07/05/2006 11:00PM

World Cup a surprise summer hit

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The pomp and circumstance surrounding the World Cup finale this Sunday here in Las Vegas won't be close to Super Bowl levels, but the sports books are expected to be more lively at 11 a.m. than on any Sunday since March Madness.

The World Cup has been a better-than-expected windfall for local bookmakers during these dog days of summer. Soccer, with two to four games on most days, has been outhandling the daily baseball cards of up to 15 games.

With Sunday's championship match between Italy and France, the monthlong tournament is expected to go out with a bang, and the local books are hoping to bring in the crowds, including those with ancestral links to those countries.

Some places will be hosting special viewing parties, such as Jerry's Nugget, which will open its Royal Street Theater for a party with $1 pizza, hot dogs, and nachos, plus drink specials. The Imperial Palace has been giving away free World Cup T-shirts with a $20 wager, and the promotion proved so popular that extra shipments had to be delivered twice. As of Thursday morning they were down to just medium-sized shirts.

Non-casino bars around town have also opened their doors to welcome World Cup fans. Boisterous fans were found at the Crown & Anchor Pub at 1350 E. Tropicana, especially when England was playing, and at Hofbrauhaus at 4510 Paradise Road, when Germany was rolling along.

The Hofbrauhaus is expected to be packed Saturday at noon when Germany takes on Portugal in the third-place game.

Germany is a -275 favorite (risk $2.75 for every $1 you want to profit) at the Las Vegas Hilton to win the game outright, which includes all overtimes and shootouts, with Portugal offered at +235 (win $2.35 for every $1 wagered). If you just want to bet the 90-minute result, which also includes stoppage time, then Germany is -1/2 a goal with a -150 money-line attached, with Portugal at +1/2 and +130.

With not as much on the line for third place, the over/under is set at 2 1/2 goals.

Sunday's championship game is expected to be much tighter, which is reflected not only in the total being 1 1/2 goals but also in the fact the game doesn't have a goal line attached at the Hilton: Italy is a -140 favorite with France at +120.

"We had a really good handle on the semis," said Jeff Sherman, sports book supervisor at the Hilton, "especially in the Germany-Italy game. We'll definitely have more handle Sunday than if it were Portugal-Italy."

Just like with the Super Bowl and other major sporting events, more varied prop bets are also available. The Hilton even has combination props with "halftime/full time double results." For instance, Italy leading at the half and winning in regulation time pays off at 3-1. France leading at the half and winning in regulation time pays 9-2. Draw at halftime and Italy winning in regulation pays 7-2. Draw at halftime and France winning in regulation pays 5-1. Italy/draw pays 12-1, as does France/draw. Draw/draw pays 5-2.

The Hilton also has exact score props. There's too many to list here, but for those who think there's never any scoring in these World Cup games, Italy 0, France 0 is 7-2; Italy 1, France 0 is 4-1; and France 1, Italy 0 is 9-2.

If you think a high-scoring game is possible, you could take 100-1 on Italy 4, France 3 or 125-1 on France 4, Italy 3.

"People were asking for these kinds of bets, so I told them I would do it for the final," Sherman said.

Race book notes

In a follow-up to Friday's column about non-mainstream bets being offered offshore but not allowed to be placed here in Vegas, the Olympic offshore book at www.thegreek.com has odds on all the categories in Sunday's ESPY Awards. In the Best Jockey category, Edgar Prado is the -240 favorite, with John Velazquez at +250 and Garrett Gomez at +500.

* The Imperial Palace is having a "Win a Day at the Races" promotion with drawings on July 29 for two trips to Del Mar on Aug. 5. Losing tickets of $20 or more will be put into a drum for the drawings. Winners, who must be present at the drawing, will receive round-trip air transportation to San Diego plus $100 cash.

* Starting July 31 and running through Aug. 28, the Paris race book will have a weekly $20 buy-in contest called the Beat Al Horse Handicapping Shootout. Players make eight mythical $2 win-and-place wagers each Monday from races at Saratoga and Del Mar. The winner each week will receive 70 percent of the prize pool, with second place taking the remaining 30 percent and third place receiving dinner for two at the Bally's or Paris buffet. The top two finishers each week will qualify for a $500 tourney on Sept. 4. The "Beat Al" part is that if Paris handicapper Al Beal wins the tournament, the prize won't be awarded. Complete rules available at www.ballysraceandsports.com.