01/17/2005 1:00AM

Books end up swimming in late money


Form returned to the NFL playoffs in the divisional round, in which all four bye teams won over the weekend at home to advance to their respective conference championship games.

The bye teams were also 3-1 against the spread, with the Steelers being the lone team that failed to cover after beating the Jets, 20-17.

Since the bye teams that are home are almost always favored, this would normally mean that favorites also went 3-1, but a funny thing happened on the way to the betting windows.

Bettors, as well as plenty of media pundits, felt it was time for a changing of the guard and jumped on the Colts' bandwagon even though they were playing the Patriots, a team the Colts hadn't beaten in five previous games, in Foxboro, Mass.

The line on the game, which opened Patriots -3 last week, was bet all the way to pick-em at most sports book in Nevada and among other bet-takers worldwide, and many even moved the Colts to a 1-point favorite, as the money continued to pour in right up until kickoff.

When the Patriots shut down Peyton Manning and Co. and rolled to a 20-3 victory, the bookies completed a very successful weekend.

(The situation was very reminiscent of the BCS title game, in which USC opened -3 vs. Oklahoma and all of the money came in on the underdog Sooners. The line was knocked down to pick-em at most books and even to Oklahoma -1 at some outlets. The Trojans won the game easily, 55-19.)

Late money came in on the Steelers on Saturday morning, driving that line to 9 1/2 everywhere in town with the exception of the MGM Mirage properties, which held the line at 9. Some books still needed the Steelers to cover because of all the early money on the Jets, but most benefited since a lot of parlays were tied to either Steelers/over or Jets/under. It ended up Jets/over as the 37 points exceeded the closing total of 36 or 36 1/2 across town.

The books also fared well with the Saturday night game, in which a lot of bettors were on the underdog Rams. The line was a pretty solid Falcons -7 most of the week, with most books balancing their books by attaching a -120 premium on one side or the other. They just didn't want the game to land on 7, which was rarely in doubt as the Falcons rolled, 47-17.

The books' good fortune continued Sunday, when the public was backing the Vikings against the Eagles. The line had opened at Eagles -9 1/2 and was bet slowly but steadily during the course of last week to 9, then over the weekend it went down to 8 at most books and as low as 7 1/2 at the Stardust and MGM Mirage. Again, the majority of bettors were on the wrong side - the Eagles won, 27-14.

Conference title game lines out

As soon as the Eagles and Patriots secured their wins Sunday, oddsmakers sent out their opening lines for this Sunday's championship games.

At 12:47 p.m. Pacific, Las Vegas Sports Consultants sent the Eagles out as a 4-point favorite over the Falcons, as did the Stardust, MGM Mirage, Harrah's/Rio, and Leroy's chain. The Caesars Entertainment books opted for 5 1/2. Predictably, the bettors took the value on both sides. As of noon Monday, all the books that opened the line at 4 had raised it to 4 1/2, and those who opened higher (Station Casinos took the middle ground at 5) were sitting at 5. Most books opened the total at 41 1/2 points, though the Stardust opened at 42. By noon Monday, it was a pretty solid 41 around town.

But the biggest point-spread news again revolved around the Patriots. After the Steelers' win Saturday, offshore sports books were making the line between Patriots -1 1/2 and -2 1/2.

As the fourth quarter was winding down in the Patriots' convincing win over the Colts, LVSC released its opening line as the Patriots -3. The Stardust, MGM Mirage, Coast Casinos, Station Casinos Imperial Palace, Palms, and Harrah's/Rio put up a line of Pats -2 1/ 2, and it was promptly bet to 3. All other books opened the line at Patriots -3, though the Caesars Entertainment properties attached a -120 price on the Steelers +3, with Patriots bettors able to lay the 3 at even money. That's the price that was most prevalent as of noon Monday, as bookmakers were reluctant to move it off the key number of 3, which is the most common margin of victory in pro football. The Stardust and MGM Mirage even went as far as to make Steelers bettors lay -125 while Patriots bettors could have +105 at that number.

The total opened at 37 or 37 1/2 around town, but by Monday it had been bet down to 36 or 36 1/2, with about half of the sports books dealing each.

Horseplayers take over books

Wednesday brings the start of two horse handicapping tournaments in which contestants can win berths into much bigger events.

The "Win a Place in the Big Show" contest takes place Wednesday at Bally's-Las Vegas, with the top two finishers earning the final spots in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Champion-ship, which will be held Friday and Saturday at Bally's.

The "Last Chance Shootout" takes place Wednesday and Thursday at the Suncoast and Barbary Coast, with 15 spots on the line for the $1 million Horseplayers World Series, which will be held at The Orleans on Jan. 27-29.

Both contests are live-money events, with contestants paying an entry fee and making live parimutuel wagers. Twice in the last week - on Jan. 9 and last Saturday - the hub at Las Vegas Dissemination Company has gone down, suspending parimutuel wagering in the state. Contingency plans are in place to hand-book the qualifying tournaments if necessary.

Early NFL line moves

Took moneyOpenBet ToOpponent
Patriots-2.5-3 (+105)STEELERS
Took money OpenBet To
Eagles-Falcons under 4241

Last week: The NFL bettors went 2-0 on sides against the Stardust's opening numbers in the divisional playoffs as the Jets covered vs. the Steelers and the Falcons covered vs. the Rams. For the NFL season, early bettors are a modest 28-26 (52 percent), but 3-0 in the playoffs. Early totals bettors went 1-1 with a win on the Vikings-Eagles under but a loss on the Colts-Patriots over. For the season, early totals bettors are 29-19 (60 percent).

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