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Locales to seek the Las Vegas sports book experience

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

From the day Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal opened the Stardust book in 1975 until the hotel closed late last year, it was sports betting heaven, packed with a cast of inimitable characters. But even after its demise, you can find a decent book in almost any Vegas casino. It's all a matter of taste.

If you're looking for a wild, whelping, boozing Sunday crowd of partyers, try the low end at a place like Terrible Herbst. If you prefer the more serious stogie and pinkie-ring crowd, try an old-line hang like the Golden Spike. Here are some other sure winners:

THE PALMS A magnet for all types -- fanatic fans, heavy bettors, full-time partyers in a comfortable, sleek atmosphere. Fifteen monitors and one giant screen face 10 long rows of padded chairs and private consoles. The only caveat: A recent change in the book's director has made it more cautious about accepting big bets.

MGM GRAND I mean truly grand. The hi-tech, oversized sports book feels like a dimly lighted NASA command center. Sit in one of the many theater-style leather chairs and you'll feel ready to order a phaser attack, if not a Hail Mary. The Stage Deli is adjacent for half-time noshing.

WYNN LAS VEGAS If you like watching the action from your own sumptuous skybox, you're gonna love the Wynn sports book -- and you don't even have to know Steve to get in. It's a hangar full of plush swivel chairs, individual mahogany consoles with tunable monitors, three stadium-sized split-screen TVs and soothing carpets. A running neon ticker under the monitors keeps you constantly updated on scores. And the adjoining bar reeks class. A great place to laze during a Sunday double-header.

CAESARS PALACE Not exactly the undisputed high-roller oasis it once was. The newer Harrah's management is gun-shy of big bets. But it's still a nobly appointed, open-walled space right off the Forum casino. Try out the extra-wide upholstered chairs, and groove on what sounds like the best audio system of all the sports books. You can actually crisply hear the game shown on the main big screen. A true oddity. Extra bonus: The book sits next to the ultra-hot Pure nightclub and Pussycat Dolls Lounge, making it an excellent perch for eyeing more than beefy tackles and linemen.

GOLDEN NUGGET By far the best book downtown. It strikes a perfect balance of elegance and intimacy on a cozy scale. Banks of flat-screen monitors keep you plugged into the action while you relax in rich cocktail lounge booths and easy chairs. Like watching the game from a great local bar.

FIESTA RANCHO DRIVE-THRU SPORTS BOOK So, you'd rather watch the Colts game from the cramped confines of your rented hotel room than in one of the plush books on the Strip? Who am I to argue? Then hop in your car and head a few minutes north of downtown and stop in at Vegas' only drive-through sports book. The Fiesta Rancho's "Sports on the Run" looks like a three-lane Jack in the Box. Bark out your order, put your ID and money in a pneumatic tube and in a flash your tickets will be zipped right back to you, allowing you to quickly re-enter the city's perpetual traffic jam.


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