01/30/2002 1:00AM

Books give gamblers their Super Bowl props


Football fans have gotten used to the fact that Super Bowls often turn into routs, but viewers in Nevada usually stay tuned in longer - and this has been backed up by Nielsen ratings - because they have money riding on the game. Okay, we know sports betting takes place everywhere, but let's focus on where it's entirely legal.

This viewing trend has been especially true in recent years with the proliferation of proposition bets that let Nevadans wager on anything and everything to do with the big game, from who will receive the opening kickoff (gambling regulators won't allow a bet on who wins the coin toss) to who will score last.

With a large spread on the game - the Rams were holding steady as a 14-point favorite over the Patriots as of noon Thursday - bettors are especially looking for other ways to have action on the Super Bowl.

The Imperial Palace - "where you find the most props on the planet," according to its slogan - is the undisputed leader in this category. However, as these types of wagers have become more popular with locals and tourists alike, other casinos have increased their prop betting menus on major events. And the Super Bowl is the No. 1 event on the sports betting calendar every year.

The Palms, which opened in November, has burst on the scene with a lot of prop bets. That's not surprising since one of its supervisors, Jeff Sherman, used to work at the Imperial Palace.

The competition has helped in giving bettors more options this year. For instance, last year the IP offered about 130 head-to-head-props and this year the total is 143. That's in addition to split lines and multi-option props such as who will score the first touchdown, and predicted final scores, and margins of victory for both teams.

The Imperial Palace and Palms have both teams at -105 to receive the opening kickoff. Last year, the IP offered even-money on either side, but when speculation surfaced that the Ravens might elect to kick off and let their smothering defense take the field first, the Giants were bet up to a -130 favorite.

The most popular prop every year, and the one that elicits the biggest cheers and sighs in the sports books, is the "player to score the first TD." The Rams' Marshall Faulk is the 7-2 favorite this year with Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, and the Pats' Antowain Smith co-second choices at 7-1. Most offensive players have their own betting odds, with the field (which includes everyone not on the list) at 5-1. Patriots QB's Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe are in the field since their starting status was uncertain earlier this week. The Rams' Kurt Warner, who didn't score a rushing TD all season, is 25-1.

In addition to betting which player will score first, you can also bet which team will score first (Rams are a -220 favorite, Patriots at +180) or what kind of score it will be (touchdown -180, any other score at +140).

And that's just the beginning. If you have a hunch about which team will score the longest touchdown, which team will kick the longest field goal, whether either team will have three unanswered scores, whether there will be a fourth-down conversion or a two-point conversion, and whether the game will go to overtime, there is sure to be a prop for you. You can also bet on certain players to go over or under a certain number of pass completions, receptions, or rushing yards, or pit them in head-to-head matchups against players on the other team.

The mixed sports often receive the most media attention because of their wacky nature, and there are plenty of those available again. For years, Michael Jordan and the Bulls almost always played on Super Bowl Sunday and he was the focus of prop bets. When he retired (both times), Shaquille O'Neal became the traditional object of oddsmakers' affections.

This year, they're both playing on Sunday and get their share of attention.

The IP has a prop in which the Rams' total points are -5 1/2 vs. Michael Jordan's points against the Pacers. Bettors have to lay -115 on either side.

Station Casinos took a different tack with Jordan's points -5 1/2 vs. the Patriots' total points. At Stations, their props are based on a 20-cent line. In this case, Jordan backers have to lay the points and -120, while the Patriots are at even-money.

The Imperial Palace has Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins's points as 2 1/2-point favorite over Shaq's missed free throws, while Shaq and Kobe Bryant's combined points are a 6-point favorite over the total points in the Super Bowl.

Among the Palms' 43 individual props are several with an international flavor, which is a niche the sports book has been seeking. Warner's TD passes is a -130 favorite over the number of soccer goals in the Liverpool-Leeds game in the English Premier League.

The Palms is also big on golf wagering, and Tiger Woods's fourth-round score on Sunday is a -3 favorite over Warner's completion percentage (which will not be rounded up or down).

In Sunday's Daily Racing Form, we'll look at these and other props to try and find the best value.