01/21/2002 1:00AM

Bettors cash on Rams, Steelers, and the overs


The reason bookmakers make money in the long run is volume. They try to balance their books and pocket the vig.

That's harder for bookmakers to do when there are fewer games. Nevada bettors crushed the bookmakers two weekends ago in the wild card games and came out on the winning end this past weekend in the divisional playoff games.

On Saturday afternoon, bettors gave back some of their wild card profits by backing the Bears (bet from a 2 1/2- to a 3-point favorite over the Eagles) and the under (bet from 33 down to 31 by kickoff) and then seeing the Eagles romp, 31-19.

That game also helped bookmakers in that it eliminated the Bears, who were a big liability around town in Super Bowl future books.

On Saturday's night game, the bulk of wagers were refunded when the Patriots won 16-13 as a 3-point favorite over the Raiders (don't get me started on that "incomplete pass").

Bookmakers generally hate refunding wagers, but in this case they weren't too upset about it. A few books moved the line to 2 1/2 during the week to attract Patriots money and they got sided. But for the most part, bookmakers had much more money on the Raiders, and were bailed out by the push. There was also significant action on the Raiders on the money line (those bettors truly suffered a bad beat). In addition, the Raiders are another popular future book wager, so bookmakers weren't sad to see them eliminated - even though a Rams-Raiders Super Bowl would have been the best scenario from a betting handle standpoint.

But the bookmakers' luck was short-lived. Bettors rode both favorites to the cashier's window on Sunday.

In the early game, the Steelers opened as a 6-point favorite over the Ravens and were initially bet down to 5 1/2, but then most of the late money came in on the Steelers and the line closed at 6 1/2. Those bettors were on the right side as the Steelers cruised to a 27-10 victory, sneaking over the total of 32 1/2. The favorite/over parlay was popular in that game, but nothing compared to the last game of the weekend.

In that one, the Rams opened as a 9-point favorite over the Packers and were bet all the way up to 11 1/2, one of the biggest moves you'll see in a playoff game. The total opened at 54 and also got bet up, to 55 1/2. When the Rams coasted to a 45-17 victory, it was a monumental win for bettors.

But there was one bookmaker that profited from the Rams/over scenario. Sid Diamond at The Regent correctly thought the Rams would cover in a shootout and opened the Rams at -11 1/2 and an over/under of 56 1/2. He attracted more than his share of Packers money and bets on the under.

Diamond was clairvoyant when he predicted: "Later in the week, everyone's going to be betting the Rams and the over. Every other book will be raising the odds and needing the Packers and the under or they'll get crushed. I'm going to be the only guy in town on this side of the counter rooting for the Rams."

Diamond's only regret was that he opened the Steelers -6 instead of 6 1/2 because he didn't get as much Ravens money as he was hoping.

Heavy favorites in title games

The Steelers and Rams, on the strength of home field advantage, great regular seasons, and impressive wins last weekend, are big favorites to advance to the Super Bowl. Most books put up the lines within minutes of the end of Sunday's games, and early wagering shows the bettors seem to be reinvesting their winnings in the favorites.

Patriots at Steelers: Stations Casinos opened the Steelers as a 7 1/2-point favorite while most other books made it an 8-point spread with a total of 35 1/2 points. As of noon Monday, money had flowed in on the Steelers and they were up to 8 1/2 at some books and 9 at Caesars Palace and the Park Place Entertainment properties. The Regent again tried to attract early dog money by making the line 9 1/2, and it was bet down to 9.

Eagles at Rams: The Rams opened just about everywhere as an 11-point favorite - though the Stations Casinos added the hook at 11 1/2 - with an over/under of 51. By noon Monday, the total was moving up to 51 1/2 and 11 1/2 was the consensus point spread around town, though The Regent again tempted dog (and arbitrage) players with the Eagles +13. It got bet down to 12.

Californian wins at Suncoast

Horse handicapping contestants year in and year out at the Coast Resorts shoot for the 9,500- to 11,000-point range. It doesn't matter if someone gets a huge lead on the first day, he always come back to the pack in a tournament that has players making a dozen $100 win bets a day.

This weekend's $301,000 Suncoast Invitational (251 entries at $1,000 apiece plus $50,000 added by the casino) was no different, as five contestants scored over 5,000 points on the first day and the champion ended the three-day event with 9,580.

Steve Meyer of Marina, Calif., won the $87,850 first prize in a battle of attrition on Saturday. Laurel canceled its card and there were many short prices at the other contest tracks; only four horses paid more than $25 and none more than $38.40.

Meyer, who was 16th heading into the final day, collected an additional $5,000 for having the top score Saturday of 3,880 points, which would not have finished in the top 10 on either Thursday or Friday.

The team of Dan Beardsworth of Upland, Calif., and Dennis DeCaulver of Alto Loma, Calif., finished second with 9,375 contest points and earned $42,670 plus an additional $5,000 for scoring 6,680 points for the top score on Thursday.

Mark Anderson of Las Vegas was third with 8,080 points, earning $22,590. Mike Mayo of Richardson, Texas, and Brian Stanton of Palm Beach Gardens, Calif., were fourth and fifth, winning $12,550.