10/18/2004 12:00AM

Early bettors keeping bookmakers on toes


About a month ago, on Sept. 19, there was a Sunday night at the Stardust when only 11 college games and one NFL side were bet off their opening numbers. It left one wondering about the relevance of the Stardust lottery in today's sports betting world.

Any such thoughts have been erased since then. The week of Sept. 26 saw 19 college line moves, then 21 the following week, 22 last week, and now 26 - more than half of Saturday's 49 bettable games (San Jose St.-Hawaii was off the board Sunday night) - have seen early action at the Stardust.

As opposed to early trends that saw more home teams taking money in Las Vegas, the plays this week were split, with 13 on home teams and 13 on visitors. Eighteen of the 26 were underdogs, including Louisiana Tech, which was actually bet from a 1-point dog at home vs. UTEP to a 1-point favorite. The other 2-point move was on East Carolina, being bet down from +20 to +18 vs. Southern Mississippi.

Per usual, almost all of the line moves can be seen as "corrections" to the marketplace, as they move toward available offshore numbers and to the numbers at the Stratosphere, which is also putting up college lines Sunday afternoon.

In addition to the increase in college action, six NFL sides were bet, which is even more impressive when you consider that teams playing on Sunday and Monday nights are not included and there were only nine games on the board to choose from.

Of note in this week's NFL moves is that three games stayed at the same point spread with just a change to the attached vigorish. For those who aren't clear what I'm talking about, most lines are -110 (bet $11 to win $10) on each side. If a bet-taker doesn't want to move a line, he can adjust the vig to -120 on one side and +100 - or even money - in order to either make bettors pay a premium for a more popular number or to induce betting at the cheaper price to balance the books.

For instance, in the accompanying chart, the Eagles opened as a 7 1/2-point favorite over the Browns, and the early money came on the underdog as offshore books had the line at 6 1/2 and the Stratosphere had it at 7. Instead of lowering its line to 7, the Stardust made the Browns +7 1/2 (-120) and offered the Eagles at -7 1/2 (even money). The same bookmaking technique was in effect with the Panthers-Chargers and Jets-Patriots games.

The Seahawks opened at -6 over the Cardinals at the Stardust after being offered at 6 1/2 offshore and at the Stratosphere. So much money came in on the Seahawks that the Stardust moved the line to the key number of 7 but made those who wanted to take the Cardinals +7 lay the -120.

Handicapping tournament notes

Chalk up another win for the first family of horse handicapping tournaments.

Kelly Phillips, daughter of Joe Hinson and the late Valerie Hinson, won the Fall Classic at the Orleans last Thursday through Saturday. Contestants, who ponied up $500 apiece, made 12 mythical $100 win bets each day, and Phillips jumped out to the lead after Thursday's action with 6,352 points (points are based on the win mutuels, and are credited at track odds for the first $20 and capped at 20-1 for the remaining $80). That was worth a quick $3,500 for the day's top score, but the Hinson clan plays to win and knows how to play with a lead.

Regular Orleans contestants know that no matter how many points someone scores in the first day of this format, the winner's score is almost always between 9,500 and 11,000 for the three days. Phillips was still in first place after Friday's races with a score of 9,622 and finished the tournament at 10,732 to outlast the field of 835 and win the $133,600 first prize. Phillips also had an entry that finished 19th for an extra $4,175.

Phillips's only previous tournament victory was also a biggie; she won $100,000 in Gulfstream Park's Turf-Vivor tournament last year.

Gary Sadowski was second with 9,908 points and earned $66,880, Tony Klein was third with 9,266 and earned $33,400, and Gwyn Houston was fourth with 8,788 points and earned $20,875.

Prizes were paid to the top 80 finishers, with the top 50 also qualifying for the $1 Million Horseplayers World Series - with first prize being a record $500,000 - to be contested Jan. 27-29 at the Orleans.

* There are two tournaments in town next week. The live-money Coast to Coast Breeders' Cup Shootout is next Wednesday and Thursday at the Gold Coast and Suncoast, with a $300 entry fee and $840 bankroll of 14 $60 parimutuel bets over the two days. The top 15 finishers will also qualify for the Horseplayer World Series.

On Wednesday through Friday, the Las Vegas Hilton's Pick the Ponies tourney takes place. As of noon Monday, there were still three spots open in the 200-player field. The entry fee is $500, and players make 10 mythical $100 across-the-board wagers each day.

* In addition to the World Series, the Coast Casinos announced the rest of its tournament schedule for 2005: Championship at The Orleans, March 30 through April 3; Summer Classic at the Gold Coast, July 13-17; Fall Classic at The Orleans, Oct. 5-9.