09/06/2004 12:00AM

Dolphins go from 3-point favorite to dog vs. Titans


When the Stardust sports book posted this upcoming weekend's NFL point spreads at 3:40 p.m. Sunday, it was anti-climactic.

The Stardust is traditionally known as the casino "where the line is made." That title has lost some of its luster in recent years with offshore books posting the first football odds on a weekly basis and the Imperial Palace and Stratosphere beating the 'Dust to the punch with NFL lines last year.

This year, just about every sports book in Vegas has had the lines up since last week - after Las Vegas Sports Consultants sent out its numbers last Monday - and the lines have been available at the Imperial Palace for more than four months.

In this space every Wednesday, I try to paint a picture of how the early betting offers clues as to which direction the line is likely to move. This week, only the total on the Giants-Eagles moved off the Stardust's opening number of 41, bet up to 41 1/2. So, it makes more sense to compare the Stardust's openers to those posted at the Imperial Palace way back on April 24.

The biggest swing is obviously on the Titans-Dolphins matchup. The IP made the Dolphins a 3-point favorite back in April. Due to all the turmoil in Miami (Hurricane Frances notwithstanding) with the season-ending injury to David Boston and the retirement of Ricky Williams, the Titans went up as a 3-point favorite at the Stardust on Sunday. As of Sunday night, the vigorish on the Titans -3 had been raised to -120 (risk $1.20 instead of the standard $1.10 to win $1). The Station Casinos had already moved the line to 3 1/2.

The only other change of favorite in the opening weekend's action is in the Seahawks-Saints game. Back in April, the IP made the Saints -1 1/2, but now it's the Seahawks favored at -1 1/2 or -2 at the Stardust.

The next biggest movement is the Falcons going from a 1-point road favorite at the 49ers up to -3 1/2 and the Panthers going from -1 to -3 vs. the Packers in the season-opening Monday Night Football game.

The two biggest point spreads of the opening weekend have seen 1 1/2-point moves, as the Rams' number has been increased from -9 to -10 1/2 over the Cardinals at the Stardust (with most Strip sports book and offshore books already up to 11) and the Eagles going from -7 to -8 1/2 vs. the Giants.

The Redskins have gone from 1-point favorites over the Buccaneers to 2 1/2, and the Ravens have increased to -1 1/2 to -3 versus the Browns, while the eight other games are within 1 point of those first lines posted at the Imperial Palace.

College lines move

While the NFL board was pretty stagnant, there was movement in the college lines as the Stardust put up the first odds in town. Six games were bet enough one way in the first hour to warrant a change in the line.

In a game scheduled for Friday night, Boise St. was bet up from -5 1/2 to -6 vs. Oregon St. Three more home favorites took action on Saturday as Northwestern was bet from -1 to -1 1/2 versus Arizona St., Alabama went from -10 to -10 1/2 vs. Mississippi and Utah St. went from -10 to -10 1/2 vs. Idaho.

Underdogs seeing early action were Illinois going from +6 1/2 to +6 vs. UCLA and Iowa St. going from +25 1/2 to +25 vs. rival Iowa. Later in the night, Friday's added game, Florida St. at Miami-Fla. - which was rescheduled from Labor Day because of Hurricane Frances - went from the opening number of Miami-Fla. -2 1/2 down to -1 1/2.

* Las Vegas sports books didn't exactly clean up during the first full weekend of college football. In all, favorites were 27-18 (60 percent) and that generally doesn't bode well for bet-takers. A big bailout for the books came late Saturday night when Hawaii, which was steamed from -21 1/2 to -25 1/2, lost 35-28 to Florida Atlantic in overtime. That was the biggest favorite to lose outright. Big favorites actually fared well as teams that were favored by 20 or more points went 8-5 against the spread over the weekend with all but Hawaii winning straight up. The public loves backing those big favorites early in the season against mismatched opponents.

* My bankroll plays started the season 1-1 on Saturday as I lost with Cincinnati +15 vs. Ohio St. and won with Oregon St. +18 1/2 vs. LSU. Cincy stayed within the spread most of the game but couldn't muster any offense versus the Buckeyes' defense and lost 27-6. Later in the day, Oregon St. was never in danger of failing to cover and should have upset the defending BCS champ Tigers, but gave up a late game-tying touchdown to force overtime and then lost 22-21 when kicker Alexis Serna missed his third extra point of the game.

Race and sports book notes

Both favorites came through with victories on the boxing card at Mandalay Bay on Saturday night, even though significant money came in on the underdogs.

Cory Spinks retained the undisputed welterweight title with a lopsided unanimous decision (118-109 on all three judges' scorecards) over Miguel Angel Gonzalez. Spinks had opened as a -700 favorite and was bet up to -650.

In the co-feature, WBO title holder Lamon Brewster was gradually bet up all week from -800 to -450 in his bout against Kali Meehan. Meehan proved to be a live dog and nearly knocked out Brewster in the eighth round, but Brewster rallied - mainly from Meehan being worn out from throwing so many punches in that round - to win a split decision with two judges having him a slight winner and the other judge giving the fight to Meehan.

* With Del Mar closing on Wednesday, it is the last chance to play the Del Mar Pick 5 Contest at the Coast Casinos' race books (the Orleans, Gold Coast, Barbary Coast, Suncoast). Plans call for a similar contest once the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet starts Sept. 29.

* Coast Casinos also announced that in order to ensure that it will meet its goal of a $1 million purse in the Horseplayer's World Series at the Orleans on Jan. 27-29, the $1,000 entry fee will no longer require a contestant play in three Coast tournaments.