05/20/2002 12:00AM

Triple Crown bid means big business for industry


War Emblem's victory in the Preakness was good news for a lot of people, even if they didn't have a winning ticket.

Belmont Park, site of the Belmont Stakes on June 8, will obviously benefit from having a horse shooting for the Triple Crown. T-shirt manufacturers and vendors should see a boost in business. NBC will get better ratings and higher ad revenues. Mainstream news coverage of horse racing will be at its highest since Charismatic's Triple Crown bid in 1999.

It's definitely a win-win situation for the industry. That trickles down to other racetracks and OTB's around the country. And Las Vegas is no exception.

"The Triple Crown season is the same every year," said Jay Kornegay, race and sports book director at the Imperial Palace. "The Kentucky Derby is always huge, then there's a natural falloff for the Preakness. If the Derby winner doesn't win the Preakness, then Belmont Day is pretty much like any other Saturday at that time of year, but - and it's a big but - if the Derby winner also wins the Preakness, then the Belmont becomes a major happening."

No doubt, any rooms that aren't already booked for Belmont weekend will be gone quickly.

It is shaping up as a major sports weekend. The Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson heavyweight title fight in Memphis is Belmont night (with most major hotels holding parties to watch the bout on closed-circuit TV), and the NBA and NHL finals will be in progress.

Some bettors out there are holding juicy tickets on War Emblem to win the Triple Crown. At Bally's and the other Park Place Entertainment books, War Emblem opened at 150-1 to win the Triple Crown and racing oddsmaker John Avello kept him there because he was getting strong play on his "will there be a Triple Crown winner" proposition wager, with a lot of early bettors taking the "will not."

"We're in good shape whether War Emblem wins it or not," Avello said.

At Coast Casinos, oddsmaker Frank Minervini opened War Emblem at 200-1 last month.

"We took a few bets at that price, but nothing big," Minervini said. "We then lowered him to 150-1 and then 100-1 and finally 85-1 the morning of the Derby."

Coast Casinos has had futures betting on the Belmont since Derby week. War Emblem was 25-1 when the betting opened and has been lowered, not only by wagers but because of his impressive performances. On Sunday, Minervini adjusted War Emblem to 2-1 to win the Belmont, and by Monday morning racing's newest star had been bet down to 7-5.

"With our futures liability, we'll lose some money if he wins it, but in another way I'd like to see him do it because it's good for the game," Minervini said.

Sports book notes

The Avalanche looked like they had a chance to steal their series opener against the Red Wings Saturday when they grabbed a 2-1 lead midway through the second period. But then the Wings exploded for four unanswered goals and went on to win 5-3. Game 2 was to be played Monday night with the series moving to Denver on Wednesday night. The Avalanche should be a playable home underdog.

In the other NHL conference semifinal, Carolina bettors had to win their wager twice on Sunday. The Hurricanes, after losing game 1 to Toronto last Thursday, were leading 1-0 on a Bret Hedican goal and it looked like that would be enough, but the Maple Leafs' Alyn McCauley scored with 7.4 seconds remaining to force overtime. But the Hurricanes prevailed on a Niclas Wallin goal 13:42 into overtime to even the series. Game 3 was to be played Tuesday night in Toronto. These teams are very likely to trade wins back and forth the whole series, so the loser of Tuesday's game is worth a look Thursday in game 4.

* The Lakers and Nets rolled to spread-covering victories in the opening games of their NBA conference finals series over the weekend. It was only the Lakers' second spread cover of the postseason. The second games were slated for Monday and Tuesday night, respectively.

* Ryan Newman was not guaranteed to participate in the Winston, NASCAR's equivalent of an all-star game, when he arrived at Loews Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., last week. He had to either win the Winston Open or No Bull Sprint qualifying races to make the field. He was third in the Winston Open and then went wire to wire to win the No Bull Sprint.

Even so, he had to start in the 27th position at the back of the Winston field. After the opening 40-lap race, he moved up to 20th (the final spot to advance). He moved up in the next 20-lap stage and then prevailed in the 10-lap final dash to win $750,000.

His longshot status was reinforced by the fact he wasn't among the 19 drivers listed in odds posted at the Palms. He was part of the field at 12-1.

Poker world set to crown champ

The World Series of Poker's championship event, a Texas no-limit hold 'em tournament, began Monday and runs through the week with the champion to walk away with between $1.5 million and $2 million (and the equally coveted champion's bracelet) on Friday night.

By noon Monday, the field was approaching the 613 that paid the $10,000 entry fee last year. Play was to begin at 1 p.m. and run through 9 p.m. On Tuesday, play was scheduled from noon to 8 p.m. On Wednesday, the players will play until the last five tables are filled. On Thursday, play will continue until the final table of nine is determined. The final table will begin play Friday at noon and play until a champion is crowned.