Updated on 09/15/2011 1:34PM

'Blind' backers can see their futures tickets are live


Baseball's all-star break is a natural time for reflection.

The first half of the season has been full of surprises (especially the good play of the Mariners, Twins, Cubs, and Phillies), and sports books that take a lot of money on futures, like the Imperial Palace, are looking at quite a bit of liability.

But this isn't a case of shrewd handicapping on the part of the public. It's more a case of loyal fans backing their favorite team despite the odds.

"Every year, Midwestern people come through here and bet their teams blindly," said Ed Salmons, sports book manager at the Imperial Palace. "They bet the Cubs, the Twins, and in football the Bears, Vikings and Packers. You can count on it every year. And usually that's money in the bank for the casino, especially with the Cubs and Twins, but they look like legitimate contenders this year."

The Imperial Palace closed its division futures at the beginning of the year. The Twins were 20-1 to win the AL Central, but at the all-star break they hold a five-game lead over the Indians, who closed as the 5-7 favorite. The Twins are currently 7-2 to win the AL title and 7-1 to win the World Series. The three-time defending champion Yankees are the 2-1 Series favorite, with the Mariners at 5-2.

"The Twins have been amazing," Salmons said. "All they do is win. But there's obviously a long way to go and they still have to get by the Yankees in the playoffs."

As for the surprising Mariners, Salmons said that there's not much of a future-book liability. Because they've consistently been contenders, even after losing Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr. in recent years, their odds were just 3-1 to win the four-team AL West division at the start of the year even with the loss of Alex Rodriguez.

The Cubs were 10-1 to win the NL Central at the start of the season, but lead the Astros (4-1) by three games and the Cardinals (the overwhelming 5-9 favorite) by eight games. The Cubs are now 3-1 to win the NL and 8-1 to win the Series.

The other big news in the first half of the season was Barry Bonds's pursuit of Mark McGwire's home run record. In a proposition bet on the IP board, McGwire and Sammy Sosa opened the season as 2-1 co-favorites to win the home run title. Bonds, with 39 homers at the break, is now a 2-5 favorite. The field is the current second choice at 4-1. Salmons said most of the field money has been because Luis Gonzalez (35 homers at the break) wasn't listed on the board. The IP's biggest liability would have been Troy Glaus, who is well off the pace with 22 homers.

The Imperial Palace also has an over/under prop for the home run champion's total. Salmons opened the number at 54 1/2 and it was as high as 67 when Bonds was really on a tear. It currently is at 61 1/2.

Tennis, anyone?

Nevada sports books loved how the Wimbledon championships went. Both No. 1 seeds, Martina Hingis and Pete Sampras, made early exits and other popular players fell by the wayside.

Venus Williams, 2-1 at most properties, won the women's title Sunday over Justine Henin. "We had some liability with Henin because she was part of the field at 20-1," Salmons said.

But then Salmons was happy to see a member of the men's field, Goran Ivanisevic, win the title on Monday. "We were thinking of putting Ivanisevic up at 40-1 but then a bunch of clay court players withdrew and he was a wild-card entry, so we put him in the field at 7-1," he said. "Almost all of the money bet in the men's tourney was on Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Tim Henman, and Lleyton Hewitt."

Bettors did win some from the books in the championship matches as they backed Williams as a -450 favorite (bet $4.50 to win $1) and Ivanisevic as an underdog as high as +170 (bet $1 to win $1.70).

'Funny business' at Daytona?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Pepsi 400 Saturday night in NASCAR's first race back at the track where his father died at the end of the Daytona 500 in February. Las Vegas Sports Consultants opened Junior at 12-1 but he was bet down to 8-1 around town.

Earnhardt took the checkered flag with family friend Michael Waltrip, who won the Daytona 500 in his first race with the Earnhardt team, running interference.

After the race, Earnhardt was quoted as saying "You can't write a better script," but some people believe that's exactly what happened.

"If you follow NASCAR, there was some funny business going on," said Salmons. "With the restrictor plates they use at that track, every car is supposed to be really close, yet he passed six cars in a lap and a half. The other drivers laid down for him. But he's happy, NASCAR is happy and NBC [which received a 5.8 overnight rating, the highest ever for an auto race in prime time] is happy."