01/12/2004 1:00AM

Bettors are all over Indy as 3-point dog


Football bettors fared well against the Las Vegas sports books in the NFL divisional playoffs last weekend, backing three of the four underdogs that covered and also faring well with the totals.

Flush with cash, bettors were not shy about backing the underdogs in this weekend's conference championship games. As the Colts wrapped up their 38-31 win over the Chiefs right before 1 p.m. Sunday, most sports books posted the Patriots -4 over the Colts in the AFC title game. After watching the Colts' second-straight impressive offensive display, bettors pounded the Colts and drove the line down to -3 1/2 all over town within 15 minutes.

But the Colts bandwagon didn't stop there. As Sunday progressed, more money flowed in and some books lowered the line to -3, with some following suit Monday.

A similar thing happened when the line on the Eagles-Panthers game was posted around 5:15 p.m., after the Eagles' 20-17 overtime win over the Packers. The Imperial Palace and the MGM Mirage books posted the Eagles -5 1/2, whereas most others went with -5. The line appeared to settle at -5 around town Sunday night, but by Monday morning, the line was down to -4 1/2.

There was also a lot of volatility with the totals. The Colts-Patriots total opened at 41 at the Stardust and MGM Mirage but was quickly bet up to 42 1/2. Other books raised the total to 43 (Coast Casinos was at 43 1/2), and by Monday morning, there was an equal mix of 43's and 44's available.

The total on the Eagles-Panthers game opened at 38 at nearly every book, with the Imperial Palace and Station Casinos posting 38 1/2. As of noon Monday, every sports book in town had lowered it to 37.

Divisional playoff wrap-up

After going only 12-23-1 vs. the spread the past nine years, the underdogs covered all four games in the divisional playoffs, with two pulling outright upsets (Panthers over Rams and Colts over Chiefs). Another trend went up in flames: Over the last three years, 9 of the 12 games (75 percent) had been decided by 14 points or more, and 26 of the 40 games the past 10 years had been decided by double digits. This year's victory margins: 6, 3, 7, 3. Here's a game-by-game look at the divisional playoffs, with the point spread in mind:

Panthers at Rams: The Rams opened as a 7 1/2-point favorite at most Las Vegas sports books, but the public bet them down to 7 during the course of the week. The total opened around 45 and closed at 45 1/2. With both teams settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, it looked like a stone-cold under most of the game, but then the Rams scored a touchdown with 2:39 to play, got the two-point conversion, recovered the onside kick, and then Jeff Wilkins's 43-yard field goal as time expired sent the game to overtime and over the total. Steve Smith's TD in the second overtime gave Carolina a 29-23 victory.

Titans at Patriots: New England opened -6 at most books and went as low as -5 1/2, but the late money came in on the Patriots, and it closed at -6 1/2. As the temperature reports dropped, so did the total, which opened at 37 but was 33 1/2 at many books by kickoff. It looked like it would sail over when the Pats and Titans scored TDs on their first possessions, and the Patriots added another TD early in the second quarter for a 14-7 lead. But then the defenses took over. New England led 17-14 late, but the sports books were hoping for either a late Titans TD or a field goal to send it to overtime to help send it over the total. But penalties killed the Titans' final drive.

Colts at Chiefs: There was little doubt this game would go over, as the two teams combined to score on the first five possessions of the game (the Chiefs had a TD pass to Tony Gonzalez called back on the sixth possession). Bettors had little doubt, too, as they steamed the total from 49 to 53 1/2. For the record, Dante Hall's kickoff return late in the third quarter, which made the score 31-24, officially put the game over. The spread was a solid Chiefs -3, but after the early 7-7 tie, the Chiefs were never able to get closer than seven points the rest of the way in a 38-31 loss.

Packers at Eagles: The spread on this game fluctuated between 5 1/2 and 6 most of the week, but the late money came in on the Packers, closing at Eagles -4 1/2. The Packers took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, and it looked like the total, which was bet up from 42 to 44, might be a winner. However, scoring slowed down. The Eagles chipped away until they tied it, 17-17, with five seconds left in regulation. Eagles bettors were cheering for a TD in overtime to cover the spread, but instead, David Akers kicked a field goal for a 20-17 victory. With all of the money coming in on the Packers, the sports books lost pretty big on this game, but they were saved from having to pay on money-line wagers if the Pack had won straight up.

Horseshoe luck runs out

As rough as some sports books might have had it last weekend, no Las Vegas casino had a worse weekend than Binion's Horseshoe.

Armed with a court order to collect up to $2 million in unpaid union contributions, U.S. marshals entered the casino around 7 p.m. Friday and told gamblers to cash in their chips. The casino was shut down, though hotel guests were allowed to stay overnight before being kicked out Saturday.

Binion's Horseshoe was a favorite of big-time gamblers for years because of its high limits. Current sports bettors are bemoaning the loss of Binion's, because it was an independent shop, not linked to any other sports books, and still a good place to shop for numbers.

An estimated $1 million was seized Friday night, and the Nevada Gaming Commission ruled that the casino would have to stay closed until the owners had enough cash on hand to guarantee payment to winners.

An emergency meeting of the commission was held Saturday. Horseshoe owner, Becky Binion Behnen, the daughter of family patriarch Benny Binion, signed an agreement with the commission that read: "The Horseshoe will close its gaming operations immediately and will not activate any game, gambling game, gaming device, sports pool, or race book without the prior administrative approval of [the control board and commission]."

Other than that, Behnen has not made any public comment.

Local TV stations were reporting that Behnen was in a meeting with Harrah's Entertainment officials Monday morning. Harrah's is in the process of buying Horseshoe Gaming Holding Corp. for $1.45 billion from Behnen's brother, Jack Binion. That sale does not include the downtown casino. It would give Harrah's the rights to the Horseshoe name outside Nevada. Harrah's spokespeople have expressed interest in also obtaining the brand name inside Nevada, but have not previously mentioned buying the downtown property.

There is no word on the future of the World Series of Poker, which has also been shopped around. This year's event is scheduled for April 22 through May 28.

Bettors with sports tickets or gaming chips are being asked to call 702-382-1600 for procedures on getting paid.