01/16/2006 1:00AM

Colts' loss sacks betting public

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LAS VEGAS - The Indianapolis Colts were the biggest news of the NFL season when they won their first 13 games and flirted with perfection, and they were still the biggest news Sunday when they failed as 10-point favorites and were knocked out of the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-18.

After the players themselves and their die-hard fans, the next most upset people were probably bettors who were riding the Colts in future wagers. The Colts were among the preseason favorites to win the Super Bowl - along with the Patriots and the Eagles - and had the most tickets written on them during the course of the season as they appeared to be the cream of the crop. Because of the Colts' relatively low odds, sports book managers weren't sweating them in regards to future-book liability, but they certainly would have been kept up late the night of the Feb. 5 Super Bowl cashing all those tickets if the Colts had gone all the way.

Other bettors who were counting on the Colts were those who bet the AFC vs. NFC Super Bowl prop that has been offered at many Las Vegas casinos. The AFC was a 3-point favorite back in September, but as the Colts looked more and more formidable, the line jumped to -6, -7, -8, -10, and as high as -12 before the Colts lost to the Chargers on Dec. 18. The line then dropped to 10 and has been wavering between 9 and 10 most of the past month.

After the Colts' loss Sunday, the Palms put the line back up as AFC -3 1/2. Later in the afternoon, the Las Vegas Hilton made it AFC -4 1/2. Needless to say, those holding tickets with the AFC laying more than a touchdown are feeling a little silly, while those who snatched up the NFC +10 or higher are feeling pretty good about their bets.

The rest of the weekend results were nowhere near as shocking.

* The Seahawks defeated the Redskins 20-10 Saturday. Most of the money was bet on the Seahawks, who opened as low as -8 1/2 and were bet to 10 at most books. Redskins' backers who didn't wait to get the best number were left with losing tickets, while those who got the +10 escaped with a push. All in all, not a good result for the sports books when that happens.

* In Saturday's nightcap, the Broncos held off the Patriots 27-13 as 3-point favorites in a game that turned when the Patriots' quarterback, Tom Brady, was intercepted in the end zone while trailing just 10-6 late in the third quarter. I won't go into some of the questionable calls by the referees in this game (or other games, for that matter). The majority of bettors took it on the chin in this game as the public backed the two-time defending champion Patriots.

* In Sunday's other game, the Panthers shredded the Bears' vaunted defense in a 29-21 victory that was very popular with bettors; they bet down the line from Bears -3 to -2 1/ 2 at most books. The odd thing was that this game had the lowest total at 30 1/ 2 and yet accounted for the most points scored over the weekend.

Conference title lines open

After Saturday's doubleheader and before Sunday's games, the Olympic offshore book had early lines on the four potential conference championship games with the Broncos -4 vs. the Steelers and the Seahawks -6 vs. the Panthers (for the curious, the Colts were -7 1/2 vs. the Broncos and the Seahawks were -7 vs. the Bears).

So, it was interesting to note that after Sunday's two upsets, the lines have both come lower.

The Las Vegas Hilton and Golden Nugget did post the Broncos -4, but the line at both spots was quickly lowered to 3 1/2. Every other book in town opened the line at 3 1/2, with some immediately taking Steelers action and adjusting the juice to -120 (from the standard -110) for those wanting to take the Steelers +3 1/2 while allowing Broncos -3 1/2 bettors to lay even money. As of noon Monday, that was the consensus line in Vegas. The total on the game opened as high as 43 at the Stardust, but by late Sunday was down to 41 around town.

The Las Vegas Hilton posted the Seahawks -6 1/2 vs. the Panthers, but that also quickly came down as several other books (Stardust, Stations, Caesars, MGM Mirage, Leroy's) opened at 5 1/2. But that didn't slow the flow of early money on the Panthers and by late Sunday, all books had it at 4 1/2. The Palms was the lone book to open as low as Seattle -4 and held the line until moving it to 4 1/2 on Monday morning. However, with MGM Mirage dropping the line to 4 late Monday morning, this line could continue to head downward. The total has been hovering between 43 and 44.

Super Bowl odds updated

With the Colts out, the Broncos have taken over as the favorite to win the Super Bowl. The Las Vegas Hilton on Sunday installed the Broncos at 8-5 with the Seahawks and Steelers both at 5-2 and the Panthers at 9-2.

Many other books were skimming the odds a little with the Broncos as low as 3-2, the Seahawks a consensus 2-1, and the Panthers at 7-2 (for whatever reason, the Steelers are a solid 5-2 at most books).

But bettors are advised that it's almost always better to parlay the money lines in the rest of a team's playoffs games than to settle for set-in-stone future prices.

World Series registration begins

The Horseplayer World Series takes place Thursday through Saturday in the Mardi Gras Ballroom at The Orleans, with registration beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

The contest, which held qualifying tournaments at Coast Casino properties as well as tracks and OTB's throughout the country last year, is also open to anyone willing to put up the $1,000 entry fee. If the field draws 1,000 players, it will have a purse of $1 million. Last year, when it was billed as the $1 Million Horseplayer World Series, it fell a little short but still set a record with a purse of $768,000. Michael Ray of Las Vegas took first prize of $384,000, another record.

Each contestant will make 11 mythical $20 win-and-place wagers each day, with the first $2 being scored at track odds and the remaining $18 capped at 19-1 to win and 9-1 to place. Prizes will be paid through 30th place.

There are no daily prizes on Thursday and Friday, but on Saturday there will be a Last Chance Get-Even Pool (especially for those hopelessly out of the money) with $45,000 up for grabs and $10,000 going to the day's top scorer.