11/18/2005 12:00AM

Appreciation for race betting on the rise

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The times they are a changing.

With its steady flow of profit to casinos, it seems the great game of racing may be gaining some ground in the wagering world of Las Vegas race and sports books.

It is no secret that the sports books of Las Vegas are taking it on the chin halfway through the NFL season. The public is getting smarter. The "wise guys" and race books are no longer the only ones that are taking a bite from the lucrative action on the National Football League.

Although wagering on the NFL still results in the major chunk of annual action at the race and sports books, the margin of profit enjoyed by Nevada sports books is eroding away as technology helps the masses come up with key betting angles that have, until recently, been exclusive to a handful of sharpies. The betting public is more educated and has a better chance of beating the spread.

And, luck has also played a role in the public's success this season. An inordinate number of fan favorites have covered the spread week after week, and those key teams allow the "squares" a better-than-average chance of connecting the dots on those ever-popular parlays. No

matter how much the sports books try to balance the action, the

exposure on the parlay payoffs cannot be offset by even the most brisk betting on a single game.

While the powerhouse teams of the past, the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, and Oakland Raiders, are struggling now, the resurgence of the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, and San Diego Chargers is helping the public stay in the black. How about those miracle wins by the ever-popular Dallas Cowboys?

And, the Indianapolis Colts have single-handedly provided a free bingo square for the betting public this year. The world champion New England Patriots are at least beatable this year, and the public seems to know when to say when there, too.

Although no crocodile tears should be shed for the sports books, the recent NFL balance sheets at the end of the year can certainly do nothing but help the books remember that the "race" in their title is still a money-making entity. And, without the risk and headaches that taking bets on the NFL has presented them in recent years.

The hold (or profit margin) is unchanging when either the favorite or longshot wins the equine game. Since the advent in Nevada of parimutuel commingled pools, the race books have a set percentage of profit margin on races. The racing part of the race and sports books may start looking more and more appealing to those operators by the time this football season reaches the Super Bowl.

Ralph Siraco is sports editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.