08/22/2006 11:00PM

Bet early and take the under

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The college football season is just one week away, with a handful of games next Thursday and most of the rest of the nation's teams starting next Saturday.

Besides which schools will contend for the national title or who will battle for the Heisman, a lot of the talk has been about several rule changes that will shorten games from the common 3 1/2-hour marathons down to closer to three hours.

Here are two in particular that will have a big effect. On kickoffs, the clock will start when the ball is kicked instead of when the receiving team touches it. On change of possession, the clock will start when the referee spots the ball and signals it ready for play (which should create many instances of offenses running out there to try and catch the opposing defense napping).

Estimates by coaches is that these changes could trim 10 to 20 plays off each game and could reduce scoring. Bettors are analyzing the impact on over/under wagers.

A lot of sports books have yet to put up college totals on the opening weekend, the Palms and Stratosphere being notable exceptions. My strategy would be to bet a lot of these early games under as soon as you see them posted.

Now, I can already hear the naysayers: "The oddsmakers know about the new rules, so that's already been factored into the line."

I agree, but that still doesn't deter me. Ninety percent of the betting on these games will happen next weekend, and a lot of bettors will be reminded of those rules changes and they will be looking to bet the unders sight unseen. I predict we're going to see a lot of totals get bet down in the opening weekend. I think that would happen even if the bookmakers dropped the totals another field goal or more because the majority of bettors wouldn't question it, they will just bet whatever is on the board. I see very few games steaming higher.

So, if you take the highest number possible when a game opens, if it drops several points, you can come back with another bet on the over and if the game lands in between your two numbers (called a "middle") you win both bets, and if it lands on one of your numbers (called a "side") you win one bet and push the other.

If the line drops a lot but you like the original under bet, you can certainly let it ride. Or you can decide to just bet back half of your original wager or whatever amount you want. Or, if you think the total drops too much and the game is more likely to go over, you can come over the top and have a decision on that side. Betting early gives you those options.

New race book throws Fiesta

The newest race book in town is at the Fiesta Henderson, just east of I-15 on Lake Mead Drive (not to be confused with Lake Mead Boulevard in North Las Vegas, where the Texas Station and Fiesta Rancho are located).

I remember when the building opened in 1998 as The Reserve with a jungle theme and was a white elephant in the middle of nowhere. Since then, the property was bought by Station Casinos in 2001 and given the Fiesta brand and makeover. Its latest renovation includes a full-service race and sports book. The Reserve and Fiesta previously offered only sports wagering.

The book started taking sports bets last Friday and will begin race wagering Friday.

"People have been asking for horse racing for a long time here," said Dan DeMeglio, race and sports book manager. "We don't have to send them down the road anymore. We're the only race book on this side of the freeway. Sports guys are important, but we're going to cater to race players."

The book has 91 seats with individual 14-inch plasma TV's and a video wall display that, while not on the level of a megabook like Red Rock Station, has four big screens plus another 34 65-inch plasmas. The book is located on the east end of the property right next to the new parking garage, with another 11 parking spaces right outside the door.

Fiesta Henderson will have everything that the Station books have, including the Jumbo Race Jackpot and twin Q. To welcome new players this weekend, the book will give out T-shirts emblazoned with "Fiesta, August 2006, Off and Running" to anyone making a $20 race wager this weekend. Football promotions are also being planned for college football hats on Saturday and NFL jersey drawings for Monday night football.

Sports book notes

Las Vegas native Kurt Busch is the 6-1 favorite in Saturday night's Sharpie 500 Nextel Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway, according to odds at Station Casinos. Kevin Harvick is the second choice at 7-1, with Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth at 8-1, Tony Stewart at 10-1, and Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton at 11-1.

* The U.S. Open tennis tournament starts in Flushing, N.Y., on Monday. Las Vegas Sports Consultants has Roger Federer as the overwhelming 3-5 favorite to win the men's title, with Rafael Nadal at 5-2 and then a big dropoff to Andy Roddick at 12-1. In the women's bracket, Maria Sharapova is a lukewarm favorite at 5-2, with Justine Henin-Hardenne at 3-1, Serena Williams at 6-1, and Amelie Mauresmo at 7-1.

Late-night nuptials nixed

As of next Wednesday, quickie marriages might have to wait for the morning after. Las Vegas is known as a place for being able to get married at any hour of the day. What a lot of people don't know is that even if you stop at a wedding chapel, you still have to go to the Marriage License Bureau (which was rarely ever shown in the altered reality of TV and movies) before you could get legally wed.

But that was no problem because Vegas had a 24/7 marriage license bureau, but not anymore. It wasn't seen as cost-efficient with less than 4 percent of licenses issued in the wee hours, so the bureau hours will now be 8 a.m. to midnight, but still seven days a week.