10/07/2001 11:00PM

Books beat bettors in baseball 2001


Baseball has been very good to Las Vegas sports books this year.

In a poll of sports book directors around town, every one of them said it was a good baseball season. And that's significant because bookies tend to consider a break-even result or even a small profit as a disappointment.

Nevada's legal sports books face increasing competition from off-shore bookmakers, so many books, especially those who cater to the savvy local bettors, have continued to deal "dime lines" ? a 10-cent spread between the favorite and underdog ? while many Strip casinos that get less sophisticated tourist money went to a 15-cent line. So it's encouraging to the bookmakers that kept the vig down that they still had a profitable bottom line.

Coast Resorts (Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, Suncoast, The Orleans) was one operation that really stepped up to the plate this season. Bert Osborne, who heads their sports books operations from his office at the Gold Coast, dealt a dime line and also posted baseball lines the night before games were played - which drummed up plenty of business.

"You've got to nurture baseball," Osborne said, "because it's such a long season. But we were very happy with our year."

Mariners favored in Series

Las Vegas Sports Consultants has revised its odds to win the World Series. The Mariners, who tied a major league record with 116 wins, are now the favorite at 5-2. LVSC has the three-time defending champion Yankees as the 7-2 second choice, followed by A's (9-2), Diamondbacks (5-1), Braves (6-1), Astros (7-1), Cardinals (8-1), and Indians (12-1).

Most books are looking at a winning result for their future books regardless of this year's champion, because their biggest liability teams (Twins, Cubs, Mets) have fallen by the wayside. However, some books do have exposure on the Mariners, who opened at 25-1 and were pounded in the betting after their hot start, and the A's, who opened at 10-1, drifted up to 20-1 and 30-1 after their slow start, and then had the best record in baseball since the All-Star break.

You will generally be able to tell who has the most liability on the Mariners by the odds posted. If you see less than 5-2, you can be pretty sure that the book has significant exposure on the M's and wants more bets on the other teams to help balance the books.

For many books, the Braves would be the best result simply because their odds started low (4-1) and didn't rise much even when they were struggling. That pattern doesn't attract much action.

Bettors went the wrong way on propositions around town that asked if Barry Bonds would break Mark McGwire's home run record or if the Mariners would break the Yankees' American League win mark. Most bettors thought both would fall short, but both succeeded. At the Stardust, the Bonds prop opened at -200 (bet $2 to win $1) that he would not hit at least 71 and was bet all the way up to -1000 (bet $10 to win $1). The "no" on the Mariners record opened at -300 and closed at -800. Stardust sports book director Joe Lupo, while not going into specific figures, would only smile and say the result for the house was "huge." Sports books were already taking bets on Sunday for the divisional playoffs that were slated to start Tuesday. At the Stardust, the Mariners opened as a -220 favorite over the Indians and were bet up to -280 by Monday morning. The Yankees are a slight -120 choice over the red-hot A's.

In the National League, the Braves are a -120 favorite over the Astros even though they don't have home-field advantage, while the Diamondbacks, with the 1-2 punch of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, are a -145 favorite over the Cardinals.

NFL postmortem

If you're wondering how the bettors fared in their battle with the books this past weekend, you can get a pretty good indication by what happened in Monday night's game with the Rams and Lions (which took place after deadline for article).

Some books said the weekend was very good for them, others called it a disaster - but all will have had their bottom line affected by Monday's result.

The Rams opened at -10 1/2 at the Stardust last week, and most other books opened around 11 or 12. But every book was reporting significant action on the Rams, and the line has moved to 14 city-wide.

If the Rams won by more than two touchdowns, it's very good for most bettors. If the Lions covered, the bookies are probably dancing in the streets - especially if the Rams won outright or lost by less than a touchdown, which would kill a lot of teasers and parlays.

The accompanying chart shows the initial plays of the professional bettors in Vegas for the upcoming weekend's football games.

Last week, the line moves had a record of 17-8 in the colleges, with most of the early money going on underdogs. But they were 0-2 in the pros, with losses on the Vikings and Chargers (which could be considered a "false move," since the line moved toward the Chargers and then was bet back to the Browns by another big bettor).

This week's early big-line moves included Colorado State (bet down from a 9-point underdog to a 7-point dog at home against Fresno State) and California (getting money as a dog against Oregon, bet down from 15 points to 13 1/2.) That was the first bet made, and moved the line easily past the key number of 14.

There also was more movement than usual in the NFL lines as bettors jumped on the Chiefs, Bengals, Dolphins, and Cowboys.