06/12/2003 11:00PM

Bets official after five innings

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LAS VEGAS - "Stop the race."

You hear it all the time. I've yelled it. You've probably said it. And even if you haven't, you've certainly heard it at the track or your favorite OTB. The horses go through the opening quarter- or half-mile, and someone has the leader or the first two leaders in an exacta and yells, "Stop the race."

Or else someone looks at the fractions and says, "They're going too fast," and you can tell they wish they could bet the big closer. Yep, we could sure cash a lot more tickets if we could just bet the first half or second half of a race.

In the old days, sports betting was like that, too. You couldn't win any bets by having your team jump out to a big lead, or bet after the game started even if you saw one team getting all the momentum before halftime.

That has changed in the last decade. First-half and halftime wagering in football and basketball has really gotten popular. You can cash a bet on a team to jump out to a big lead and not have to worry about them getting back-doored in the second half. Or you could wait for halftime to see how the game is going and just bet who beats the spread in the second half. In addition, some bettors have successfully used first-half and halftimes as opportunities to set up middles.

Well, the NBA season will wrap up either Sunday or Wednesday, so it stands to reason that halftime wagering is on hold until the football season begins in late August. I mean, there's no crying in baseball and there's no halftime either, right?

Wrong.

The Stratosphere, which is located on the north end of the Strip (or the south end of downtown, depending on who you ask and which map you look at), has been booking first-half and halftime wagers on baseball this season. The bets are also accepted at its sister properties, Arizona Charlie's West on Decatur Avenue and Arizona Charlie's East on Boulder Highway.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants regularly supplies these wagers to its clients, but they're rarely seen around town. At the start of the season, Stratosphere sports book supervisor Eric Solomon went to his boss, Robert Jaynes, and pitched the idea.

"People like to bet, but during baseball season, especially after basketball ends and football begins, there's not as many things on the boards," Solomon said. "This gives the bettors something different. And it's something to bet at 9 o'clock at night. It helps keep customers in the casino."

The first half is actually the first five innings. First-half lines are typically adjusted downward 40 cents from the game line by making the favorite lay half a run. If the Yankees are -200 for the game, they might be -1/2 a run and -160. Over/unders are based on the full-game number: a game total of 9 would have an over/under of 5 for the first half. A lower total would be adjusted to 4 1/2 or even 4, while higher totals can balloon to 5 1/2, 6 or even higher depending on the ballpark and wind conditions.

The Stratosphere usually tries to post two games a day, one of the early games from the East Coast at 4 p.m. and another from the West Coast at 7 p.m.

"We use the games that we can pick up on TV, so people can follow their bets, and we also have to follow the action so we can adjust our odds for the second half," Solomon said.

Odds for the second half are put up when the home team comes to bat in the bottom of the fifth.

Bets have to be made before the first pitch in the top of the sixth. This is when the bettors have to be quick on their feet and Solomon has to adjust on the fly.

"I don't come to any conclusions until I've seen how the game is going," Solomon said. "A big key is if the starters are still in, and you have to have a knowledge of the bullpens because they play a big role."

Solomon said he starts with a base total of 3 1/2 in the National League and 4 in the American League.

He'll shade the numbers higher if the home team is losing (and likely to bat in the bottom of the ninth). Solomon said bullpens also have a big impact on second-half totals.

It's all part of the cat-and-mouse game between bookmaker and bettor as they try to see who can analyze a game in progress.

Now, if we could only get someone to do this with horseracing.

Who's hot and who's not in MLB

Because baseball betting involves money lines - and the best teams have to lay big prices while the worst teams are often huge underdogs - it's not always the case that the teams with the best records are the biggest moneymakers. But it is so far this year.

Through Thursday's games, the Braves had a major-league best record of 44-20 (.688 winning percentage) and were showing a flat-bet profit of 18.2 units, according to statfox.com. The Mariners are next in both categories at 43-21 (.672) and a profit of 14.7 units. Those two were squaring off this weekend in a three-game set in Seattle.

On the flip side, the Tigers at 16-47 (.254) and the Padres at 20-47 (.299) were the worst teams in baseball, though the Padres a worse bet at -24.2 units while the Tigers were -20.3.

The best bet in baseball has been the Red Sox to go over the total. Entering Friday's games, they are 43-16 (+25.4 units based on laying 11 to win 10) and five pushes with the over. The Reds are next at 38-26 (+9.4 units), based mostly on their batter-friendly Great American Ballpark, where they are 23-11 with the over.

That record would be even better if it wasn't for a three-game series vs. the Dodgers on April 22-24 in which all three games went under. The Dodgers are the best under team in the league at 42-19 (+21.1 units) with five pushes.

Does dad have enough ties?

Boulder Station has a unique promotion this Sunday for Father's Day: Place a $20 sports bet and you receive a free shoeshine kit.

"The rest of the casino was doing giveaways at the tables and for keno players, and we didn't want our sports bettors to feel left out," said Kelly Airgood, Boulder Station race and sports book manager.