05/16/2003 12:00AM

World Series offers big prize for tiny ante


LAS VEGAS - Turning "short money" into "long money" is the dream of many a gambler.

Nowhere is it more prevalent than in the World Series of Poker, hosted by Binion's Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas. The $10,000 buy-in Championship Event starts at noon Monday and the winner should be crowned by Friday night.

A lot of top poker players are able to put up the $10,000 entry fee, but many others in the event will have won their way into the World Championship by winning satellite tournaments either at Binion's or at 39 other casinos around the country, two in Canada, one in Russia, and four others on the Internet.

Last year, Robert Varkonyi of New York entered a single satellite event with $1,000 in "short money," earned his berth into the WSOP, and then proceeded to walk away with "long money" of $2 million.

A record 631 entered last year, and that should be topped again, especially with poker booming nationwideand the success of the "World Poker Tour" show on The Travel Channel.

But the World Series of Poker is more than just the Championship Event next week. It has been going on for the past month with 35 total events and an estimated $25 million in purses to be awarded. And though the crowning of the World Champion will be the biggest story, there have been other interesting happenings:

* The 1999 world champion, Chris Ferguson, is known by the moniker "Jesus." One look at him and you'd know why. Call it coincidence or divine intervention, but Ferguson won the $2,000 buy-in Omaha High-Low event on Easter Sunday, April 20. Ferguson was in sixth place when he got to the final table, but he ended up winning.

* One of the most famous poker players of all time, Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson (world champion in 1976 and 1977, and author of the groundbreaking poker book "Doyle Brunson's Super/System") won his record ninth WSOP title in a $2,000 buy-in tournament on April 24.

* After his victory, Doyle said, "Records are made to be broken. Eventually, someone is going to catch me." He was proven right about two weeks later when Johnny Chan won the $5,000 buy-in Pot-Limit Hold'em event on May 10 for his second title of this year's WSOP and ninth overall. Chan is the all-time WSOP money winner at nearly $3.5 million.

Orleans enters event arena

The Orleans Arena is the newest entertainment venue in town. Located west of the Strip on Tropicana Avenue, in the area that used to be a vast parking lot behind The Orleans, the 9,000-seat arena cost $53 million and will be in competition with the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus (the Orleans has also already lured the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus away from the T&M), the MGM Grand Garden Arena, and the Mandalay Events Center for concert acts and other events.

The Brooks & Dunn Neon Circus & Wild West Show on May 25 has long been billed as the facility's grand-opening event, but the Orleans Arena was set to open with a bang on Friday night with the King of the Cage no-holds-barred fight card.

The Orleans Arena will be home to the Las Vegas Wranglers, a minor-league hockey team playing in the soon-to-be-renamed East Coast Hockey League. The seating capacity for hockey will be 7,100, with 80 percent of the tickets priced at $18 or less. Michael Gaughan, owner of The Orleans and the rest of the Coast Casinos properties, has also promised to keep the parking free and have reasonable concession prices in order to cater to families and the locals that have made his casino chain a success.

Other entertainment options

The Country Music Awards will be held Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the Mandalay Bay Events Center. The show will be aired live in the Eastern (8 p.m.) and Central (7 p.m.) time zones and shown on tape delay in the West. Reba McIntryre, who has headlined for years on the Strip, will host the show, and the red carpet also will be rolled out for popular artists Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Willie Nelson, and Martina McBride, among others.

* The star-gazing will continue Thursday night with another nationally televised event from Las Vegas, the "VH1 Divas Duets" concert at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Showtime is also 5 p.m., with Queen Latifah hosting, and featuring divas Chaka Khan, Beyonce, Lisa Marie Presley, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Mary J. Blige, Jewel, and Ashanti, as well as Stevie Wonder.