12/02/2005 12:00AM

Betting favorites: It's all in the timing

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When is the best time to bet a football game?

As we move into the home stretch of both the pro and college football seasons, that question was posed to John Avello and Ken White. Avello is the race and sports book director for the Wynn Hotel Casino on the Strip, while White heads the team at Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the company that provides most of the sports books with the opening betting lines.

Point spreads are assigned to games to even the competition level, similar to a weight spread in a handicap race, which is meant to bring different caliber horses together. Since the wagering odds are usually constant in football - 11-10, or bet $110 to win $100 - the spread number is the most important number, akin to the final odds in horse racing. But in football betting - unlike in horse racing - bettors can lock in the odds, or spread, at the time they bet.

So, then, when is the best time to get the best number on a game?

Avello thinks football bettors with an opinion have the greatest edge when the opening numbers are hung, usually Monday morning.

White agrees, saying: "The opening line is at its weakest point when they open. It's not that the lines are bad, but as soon as the betting public starts betting based on their opinions, the line moves to settle in."

The public has been right on football as of late. Real right. White said that of the 176 pro games through Nov. 27, 100 were won by the favorite, or about 58 percent.

Avello, observing that favorites are the preference of recreational players, says that if you like the favorite, bet it early. The spread usually goes up before game time. Conversely, if you like the underdog, wait until late and get the better number on the other side.

Avello said that the football teams with the better records or higher rankings are the teams the general public likes to bet.

"Take USC, Texas, or Ohio State in college, they are the teams where the spread will go up, simply because they are highly rated teams," Avello said.

He said USC has not been a good favorite to cover the spread, but that Texas and Ohio State have been covering the number. In the NFL, the most popular team that has been beating the spread this year is the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, while fan favorites like the Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys also are helping the public beat the books this season.

White recalled something an old bookmaker once told him: The public wins an average of once every seven years.

As in the case of the bookmakers, the professional players are hitting slim times. The pros usually fall on the side of the house, betting the underdogs when the public has driven the number up from the opening line. That predictable betting pattern gives the professional, along with the bookmaker, a better number. But that advantage has been dashed this year by the run of winning favorites.

In parimutuel wagering, it is people betting against each other that drives the odds. But in football, it's the public who is betting against the house - and winning.

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