering purposes. Camacho backers have already collected their winnings, and Leija tickets are only worth a good story of how a bettor wuz robbed.

Officer early favorite for Juvenile

Officer, The Thoroughbred Corp. colt who won the $125,000 Graduation Stakes on July 25 at Del Mar, has been made the 6-1 favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile future book at the Park Place properties (Caesars Palace, Las Vegas Hilton, Flamingo, Bally's, and Paris).

John Avello put 42 2-year-olds on the opening list released Wednesday. Came Home, who won the Hollywood Juvenile Championship on July 15, is the second choice at 12-1, followed by Busters Daydream and Mayakovsky at 15-1. Every other colt is between 20-1 and 100-1.

Pager debuts for Station Casino customers

Station Casinos has a great pager to comply with the new regulations on phone accounts. The pager not only allows you into the system (like beepers used at other properties), but it supplies current betting lines and scoring updates of games in progress. It also has a news ticker that will be used for breaking stories and injury reports.

Furthermore, no deposit fee is charged for current customers or new accounts with a $100 minimum deposit.

Taking the under still good strategy

I thought my suggestion of taking the under in all major league baseball games was drying up when the under went 7-8, 8-9, and 6-9 last Friday through Sunday. But after last Monday's only game was a push, the under rebounded by going 11-3-1 on Tuesday, 7-5-1 on Wednesday and 9-5-1 on Thursday. Since the All-Star break, the under is 165-127-17 through Thursday. A bettor laying an average of $110 on every under would have a profit of about $2,530. Even if you didn't start until the July 18 column that first mentioned this trend, you would be 113-93-14.