11/22/2004 1:00AM

Brawl leaves NBA bettors battered


LAS VEGAS - It was nearly impossible this past weekend to turn on the TV without seeing a replay of last Friday's Pacers-Pistons brawl with the fans, or the talking heads pontificating about the impact of the incident on the NBA and our society.

But sports bettors know there was another part of the story that wasn't being covered in the mainstream media: the betting angle.

Of immediate interest to those who had action on the game is that the fight took place with 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the referees called off the rest of the game after the fight ended. Since the game was inside of five minutes remaining, though, all bets on the game were valid.

The Pacers, who were a 5-point underdog, were easy winners with the 97-82 victory. The over-under ranged from 181 to 182 1/2 around town, and under bettors cashed after over bettors took a bad beat. Before the brawl broke out, Detroit's Ben Wallace was going to the line to shoot two free throws, and there was plenty of time in the game for another basket or two to be scored.

On Sunday, NBA commissioner David Stern suspended the Pacers' Ron Artest for the rest of the season, Stephen Jackson for 30 games, and Jermaine O'Neal for 25 games. Las Vegas Sports Consultants updated their NBA futures with the news.

The Pacers, who opened at 10-1 last summer but had been bet down to the fourth choice at 9-2, were raised again to 10-1.

"If they can keep it together until O'Neal and Jackson return, we figure the Pacers can still make the playoffs as a 6, 7, or 8 seed," said LVSC oddsmaker Mike Seba. "They'll have a hard time winning the title without Artest, but they're in the Eastern Conference, so we couldn't make them 20-1."

Seba said the odds on other contenders were adjusted downward, primarily with the Pistons, who were lowered from 3-1 to 5-2 because of their supposedly easier road to the finals.

Bettors who have tickets on the Pacers at 9-2 or 5-1 to win the NBA title have to be feeling sick to their stomachs, though probably not as bad as those who bet the Pacers to win over 54 1/2 games.

* In a related item, the Clemson-South Carolina football game Saturday was also marred by a brawl. With Clemson leading 29-7 the melee took place with 5:48 remaining and would have resulted in a refund of all bets since it didn't reach the five-minute mark that is the standard with house betting rules. The referees restored order, however, and the teams finished the game.

Speaking of fisticuffs...

With all this spontaneous fighting going on, it seems like the NHL never went away. But there was one scheduled fight on Saturday night, when Winky Wright defended his WBA light middleweight belt vs. Shane Mosley at Mandalay Bay.

The fight wasn't sold out, but it was a raucous crowd. When the judges' scores were announced, the first judge had it 114-114. After the other two judges' scores were announced as 115-113,

I began looking around to see how much security was in place in case each judge had a different winner and the fight was declared a draw. But Wright won on the other two scorecards and scored a majority decision.

It was a popular decision for bettors - and a bad one for the sports books - as Wright had opened as a -175 favorite a few months ago, when the fight was announced, but was steamed to -300 at Mandalay Bay (and higher at other books).

Sunday bloody Sunday for books

If the sports books thought they took a bath Saturday night, they were drowning Sunday.

NFL favorites went 10-4-1 against the spread, which is usually not a good sign for bet-takers to begin with, especially since the recreational bettors tend to parlay favorites both off the board and on parlay cards.

One of those "losses" was the Packers -3 1/2 vs. the Texans on Sunday night. The 3 1/2 was closing line at the Stardust, which I cite as the book of record, but most bettors who bet the Packers took them at -3 before the line moved late, so even those bets were refunded. Bettors who took the Texans +3 1/2 were winners, another bad case for the books.

The push was on the Steelers-Bengals game, but that was even worse for the books because the line opened with the Steelers favored by 5 1/2 points, was bet by professional bettors to 4 1/2, was listed at 4 1/2 on most parlay cards that are printed earlier in the week, and then was bet back to 5. When the Steelers got a late safety to win, 19-14, the majority of bets were winners on both sides, with all bets on 5 being refunded.

Making matters worse was the fact that teaser bets - in which the bettor can move the line in his favor by 6 points or more - on favorites did not lose once in the 15 games. The Vikings, Seahawks, and Packers won their games outright even though they didn't cover the spread, and the Jaguars lost, 18-15, to the Titans as a 3-point favorite, so teasers including the Jags would have been reduced by one game (a four-teamer became a three-teamer, etc.). And making matter even worse was that eight of the 15 games fell within 6 points of the spread, so teasers were winners on those games regardless of which side a bettor played.

As of Monday afternoon, the sports books were hoping the Chiefs would cover the Monday night game vs. the Patriots to avoid a truly disastrous weekend. The Patriots were included on a ton of live parlays from Sunday's action and have been bet from -3 to -3 1/2 (except at the MGM Mirage properties, which were holding the line at 3).

Looking ahead to next weekend

Bettors were flush with cash Sunday night and were firing back with early action on next weekend's football offerings (see the accompanying chart), even with a lighter schedule as the college season winds down.

The biggest line moves in college football were on Texas Tech being bet from a 3 1/2-point favorite to 5 1/2 vs. Oklahoma St. and Boston College dropping from -12 1/2 to -11 vs. Syracuse.

The Stardust opened the Cowboys as a 3-point favorite vs. the Bears in their Thanksgiving Day game with a -120 price attached to the favorite, but bettors laid it anyway, and the line was moved to 3 1/2. Up the street at the Stratosphere, the Cowboys opened as a 4 1/2-point favorite.

In Sunday's action, three sides and three totals were bet enough to move off the opening numbers. The Buccaneers went from -1 1/2 to -2 1/2 at the Panthers, the Falcons dropped from -10 to -9 1/2 vs. the Saints, and the Broncos were backed from -10 to -11 vs. the Raiders.

All three totals were bet to the under.

Early college football line moves

Took moneyOpenBet ToOpponent
Texas A&M +11.5+11TEXAS
Syracuse+12.5+11BOSTON COLLEGE
TEXAS TECH-3.5-5.5Oklahoma St.
VIRGINIA TECH-3-3.5Virginia
NEVADA+27+26Boise St.

Early NFL line moves

Took moneyOpenBet ToOpponent
COWBOYS (Thu.)-3 (-120)-3.5Bears
Eagles-Giantsunder 3837.5  
Redskins-Steelersunder 37.536.5  
Saints-Falconsunder 4746  

Last week: The early college bettors went 3-2 against the Stardust's opening numbers and now stand at 86-81 (51 percent) on the year. The NFL bettors went 3-4 on sides and are 16-19 (46 percent) on the season. NFL totals bettors went 1-1 but are still faring better at 18-13 (58 percent).

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