By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

LAS VEGAS -- Extended, random thoughts after two days in Vegas:

As you can tell, I'm trapped in my hotel room writing this column. Ugh. Imagine being in Vegas and having to spend hours on end in your hotel room, banging the keyboard with the soothing sounds of the casino (people cheering, slot machines jingling) still ringing in your ears. This is torture.

Fortunately for me, this column represents my final "Postcard from Vegas" for the week; I'm not writing again until my summary of the Rahman-Lewis fight this weekend (which should be posted by Sunday morning). That means I have two full days to play in Vegas until the fight kicks off Saturday afternoon. As an added bonus, my buddies start trickling into town today (more on this later), which means I'll finally have some war stories for you next week, especially since I'm rooming with Ken Caminiti.

So why don't I have any war stories for you now? For one thing, I've been battling a chest cold ever since I arrived, which means I've been hitting the sack by 11 every night. Just a dreadful turn of events. I feel like a running back who had a certain game marked down on his calendar all season and pulled a hammy two days before the actual game. Since I haven't been prowling the casino at all hours, I haven't enjoyed one random celebrity sighting yet (although I think Shelley Long cleaned my room yesterday). And since I've been pumping out columns and playing the role of journalist, there really hasn't been much time left over for gambling.

Through Thursday afternoon, I'm down about $100. I pretty much broke even on my NBA bets (3-3, putting me down $9 bucks) and avoided the craps/blackjack tables (sticking to my game plan), but the poker tables have been treating me pretty miserably.

For one thing, there aren't any easy marks in Vegas -- when I play at Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, I can always count on one or two idiots per hour to dispense their chips to everyone else. And since everybody knows what they're doing here, your fortunes depend on your cards. It's practically impossible to consistently out-play anyone else in 7-card stud in Vegas.

Needless to say, I'm not getting the cards. The River (the final card dealt, and the one that usually makes or breaks you if you're going for a flush, straight or a full house) has been killing me for two straight days. The weird thing is, The River has always treated me kindly over the years, mainly because it's my favorite Bruce Springsteen song, and it always gives me good vibes. Not this week. I'm more depressed than Bruce when Mary found out that she was pregnant.

And man, that was all she wrote ... and for my 19th birthday, I got a union card and a wedding coat ...

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Vegas strip
The Sports Guy and his pals will be wreaking havoc on the Vegas strip this weekend.

Friday morning should be fun: I'm playing in a Texas Hold 'Em tournament, my virgin experience in the game that Mike McD, Knish and Teddy KBG made famous in "Rounders." Frankly, I'm not sure if I'm ready to make The Leap from Stud to Hold 'Em -- it's like going from a local wrestling circuit to the WWF -- but it only costs $25 to enter and you get $300 worth of fake chips. Winner takes all: $300. And the best part is that I'll be playing the whole time and re-enacting "Rounders" lines in my head.

I'm gonna lay that down, Teddy. It's a monster hand, I'm gonna lay that down.

I'm goin' all in. ... I don't think you have the spades.

You're right ... I don't ... have ... the spades ...

Did you have it?

I'm sorry, John ... I don't remember.

Good times ... good times. Anyway, root for me.

***** ***** *****

My favorite part of Vegas? The sports book. Every American lives within a two-hour drive of some sort of casino, but only Vegas offers the following things:

  • Giant rooms with 60-foot high ceilings that feature seating, bar service, waitresses and the Giant Wall (filled with an infinite number of TV screens, games and odds boards).

  • People standing behind the counter ready to take your bets.

  • Have I mentioned the infinite number of TV screens and the odds boards yet?

    Words can't describe it; I won't even try. Just imagine the greatest sports bar on the planet, than multiply that by 20. I'll never forget the look on my buddy Geoff's face when we walked into our first sports book (Treasure Island, '97) together for the first time. I nearly swallowed my tongue, but Geoff went into some sort of trance, like a kid seeing 40 wrapped presents under a Christmas tree: totally frozen, a glazed smile on his face, his head slowly bobbing to the left and to the right.

    (He looked like Michael Myers in "Halloween" after Myers stabbed that guy against the wall and lifted him three feet up in the air. Remember how Myers took a step back and just stared at the guy, admiring his work, his head shifting left, then right? That was Geoff.)

    Sports Books always split into two sides: horse racing on the left, pro sports on the right. The two sides never really mix; you could even claim that there's a little tension at times. The veteran horse-racing gamblers always seem crusty and unhappy, like they've been sitting in the same seat for weeks on end (your typical horse-racing gambler is wearing a Nylon jacket, smoking Winstons, drinking coffee and sitting at a desk that has a plate of half-eaten chicken wings on it). And you know it drives them crazy that everyone makes so much noise on the sports side.

    The crowd on the pro sports side always seems more diverse: Lifers mixed in with "All-American Guys between 20 and 35 who are really, really happy to be there." It's not the best place to meet women, unless you think you can pick up one of the waitresses (not a chance).

    You can't even imagine what it's like here on Sunday afternoon, when all the early NFL games are wrapping up at the same time and people are screaming and clapping at various times. Utter, complete chaos. Even Wednesday night, when the Celtics-Pacers, Bucks-Wizards and Hornets-76ers games were all heading into crunch-time at the same time, the room was pulsing with life. If you love sports, you need to venture to Vegas at least once to understand what I'm describing here. It's that good.

    Rahman-Lewis odds
    The Vegas odds for Saturday night's heavyweight title bout:

  • Lewis to win: -300 (bet $300 to win $100).

  • Rahman to win: +250 ($100 to win $250). When the line opened, Lewis was a 4-to-1 favorite (translation: heavy action on Rahman).

  • Fight will go 7 full rounds: (-$120); Fight won't go seven rounds (-$110).

  • Rahman by KO (3/1), Rahman by decision (8/1), Lewis by KO (5/6), Lewis by decision (2/1) and the dreaded draw (25/1).

  • Sucker bet: You can bet on a knockout in a specific round by one of the two fighters. For instance, if you think Rahman will knock out Lewis in the third round, you get 18-1 odds. If you think Lewis will knock Rahman out in the eighth round, you get 8-1 odds. The odds vary by round (don't ask).
  • Along those same lines, you can't even imagine how the Giant Wall can suck you in. On Wednesday afternoon, I was determined just to wager on the Bucks over the Wizards (remember the days when "Never, ever bet against MJ" was Rule No. 1 in gambling?). Glancing at the Giant Wall, I noticed that you could wager $100 to win $165 on the Hornets (4-point dogs) to win outright in Philly. Hmmmmm.

    Before I knew what was happening, I had thrown the Hornets into my Wednesday mix. Even when I was walking away with my Bucks and Hornets tickets in my hand, I was thinking to myself, "Why?" Of course, Charlotte lost. That's the power of the Giant Wall.

    One other sports book note: You can wager on "future" bets: Who will win the Super Bowl, who will win the AFC, who will win the NBA title, and so on. As you probably noticed, we're running these "future bets" on the right side of this column as a sidebar.

    Some quick comments:

  • When the Rahman-Lewis line opened, Lewis was a 4-1 favorite. Now he's 3-1. Translation: Heavy action on Rahman. I was disappointed that there weren't more goofy proposition bets for the fight, stuff like "Number of knockdowns" or even "Which entourage will throw the first sucker punch after the fight?"

    NBA futures
    Odds against winning the NBA title:

    5/6 -- L.A. Lakers

    7/1 - San Antonio

    10/1 -- Philly

    12/1 -- Portland, New York, Miami, Sacramento, Milwaukee, Dallas, Orlando

    18/1 -- Utah

    25/1 -- Minnesota, Charlotte, Phoenix, Toronto, Washington

    30/1 -- Indiana

    50/1 -- Seattle, Houston, L.A. Clippers

    75/1 -- Detroit, Boston, Denver

    150/1 -- New Jersey, Cleveland

    200/1 -- Atlanta

    300/1 -- Chicago

    400/1 -- Memphis, Golden State

  • It's no fun whatsoever to wager on the NBA futures, since the Lakers will win the title unless Kobe or Shaq get seriously injured over the next seven months. What's the fun in risking $120 to win that money back, plus another $100, especially when you won't get your winnings until June? If Mandalay was smart, they would post an over/under for Lakers wins at "70" to drive their NBA action up.

  • As you probably know, Vegas sets the "future" odds before the season, then adjusts them accordingly if certain teams receive an inordinate amount of action. The danger for them is what happened in 1999, when the 200-1 Rams ended up winning a Super Bowl. Even though they were wagered down to 2-1 by the time the playoffs started, it was too late: Vegas got creamed.

    Here were the movers and shakers this winter:

    1. The Bears started at 75-1 ... now they're 6-1. (Just ludicrous. 6-1????)

    2. The Niners and Steelers started at 50-1 ... now they're 12-1.

    3. The Browns moved from 200-1 to 30-1.

    4. The most notable NCAA movers were BC (20-1 to 15-1) and Utah (150-1 to 100-1).

    5. The Islanders dropped from 200-1 to 25-1 (and you know they have Vegas terrified).

    NHL futures
    Odds against winning the Stanley Cup:

    5/2 -- Detroit

    9/2 -- New Jersey

    5/1 -- Colorado

    8/1 -- Dallas, Washington

    10/1 -- Philly

    12/1 -- Ottawa

    15/1 -- Toronto

    20/1 -- Buffalo, Pittsburgh, San Jose, L.A.

    25/1 -- N.Y. Islanders

    30/1 -- Vancouver, Edmonton

    40/1 -- Phoenix, Carolina, Boston

    6. In the "How stupid can people be?" department, the Wizards started off at 400-1 and were wagered down to 25-1.

    Four intriguing possibilities:

    1. The Timberwolves: 25-1 odds, and they're probably the second-best team in the West. A possible long-shot bet just in case Shaq or Kobe collide for the first-ever "Double Torn ACL."

    2. What about the Celtics (75-1) and the Nets (150-1) in the wide-open East? Stranger things have happened. You can't tell me that there's a great team in the East this season.

    3. Memphis might suck me in at 30-1 to win the NCAAs. There's something about DaJuan Wagner. ... I'm getting "Fab Five" vibes from him.

    4. The Dolphins look mildly jumpable at 10-1 to win the AFC championship. Are they really any better or worse than Oakland (2-1), Baltimore (4-1), Denver, Pittsburgh and San Diego (5-1) and Tennessee (8-1)? And what about the Patriots at 30-1 to win the AFC and 60-1 to win the Super Bowl? Doesn't the AFC look wide-open this year?

    Please note: I have won two "future bets" in my life -- hitting big with the Broncos in both Super Bowl seasons ('97 and '98). Of course, I haven't won since ... but maybe that will change this trip. I'm leaning towards the Nets, T-Wolves and Memphis. Stay tuned.

    ***** ***** *****

    NCAA futures
    Odds against winning the NCAA men's basketball championship:

    3/1 -- Duke

    5/1 -- Maryland, Kentucky

    6/1 -- Illinois

    7/1 -- Florida

    10/1 -- UCLA

    12/1 -- Kansas

    15/1 -- Boston College 20/1 -- Iowa, Virginia, Missouri, St. Joseph's

    25/1 -- Michigan State, Georgetown

    30/1 -- Memphis, UNC, Temple

    40/1 -- Stanford, OSU, Syracuse, UConn, Cincy

    50/1 -- Mississippi, Fresno State, Gonzaga

    As I mentioned before, my buddies start arriving Thursday night (since I'm writing this on Thursday at 3:30 in the afternoon, but you're reading it on Friday, that means they arrived yesterday -- I feel like Marty McFly). From the moment last September when I sent out the "They're sending me to Vegas ... VEHHHHHHH-GASSSSSSS!!!!!!" e-mail, the West Coast members of my posse (Bish, Geoff, Mikey and Hopper) immediately sprung into action; within hours, they were scouring the 'Net for flights so they could spend at least 24 hours gambling with me.

    At various times, everyone but Hopper claimed that they might not be able to make it ... but I knew better. I have made five trips to Vegas in my life; each of those guys has been there every time. And all of them ended up coming through this time. Of course they did.

    Here's a quick thumbnail sketch of my cohorts in Vegas crime. I inserted a make-believe friend in here ... you'll have to guess which one it is:

    BISH: He was already traveling to L.A. this weekend for the UCLA-USC game, but he couldn't bear the thought of everyone hanging out in Vegas without him, so he arranged a one-night trip the night before (Thursday to Friday)... Bish and I have good blackjack chemistry -- lots of high fives, running jokes and good vibes that usually infect the rest of the table before long (and if you don't understand that explanation, well, you've never been to Vegas) ... he usually plays the role of the "Excited guy who's always ready to gamble."

    Vegas highlight: Best known for the time when we were walking the Strip three years ago, and I pointed to the "Siegfred and Roy" billboard in front of the Mirage and joked, "Hey, are those guys gay?" and Bish answered in all seriousness, "Actually, I think they are." Maybe the funniest thing that ever happened.

    GEOFF: Another high school friend (he's the guy who goes into a trance when he enters a sports book) ... staying from Thursday to Friday with Bish ... specializes in late-night craps and goofy hockey bets ... probably the most fun person to play craps with on the planet, other than either Charles Barkley or Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf ... Geoff can be a little unpredictable -- if he's losing or bored, he'll disappear for two hours, and you'll find him at some $10 craps table betting the "Don't Come" line against a bunch of people who can't speak English.

    Vegas Highlight: This actually happened at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, but it counts, anyway. We had a legendary craps run there three years ago, which lasted over an hour and was highlighted by Geoff and I only crapping out three times between us. People were actually shaking our hands when it was over. I'm telling you, when they make the "SportsCentury And Beyond: Bill Simmons" show some day, they might devote an entire segment to that night. Unfortunately, Geoff and I haven't had much luck gambling together ever since. It's like we used up all our collective luck that night.

    COREY: Former movie star, now lives in L.A. ... once appeared in such classics as "The Lost Boys," "Lucas" and the camp classic "Blown Away" ... broke off engagement with Nicole Eggert in '93 ... subject of an unforgettable "E! True Hollywood Story" last month in which he babbled like a raving lunatic ... as long as he's not popping pills, smoking crack, doing lines or snorting heroin, he's a barrel of laughs ... usually broke and insolent ... everybody refuses to room with him ... I'm not sure why we invited him again.

    Vegas highlight: Once punched out a bellboy at the MGM Grand who mistakenly called him "Mr. Feldman."

    MIKEY: Bish's old roommate in San Fran ... staying from Friday to Sunday with Hopper ... much like David Cone, he's a great guy to have in the clubhouse -- Mikey mediates all arguments, soothes over any disputes, always knows when to call it quits for the night, knows where all the good restuarants and buffets are in Vegas, takes pictures of girls at the Mandalay Pool with his digital camera, etc. ... subscribes to the Tony La Russa School of blackjack (you do everything by the book) ... possesses an uncanny knack for knowing how much he's up/down during the course of the night ... he's also the wisest gambler in our group, rarely taking chances and always calling quits if it isn't his night ... a good balance for Hopper.

    Vegas highlight: Not suitable for publication.

    HOPPER: Another one of Bish's old roommates ... sometimes goes under the pseudonyms "Mr. Vegas" and "Captain Vegas" ... put it this way: You could call him at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon and tell him, "Hey, I'm in Vegas, wanna meet me?" and Hopper would be there by 7:30 ... he's a surreal combination of every character from "Swingers," but with a much more manageable bank account ... bonus points here for two things: 1) he gambles enough money to get rooms comped, and 2) you can always count on him to become drunk and belligerent at least once during every Vegas trip, which always makes "Tales At The Buffet Table" more lively the following morning.

    Vegas highlight: Drove former Redskins coach Norv Turner from a $25 blackjack table last April at Mandalay (when the Coach was winning, no less) by looking at the ceiling and screaming, "The Coach ... is ... killing me." This happened after Turner was winning big and inexplicably turned conservative, staying on "16" three different times when the dealer had a "10" showing. If you know anything about Turner's tenure in Washington, you can attest to how funny this story is. I swear to God, it happened.

    (This also led to Hopper's famous theory that NFL owners should play blackjack with prospective coaches before they actually hire them, just to make sure they're getting the right guy. As Hopper always says, "You can learn a lot about a person when you're playing blackjack with them." In the words of Kurt Angle, "It's true, it's true.")

    So that's my group of friends, the West Coast contingent, anyway. I'll let you know how things turned out for us next week.

    ***** ***** *****

    Weigh-in
    Just in case, the promoters set up a barrier to keep Rahman and Lewis from going after each other.

    Finally, I attended the weigh-in for the Rahman-Lewis fight Thursday afternoon. There were more than a thousand fans in attendance, most of them cheering for Lewis. Even when somebody tried to start a "USA! USA!" chant for the Rock, Lewis' contingent overpowered them. I'm convinced that Lewis' people paid them and planted them in the stands, but that's a story for another time.

    There was only a smattering of comedic highlights. Don King showed up wearing a goofy khaki outfit -- pants, dress shirt and a summer jacket and looked like he was roughly 135 years old. Jimmy Lennon Jr. did the announcing with "I'm getting paid for this, right?" vigor. Former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson was the only celebrity on hand -- wearing a Hawaiian shirt and surrounded by an entourage of short people (apparently Danny DeVito isn't showing up until tomorrow). There were two ring girls on hand who weren't even attractive enough to command their own sex scene in a Skin-e-max movie.

    Here was my favorite part: Mandalay erected a gigantic plexiglass barrier to "separate" the entourages and scales on the stage, allegedly to prevent Rahman and Lewis from getting at one another during the weigh-in. I kept waiting for Rahman to taunt Lewis by pulling his pants down, pressing up to the plexiglass and imitating Billy Hayes when his girlfriend visited him in the Turkish prison during "Midnight Express." Now that would have been a memorable performance.

    The actual weigh-in was pretty uneventful: Lewis tipped the scales at 246.5, Rahman at 236. Both of them looked to be in tip-top shape, especially Rahman, who was chiseled even more than he was in their first fight. They agreed to some quick TV interviews, Lewis bolted the premises immediately and the fans started filing out shortly thereafter. Rahman stuck around for a while, taking pictures, giving interviews and smiling for the remaining fans. He's clearly enjoying his time in the spotlight.

    Are Rahman's 15 minutes up? We'll find out on Saturday night. Hopefully, I'll still be in one piece to see it.

    My final prediction: Lewis executes his patented passive/clutching/grabbing routine to perfection, keeping Rahman at bay and winning a boring decision. Let's hope I'm wrong.

    Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2. His final column from Vegas will appear Monday.




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