09/15/2002 11:00PM

Early football line moves

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LAS VEGAS - The following line moves are supposed to represent the opinions of professional bettors in Las Vegas who line up Sunday night to take the first crack at the Stardust's opening number on the upcoming weekend games.

That's how it used to be, and if Vegas operated in a vacuum (or on a figurative island, which might be a better analogy), that would be the case today. However, with the proliferation of Caribbean offshore books (and with many of them also trying to be the first to post weekly football odds), there are many more professional arbitragers, which Webster's defines as "one who simultaneously purchases and sells the same or equivalent security [as in different markets] in order to profit from price discrepancies."

That was the case Sunday night, when CRIS, one of the leaders in the offshore industry, opened Navy as a 3 1/2-point favorite over Northwestern. The Stardust opened Navy at -2 1/2, and quickly a big bettor laid the shorter price. The line moved to 3, and another big bet, this time on Northwestern, knocked the line back down to 2 1/2. Predictably, someone then liked the middling opportunity and bet it back up to 3. Meanwhile, CRIS took some Northwestern money, and when the dust settled the line was 3 in both places.

Most likely, bettors weren't betting because they liked either Navy or Northwestern, but because they were playing the market: buy low, sell high.

The biggest NFL line move at the Stardust was also predicated on a difference at the offshore books. The Stardust made the Rams a 3-point favorite at Tampa Bay next Monday night. The offshore books opened the line at 1 1/2, and the Stardust took money on the Buccaneers, lowering the line to 2 1/2 and then to 1 1/2.

In a big line move that was based more on opinion than market conditions, Nevada opened as a 5 1/2-point favorite over Rice. Even though the University of Nevada is up north, in Reno, the Wolfpack, fresh off a 31-28 upset of BYU, took the early money in Las Vegas. Nevada was bet up to 6 1/2 during the lottery. A half-hour later, the line moved to -7.

Last week: The college lottery line moves went only 13-13 last week. The biggest move (Southern Mississippi bet from -8 1/2 to -10 1/2) was an easy winner, as Southern Miss beat Memphis, 33-14. But Miami-Fla. and Kentucky both failed to cover as two other heavily backed teams in the early betting. For the season, college line moves are 28-31. In the NFL, the early line moves were 2-4 (1-3 on sides, with the Jaguars the one winner, and 1-1 on totals). Early NFL line moves have dropped to 5-9 on the season.

COLLEGE

Took moneyOpenBet ToOpponent

MISS. ST. (Thursday)+1 PKAuburn

NAVY-2.5-3 Northwestern

Arizona+7+6.5WISCONSIN

Louisiana Tech+16+15PENN ST.

Notre DamePK-1MICHIGAN ST.

GEORGIA TECH-7.5-8.5Brigham Young

Southern Cal+4.5+4KANSAS ST.

NEVADA-5.5-6.5Rice

Fresno St.+12.5+12OREGON ST.

Southern Mississippi+8+7.5ALABAMA

CONNECTICUT-1.5-3 Ohio

Kent St.+14.5+13MIAMI-OHIO

Akron+24+23VIRGINIA

Troy St.+18+17.5IOWA ST.

Bowling Green-9-10KANSAS

TOLEDO-7-7.5Unlv

NFL

Took moneyOpenBet ToOpponent

DOLPHINS-6-6.5Jets

Saints +3.5 (-120)+3 (-120)BEARS

LIONS+8+7.5Packers

FALCONS-7-7.5Bengals

BUCCANEERS (Monday)+3+1.5Rams

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