12/30/2005 1:00AM

Bargain shopping for football early birds


Whether you're betting on horse racing or sports, a common thread for winning is getting value.

In horse racing, you get value through the odds board. For example, the most likely race winner may be a great bet at 4-1 but not at 4-5.

In sports betting, value is determined by the point spread between the teams. A team may be a strong play as a 3-point favorite but not as a 6-point chalk. For savvy sports bettors, shopping for price and getting the best number can be the difference between a winning or losing season.

For the last two years, the Plaza sports book has posted point spreads for the entire upcoming NFL season in May. For example, that meant last May you could have bet any NFL game being played this weekend.

I love the idea and wrote a column about it in early September. In fact, I wrote about four mind bets against the Green Bay Packers to end this season. The thinking was that the Packers were going to stink, and I would be getting better numbers going against them early.

Here are those results. In September, the Detroit Lions were +3 1/2 for a Dec. 11 game against the Packers, +6 1/2 at game time. Final score: 16-13, Packers. In September, the Baltimore Ravens were -6 1/2 for a Dec. 19 game, -3 1/2 at game time. Final score: 48-3, Ravens. In September, the Chicago Bears were +7 for a Dec. 25 game, -7 at game time. Final score: 24-17, Bears. In September, the Seattle Seahawks were +2 1/2 for a Jan. 1 game, +4 1/2 currently.

First, you would be 3-0 betting against the Packers regardless of the point spread with the Seattle game to play. The point spread was better on the Lions, Ravens, and Seahawks at game time, better on the Bears in September.

The biggest discrepancy is the Bears game, with a huge 14-point swing in the point spread. That's the scenario you dream of. Anyway, the early betting has been a big success for the Plaza, and expect the program to continue for a third straight year in 2006.

"It's been a good marketing tool to promote our book," said Lou D'Amico, Plaza director of race and sports. "It's good for the players. Sharp guys came in looking for flaws in the lines. Also, players came in from all over the country to bet the whole season on their favorite teams."

D'Amico is a creative and aggressive bookmaker, which is reflected in the Plaza race and sports book offerings. He's hoping to have his 2006 Kentucky Derby future book up and running right after the Super Bowl.

He had the 2005 Kentucky Derby favorite Bellamy Road at 150-1 as late as the week of the Wood Memorial. It shows D'Amico is willing to take a stand on horses too.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.