12/15/2003 12:00AM

Cowboys-Giants spread soars from -7 to -11 1/2


He who hesitates is lost, or at least risks losing a football wager if he bets later at a less attractive number.

On Sunday, as is its custom, the Imperial Palace put up the first lines on the upcoming weekend's NFL schedule at 4:30 p.m. As I perused the numbers, I was surprised to see the Cowboys favored by only 7 over the Giants. The line seemed kind of low. I debated whether or not that night's Giants-Saints game would influence the line and couldn't imagine it going any lower.

After no more than a minute of deliberation, I decided to go for it. But it was too late. As I took my first step toward the betting window, the line was raised to 7 1/2, not nearly as attractive of a number.

Adding insult to injury (if an ego can indeed be bruised), the Saints blew out the Giants 45-7 that night, and when the lines went up at the Stardust at 8 a.m. Monday, the Cowboys were installed as a 10 1/2-point favorite. There were some 11's available at offshore books, and someone obviously thought they saw value in the 10 1/2 because it got bet up to 11. But I knew better. The real value was on the Cowboys -7.

That line move was only one of two at the Stardust on Monday morning (see chart), with the Buccaneers also being bet from -6 1/2 to -7 (even money, meaning you bet $100 to win $100, and bettors wanting the Falcons +7 would have to lay -120, or risk $120 to win $100).

When the Rampart posted its openers at 10 a.m. Monday, that game was also popular with the sharp bettors when sports book director Eric St. Clair opened the Buccaneers as a 7 1/2-point favorite. The wise guys took the Falcons +7 1/2 and bet it down to 7.

As for the Cowboys-Giants game, the Rampart opened it at Cowboys -11 1/2.

"The Giants have given up on the season, and they have a lame duck coach," St. Clair said.

The bettors also snapped up the inflated price with that underdog as well as the Redskins +5 vs. the Bears, Cardinals +14 vs. the Seahawks, and the Raiders +6 vs. the Packers. And if the same person who took the Cowboys -7 at the Imperial Palace also took the Giants +11 1/2 at the Rampart, he would own a very hittable middle.

Bowl lines update

Compared to last year, when a lot of college bowl games saw big line moves, this year's lines have been relatively stable.

A few totals have been bet up - Thursday's GMAC Bowl between Louisville and Miami-Ohio from 69 to 71; the Dec. 30 Houston Bowl between Navy and Texas Tech from 72 to 74; and the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl between LSU and Oklahoma from 46 to 48 - but most have moved by only a half-point or one point, if at all.

The biggest point-spread move is still on Florida St., bet from pick-em to -1 1/2 vs. Miami-Fla. in the Jan. 1 Orange Bowl. That line has been bet up to 2 1/2 at the Rampart.

In fact, a lot of lines were slightly higher there on Monday; that is, until a bettor snapped up Wisconsin +4 vs. Auburn in the Dec. 31 Music City Bowl (it was 3 elsewhere), Oregon +4 vs. Minnesota in the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl (also a solid 3 around town), Iowa +4 1/2 vs. Florida in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl (compared to 3 1/2), Purdue +4 (another solid 3) vs. Georgia in the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl, and Oklahoma St. +3 vs. Mississippi in the Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl (ranging from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 elsewhere).

And, yes, I was eyeing some of those lines as well.