09/30/2001 11:00PM

Early bettors favor dogs this Saturday


If the wise guys in Las Vegas are to be believed, this Saturday will be a dog

day afternoon.

The first eight bets made in Sunday night's "lottery" - when big bettors get

their names drawn to get first crack at the Stardust's opening football lines - were on college football underdogs. In order, bettors took the points with Indiana, Wake Forest, Colorado State, Central Florida, Temple, Iowa, Nevada and UL Monroe before the first favorite was bet (Maryland, up from -7 to -7 1/2 over Virginia).

Note: the accompanying chart shows the games listed in the order on the Don Best schedule rotation and not the order in which they were bet.

The trend continued as the next four line moves were toward the underdogs, making it 12 of the first 13. By the time the Cowboys-Eagles game went to halftime, there were 30 separate college line moves and a whopping 27 (90 percent) were on the underdogs. Even Troy State, which opened as a 53-point underdog to No. 1-ranked Miami-Fla. got bet down to 52.

Only two NFL lines were adjusted. The first was the Chargers, who opened as a 3-point choice over the Browns. The line was moved to -3 -120, meaning bettors would have to lay $12 to win $10 on the Chargers while getting even-money on the Browns +3. A bettor did take the reduced juice on the Browns and the line was moved back to -3 with bettors laying $11 to win $10 on each team again.

The only other NFL line move in the lottery was the Saints, bet from a 4

1/2-point favorite over the Vikings down to 4.

Last week: College line moves were 9-9 and are now 36-26 overall. NFL line moves were 2-1, winning with the Steelers and Chargers and losing with the

Dolphins, and are now 10-6 for the season.

Pigskin postmortem

After a banner week for bettors last week, bookmakers reported a modest

profit this past weekend.

College football games mostly went the house's way, with a lot of favorites failing to cover the spread even when they won straight up. Examples: Oklahoma,

Northwestern, Iowa, BYU, Washington, South Carolina and Fresno State.

But there was a downside for some books because players who teased those favorites (reducing the spread by 6, 7 or 10 points) were able to stay alive on their tickets. A number of books paid off 10- and 15-team teaser cards worth tens of thousands of dollars, cutting significantly into their profits.

"If you bet the left side of the teaser card, you did really well," said one bookmaker, referring to the side that has the favorite in each game.

In NFL games on Sunday, the public cashed in on the Packers, Chargers,

Steelers and Eagles. It's no coincidence that those were all favorites that were bet up. The books had their share of decisions with the Vikings (though some books report this as a loss), Ravens and Browns winning outright as dogs, but the most shocking result was the Patriots' 44-13 blowout of the Colts as a 14-point dog. That killed a lot of parlays and teasers for the house.

Books cheering home Bonds, Mariners

Las Vegas bookmakers are on the verge of being bailed out of some big-time liability. Around the All-Star break, several sports books (most notably the

Imperial Palace, Mandalay Bay and Stardust, with Station Casinos joining the fray a few weeks later) posted props on whether Barry Bonds would hit 71 home runs to break Mark McGwire's record. The Stardust also had a prop asking if the Mariners would win 115 games to break the Yankees' American League record of 114.

In both props, the books took in more money on bettors taking the "no." The bettors were obviously figuring that Bonds would either feel the pressure of the home run chase combined with the pennant race (something that wasn't a problem for McGwire two years ago) or would get walked too often to have a decent chance. And Mariners doubters figured that they couldn't keep up their pace, or might rest their starters down the stretch for the playoffs.

Well, heading into Tuesday night's game, both Bonds and the Mariners were nearing their respective records. Bonds was sitting with 69 homers with six games to play, including Tuesday through Thursday at Houston's Enron Field. The Mariners needed to win four of their last six games, which include three at Anaheim and three at home vs. Texas.

* One other baseball betting note: go against a team the day after it clinches

a division title. Last year (as mentioned in this space last Oct. 5), four of the six division winners lost their next game with three of their opponents having prices of at least +140. This year, the Mariners lost the day after celebrating their title while the Yankees won the following day, but those betting both would have made a profit as the Angels opened as a +180 underdog vs. the Mariners at some books. But be sure to bet this type of bet early. In the above example, professional bettors jumped all over the Angels and bet them all the way down to +130 at some outlets.

Money for nothing, picks for free

Football is king at this time of year (with baseball a distant second) and no one is going to dispute that, but local bettors still look for value in other sports. They got some good advice this week from some handicappers who make their picks public.

Lem Banker, probably the best-known sports bettors of all, went on Larry

Grossman's "You Can Bet On It" radio show and gave out Bernard Hopkins to beat Felix Trinidad in the middleweight unification bout in New York on Saturday. Hopkins opened as a 3-1 underdog and was bet down to 5-2 at some bet shops.

Justin Leonard won the Texas Open at odds of 10-1. A golf writer named in Buzz Daly's "Player's Choice" newspaper named Marco Parr (a pen name, perhaps?) predicted Leonard, a native Texan and the tournament's defending champ, to win the event and he did so in relatively easy fashion.

Jeff Gordon continued on the road to his fourth Winston Cup championship by winning the Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday. Micah Roberts, the race and sports book manager at Santa Fe Station who also writes for Gaming Today, gave out Gordon as his 9-2 first choice.