08/08/2002 12:00AM

Do your homework now to cash football bets later


Baseball is a leisurely sport with a lot of down time between pitches, between batters, between innings, and during pitching changes. It's not uncommon to walk through the sports books in Nevada during the summer and see people reading while following their baseball wagers.

Usually, bettors are reading as part of their research in looking ahead to making winning bets. Earlier in the season, reading material can range from Baseball Weekly to Daily Racing Form.

But there's a noticeable difference at this time of year. Bettors are almost certain to be burying their noses inside a football publication of some sort. While football fans across the country might be perusing Street & Smith, Athlon, and the Sporting News, bettors in Las Vegas are more likely to be studying magazines that specialize in bettor statistics. Gamblers don't only want to know a team's rushing and passing statistics from recent seasons, but also their records against the spread, home and away, on grass or turf, etc.

The Gamblers Book Shop - located in Las Vegas on 11th Street, just north of Charleston - has the widest selection of gambling books in the world, and offerings that won't be found on your typical newsstands. Football season is the store's busiest time of year with gambling guides arriving daily by the truckload. Just about every big bettor in town stops by the GBC (the seemingly inconsistent acronym comes from the Shop's original name of the Gamblers Book Club). Either way you say it, out-of-towners can check out the store's offerings at www.gamblersbook.com.

As marketing manager of the GBC and a writer of book reviews for several publications, Howard Schwartz has gone through all the books, magazines, and annuals and is quick with suggestions for the bettors who stop in.

Tops on any handicapper's shopping list are the annual previews offered by Phil Steele, Marc Lawrence, Jim Feist, and The Gold Sheet. Another GBC annual best seller is Al O'Donnell's "Point Spread Playbook," which gives results from the past three years, including the line, total, whether the game was on grass or turf and whether it was day or night.

As a handicapper who doesn't like following the masses, I asked Schwartz for some reading material that would give some additional insight that isn't as readily available or sought out by the majority of bettors.

"There are a number of books that teach money management, and that's the key to winning in the long run," Schwartz said. "We have a new book by Tony Stoffo, the former sports book manager at the Desert Inn, called 'Money Management for the Year-round Professional Sports Handicapper.' Other books that teach a wide range of handicapping concepts are 'Beat the Sportsbook' by Dan Gordon and 'Win More - Lose Less' by Don Peszynski, which shows how to find value in teasers, parlays, and middling situations."

No matter your level of expertise, there's something for everyone.

Beginners who want a quick primer might want to check out "How Professional Gamblers Beat the Pro Football Pointspread" by J.R. Miller and "The Complete Guide to Football Betting" by Jim Feist and Kelso Sturgeon.

Value on under/dogs?

Conventional wisdom says that NFL offenses don't have their timing down yet, especially with backups getting most of the playing time in exhibition games, while defensive players only have to react to make plays. Because of the cliche that "the defense is ahead of the offense," many experts say you should bet the under in preseason games, especially in the early weeks.

That strategy didn't work last weekend as the Redskins-49ers and Giants-Texans games both went over. The Redskins-49ers over/under was set at 35 and bet down to 34 1/2 at most bet shops, but the Redskins won 38-7.

The Giants-Texans over/under opened at a very low 32 last week, but bettors were stubborn and bet it down to 29 1/2 at some books. The Giants won 34-17 after 27 points were scored in the first half alone.

Oddsmakers know that bettors are looking to the under in preseason games, so they shade the numbers in that direction. For this weekend's games, most over/unders were between 32 and 34 with only four as high as 37.

Another note: Oddsmakers also know that bettors are looking to play underdogs in the preseason since it's assumed the playing field is more level, especially once you get to the third- and fourth-stringers that will be deciding games in the fourth quarters of most exhibition games.

This weekend, nearly every point spread is between 1 1/2 and 4 1/2, with 10 of them between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2. Oddsmakers aren't giving underdog bettors any breaks.

The biggest exception is the Redskins -7 1/2 at the Panthers. Oddsmakers inflated this number after Steve Spurrier's new team ran up the score in the opener against the 49ers in Osaka, Japan. But that's still a lot of points to lay on the road in a meaningless game, especially considering the Redskins had to fly back from Japan, have a short week of practice, and then must travel to Carolina. The value is on the dog, though we will see if Spurrier's attacking style causes more adjustments in the Redskins' lines this preseason.