11/13/2006 12:00AM

Casino 'losses' are strictly a mirage


LAS VEGAS – For a news buff like me, the monthly earnings reports from the state's Gaming Control Board are always interesting to read.

The numbers are always staggering, representing the millions of dollars the casinos in Nevada win every month just from gambling (and that doesn't include revenue from hotel rooms, restaurants, bars, shows, etc.). With Las Vegas continuing to grow, and with inflation continuing to rise, these figures tend to get bigger and bigger. But the more interesting reports to read involve the rare times when there's actually a decline in gaming revenues, and the resulting media coverage.

Case in point: The September figures came out nearly two weeks ago, and the statewide gambling win was $985 million for the month. That seems great, but you wouldn't know it from the media reports as the coverage was made to sound doom and gloom because it was down 2.7 percent from the $1.01 billion that was won in September 2005. Here's the headline in the Nov. 10 issue of Nevada's largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal: "Bettors strike back" with the subhead of "Statewide gaming win drops for second month in two years."

Again, keep in mind that the casinos didn't lose - they just happened to win a little less than a year previous. Boo-freakin'-hoo for the casinos, and hardly a case of bettors striking back. The sensationalistic treatment is even more absurd when later in the story it says that part of the reason September earnings weren't as high as 2005 is because that figure was 9 percent above the winnings in 2004. So, over two years, the win still increased by about 6 percent. Hardly a downturn in the casinos' bottom line.

The gaming reports break down the results by area (Strip, downtown, Reno, etc.) and also by type of game (blackjack, craps, slots, etc.).

The report states that Nevada's sports books won $22.4 million from bettors in September, also down from September 2005.

The reason I'm bringing up this subject is because there probably won't be a similar decline for the books when the reports come out for October and November. The house doesn't always win, but the numbers prove the adage is true in the long run.

After a "rough" start to the football season - as you have seen, even though sports book directors were not raking in their regular winning in September, they didn't do as shabby as they would like you to believe - the fall has been extremely profitable, especially the last two weekends.

Everyone saw all the big upsets on Saturday in college football, and when favorites go down, so does the majority of the betting public. And the same thing happened again on Sunday in the NFL as underdogs not only went 10-5 against the spread but also won five of the games outright. That also killed a lot of parlays and teasers along the way.

Of course, the sports books' wins in October and November will probably be buried in any media reports of the decline in overall gaming winnings in those months compared to the previous October and November. But last October, revenue was up 14.38 percent over October 2004, and November 2005 was up a whopping 16 percent over 2004. So the winnings in October and November 2006 may pale in comparison to 2005, but we're still talking gains, big gains, not losses.

Line moves for this weekend

Despite all the dire reports, the casinos stay open and early bettors were running around Las Vegas on Sunday night pounding the lines into shape for this upcoming weekend's football games.

The biggest game on the college board is undoubtedly No. 1 Ohio St. vs. No. 2 Michigan. As has been the case for the last month in sports books here that have listed Ohio St. as a 7-point favorite, that was the line put out Sunday night at the Las Vegas Hilton with an over/under of 41. Most offshore books were dealing Ohio St. -6 1/2, and that's what the Palms used for its opener, though the Stratosphere attracted some extra action by making it 6. By Monday morning, the Strat was holding the line at 6 while the rest of Las Vegas was split between either 6 1/2 or 7. It's expected that the sharp bettors in town will swallow up the rest of the 7's out there and the line will settle at 6 1/2.

Likewise, most other college games were adjusted by half a point or a point at the most in early wagering, mostly moving toward the offshore numbers.

There was much more movement in the NFL market. The Las Vegas Hilton and the Stratosphere opened the Colts as a 3-point favorite (the same number sent out by Las Vegas Sports Consultants) on the road vs. the Cowboys, but with offshore books having the game at pick-em or even the Cowboys favored by 1, the money quickly came in on the Cowboys, and the Colts were favored by between 1 and 1 1/2 as of noon Monday.

The surprising Saints, who lost in a strong effort to the Steelers Sunday, opened -3 vs. the Bengals and got early support, and it now appears that line will be 3 1/2 the rest of the week.

The Eagles opened -11 1/2 vs. the Titans at the Hilton and -12 at the Stratosphere and were promptly bet up to -13.

Another big move came on the Bears-Jets game, though it wasn't moved by money. The Bears were -4 at the Hilton and -3 1/2 at the Strat before the Sunday night game, but then after the Bears routed the Giants 38-20 in the Meadowlands, the number was adjusted to -6 1/2 all over town on Monday morning with some 7's starting to pop up at press time.

Oddsmakers also downgraded the injury-plagued Giants off that loss, as they were 2 1/2-point dogs to the Jaguars before the game and the line was Jags -3 1/2 on Monday morning.