06/27/2006 11:00PM

Avid betting on Germany vs. Argentina

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World Cup fever continues to run wild throughout the world, and in the microcosm of society that is Las Vegas.

Never have I seen so many people take an interest in something that they usually disdain. Soccer is usually regarded as too boring, yet TV ratings are up and betting handle is also on the increase. But for anyone who has watched the World Cup games to this point, there have been many fantastic finishes and that certainly adds up to more interest.

The intensity gets turned up this weekend with the quarterfinal round Friday and Saturday in Germany. Sports books here will be open early for the 8 a.m. Pacific kickoffs each day and the second games at noon.

The early game Friday promises to be a barnburner as Germany takes on longtime powerhouse Argentina. Most books in town have the game around pick-em (-110 each way) with the Germans being as high as a -130 favorite at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Rich Baccellieri, race and sports book director at the Palms, said this has been his highest handle World Cup game.

"We're approaching six figures on this game," Baccellieri said Wednesday morning, nearly 48 hours before the game was to be played. "Germany, as the host, has been a popular bet throughout the tournament and now it's not like they're playing Costa Rica. This is the quarterfinals of the biggest tournament in the world, and versus a very talented and popular team in Argentina with all its tradition, we're getting great two-way action on the game."

Friday's second game is Italy vs. Ukraine. At the Hilton, Italy is a huge -360 favorite (risk $3.60 for every $1 you want to profit) to advance with Ukraine offered at +300 (win $3 for every $1 wagered).

This game illustrates how there are many different ways to bet these World Cup games, and how confusing it can get even for experienced bettors. Since Italy is such a big favorite, some books are offering Italy -1 goal with a price of -140 attached. Still other bet-takers put up three-way betting in which Italy is offered around -170 to win straight up, Ukraine is +565 to win straight up, and a draw (at the end of regulation plus any added time) is +270.

As you can see, the prices are better on the two teams in the three-way prop, but the catch is that only includes the 90 minutes of regulation plus any added time. If you bet one of the teams and it's tied at that point, you lose.

Some books offer all three lines, so be careful when calling out your bets so that you get the line that you want.

In Saturday's early game, England is a -170 favorite over Portugal at +150; the goal price is England -1/2 and +115 if you're willing to give up that half-goal in regulation. The three-way prices are England +110, Portugal +300, and the draw at +225.

The final quarterfinal is between tournament favorite Brazil and France. Brazil is a -280 consensus favorite to advance around town with France around +240. The goal line is Brazil -1/2 goal and -140, and the three-way bet is Brazil -125, France +375, and the draw at +255.

The Hilton has Brazil as the 2-1 favorite to win it all, with Germany at 3-1, Argentina at 7-2, Italy at 11-2, England at 13-2, France at 11-1, Portugal at 14-1, and Ukraine at 50-1.

The semifinals will take place this Tuesday and Wednesday with the championship match a week from Sunday on July 9.

Tour de France odds, anyone? Anyone?

Keeping with international competition, Wimbledon started this week with local sports books posting odds to win the tournament and on daily matches. It's one of the few times of the year when the books expect to handle decent tennis action.

The Tour de France starts Saturday, but with Lance Armstrong in retirement and battling doping allegations instead of rival cyclists, sports books expect to be begging for action. For the record, the Palms has Ivan Basso of Italy as the 6-5 favorite to win the Tour with Jan Ullrich of Germany the second choice at 11-5. No other rider is below 8-1. There are 19 riders listed at the Palms, plus a field at 9-2.

Back on American soil . . . and asphalt

Major League Baseball heads into its final weekend of interleague play with the American League clearly dominating over the senior circuit. Through Tuesday's action, the AL was 117-70 (62.5 percent) in interleague games with a record of 66-28 (70 percent) in games at AL parks. The balance of power is especially seen in the Cardinals - the NL's top team though they're quickly losing that title to the Mets - being swept by the Tigers over the weekend and again losing Monday and Tuesday to the Indians. This weekend's marquee interleague matchups include the Yankees-Mets, White Sox-Cubs, Angels-Dodgers, and Rangers-Astros.

* The Nextel Cup circuit goes from the road course in Sonoma, Calif., to the superspeedway at Daytona this Saturday with the Pepsi 400 race. The DEI team used to dominate the restrictor-plate races and that can be seen in some sports books, such as the Rampart/Cannery family, which is going with Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the 5-1 favorite. But a Hendricks Motorsports team has won six of the last nine restrictor-plate races, so Station Casinos has Jimmie Johnson as the 5-1 top choice. Both books have Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart at 6-1 as the only other drivers at single-digit odds.

Sexton shows he can do

The old saying is "Those who can't do, teach." But that doesn't apply to Mike Sexton.

Sexton is best-known as the co-host of the World Poker Tour TV telecasts on The Travel Channel. He can be seen analyzing the action in the fourth season championship, which will be replayed Saturday at noon Eastern and Pacific time. He also has a how-to book called "Shuffle Up and Deal" and is a frequent teacher at the WPT Boot Camp schools to teach poker newcomers the ins and outs of the game and help experienced players move their games to the next level.

But Sexton, who won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1989 at seven-card stud high-low, proved he can play pretty well himself this past week as he won the World Series Tournament of Champions invitation-only event over some of the top players in the game, including Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Gus Hansen, Mike Matusow, and Chris Ferguson.

In post-event interviews, Sexton cited the lessons learned from watching every hand played in the WPT for helping his own game.

Sexton pledged to donate half of his $1 million prize to charity, with $100,000 each going to the Special Olympics, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, Buoniconti Fund, and Children Incorporated.