06/26/2001 12:00AM

WNBA bettors few but loyal


It's the dog days of summer, and bookmakers look for anything to keep the money churning through the windows. The WNBA has created a small but loyal following in Las Vegas. "The handle is small, smaller than an NHL game, but it's consistent," said Stardust race and sports book director Joe Lupo. "The fact that so many games are on TV and it's backed by the NBA certainly helps."

Lupo said he hasn't put up Arena Football or NFL Europe because there hasn't been a demand for it. "We did OK on the XFL, which was about the same level of play, but interest for that was mostly because we had a local team."

The Stardust has also put up three baseball proposition wagers to help drive handle. If you think Barry Bonds, who is on a pace to hit 85 home runs, will break Mark McGwire's record of 70, you can get +220 (bet $1 to win $2.20); if you want to bet he won't do it, you have to lay -260 (risk $2.60 to win $1). The other props are Curt Schilling reaching 20 wins (Yes -145/No +125) and the Mariners getting 115 victories (Yes +280/No -360).

Books avoided big loss on boxing

The big sports betting event over the weekend was the Oscar De La Hoya-Javier Castillejo super welterweight bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. De La Hoya was a deserving favorite as he dominated from start to finish in a unanimous decision. Most of the smart money came in on De La Hoya, but Castillejo attracted his share of wagers (probably based on the fact De La Hoya lost his last two bouts, and also with the Hasim Rahman upset of Lennox Lewis on April 22 fresh in everyone's minds). That helped bookmakers avoid a big loss, plus a lot of money came in on a De La Hoya knockout and the under in the over/under rounds prop.

The local boxing community is now waiting to see how all the legal battles and negotiations work out in the heavyweight ranks and if Las Vegas will land the next big fight.

Contest veteran wins again

On Saturday, Richard Witt of Hightstown, N.J., used a $32 winner in the seventh at Belmont and outlasted the rest of the 89-player field at the inaugural Reno Hilton Handicapping Contest.

The contestants paid a $200 entry fee and then wagered $600 of their own money over the two days of the tourney for their contest plays.

"Once I did my handicapping Friday night, I knew Boyum would be one of my contest plays," said Witt. "I bet $180 to win and $85 to place - which isn't the best money-management in the world, I know - but he won by the dirtiest of noses."

Witt's margin of victory in the contest was much greater. He finished with $3,483.50 (from $600 in contest wagers), nearly double that of the runner-up, Don Wright of East Point, Mich. ($1,758 to earn second-place money of $3,600). First place was worth $7,200 to Witt, in addition to his real-money winnings.

"The great irony is that I could have won the contest if I had bet all that money on Boyum to place," Witt said. "But I didn't know that at the time. I had figured, based on the results of the first day, that it would take about $3,500 to win."

Witt, a former Daily Racing Form advertising representative, is no stranger to winning handicapping contests.

In January, he won $15,000 in the Don Best Football Handicapping Championship and also won the Stardust Invitational in 1997.

Steve Fierro, who ran the Reno Hilton event and also will host the Flamingo Summer Challenge July 19-21 at the Hilton's sister property, said it was a close "horse race" until Witt's big winner.

"The other contenders were neck-and-neck," Fierro said. "We [contest officials] knew it but no one else knew it. We didn't want anyone having an unfair advantage with their late selections."

Lenny Manola, who was playing in the Hilton poker room Friday when he heard about the contest and decided to enter, finished with $1,560 and earned third-place money of $1,800.

Manola was the first-day leader but didn't cash any tickets on Saturday.

Fierro said, "A lot of people said that exotic players would have an unfair advantage, but in the two satellite tourneys we held and this weekend, the win bettors fared the best overall. This weekend, straight bettors - who mostly played win - showed a nine-cent on the dollar profit while exotic bettors showed an overall 26 cents on the dollar loss. All contestants combined had a

16 percent loss, so they beat the track takeout"

Fierro said the contest rule requiring exotic bettors to use $2 minimums helped level the playing field. Fierro said another key factor in making it a tourney that fairly represented how people play every day and rewarded solid handicapping was the fact players were betting their own money and not as likely to "go bombs away" with mythical wagers.