09/08/2003 12:00AM

Early line moves are hardly foolproof

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The accompanying chart shows the opening line moves after the Stardust posted its opening football odds Sunday for the football games this coming weekend.

Bettors sign up to get the first crack at the Stardust openers, and a lottery is held to determine the order the bettors must line up at one of three windows at 5:30 p.m.

It should be noted that with offshore books putting up numbers before Las Vegas, a lot of the early betting at the Stardust is due to differences between the Stardust and the offshore numbers (bettors trying to set up middles in which they can cash both sides) and not because of true opinions on a game.

But this information can still be useful to many bettors. By seeing which direction the line has moved (it's more likely to continue in that direction than to do an about-face), bettors can decide whether they should bet right away if they're planning to take the same side, or if they should wait for a better number and go against the move.

These are not meant to be viewed as predictions. Last year, the early line moves (from the bettors' point of view) went a barely profitable 60-51 (54 percent) against the spread while the college line moves were 109-116 (48 percent). When then-sports book director Joe Lupo was asked about how the Stardust was doing against the early bettors, he said, "I can't imagine any other sports book having a better college football season than us. Our numbers have proven to be sharper this season."

That's another way these line moves can be viewed: If you think the Stardust will continue to post sharp college numbers this year and that the line moves will continue to struggle, it can put you on some additional winners. If you think the offshore books (primarily Olympic and CRIS) do a better job and that bettors will be right more often than not in betting the Stardust openers toward those lines, then you would want to follow the money.

The Stardust won the first round last week. When the Stardust college openers were put up a week ago Sunday, the line moves went 4-6 against the spread. The funny thing is that all the underdogs that were backed (Colorado State, which was actually bet from a 2 1/2-point dog to a 1 1/2-point favorite vs. California; Northwestern vs. Air Force; UCLA vs. Colorado; and Middle Tennessee State vs. Georgia) were all winning sides while the six favorites (Ohio State, North Carolina State, Arkansas, UNLV, Southern Cal, UNLV, and Nebraska) all failed to cover.

All in all, it's just another handicapping tool. Use it the way you see fit.

September Shootout

The Reno Hilton's Steve Fierro tried to make the 177 players in last weekend's September Shootout handicapping tournament feel like they were participating in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship. The format (15 mythical $2 win and place wagers, including eight mandatory races, on each day) was exactly the same as the format for the NHC. The scores were updated every few hours for everyone to see, and Fierro even arranged for the track announcers at Del Mar and Bay Meadows, Trevor Denman and Tony Calo, respectively, to wish the handicappers good luck as the horses entered the gate before their track's mandatory races.

The top four finishers will be able to compare the tournaments first-hand as they earned berths in the NHC on Jan. 16-17, along with round-trip airfare and hotel accommodations at Bally's Las Vegas, the host for the second straight year.

Richard Prozanski of Huntington Beach, Calif., won the tournament by turning his $120 in contest plays last Saturday and Sunday into a contest total of $206.20. His prize winnings were $35,400.

Filbea Arnould of Las Vegas was second with earnings of $184.30 and took home $17,700 while Mike Mayo of Richardson, Texas, finished third at $172.90 and collected $8,850.

Doug Craft of Encinitas, Calif., used the final race of the contest, the 10th at Del Mar on Sunday, to slip into the final spot. Maybe Midnight won and paid $5.80 to win and $3.80 to place, but it was enough to boost Craft to a two-day total of $163.70 and earn winnings of $4,425, plus the coveted NHC berth.

Fairplex contests do exist

The close of the Del Mar meet on Wednesday also marks the end of nearly all the weekly handicapping contests in Las Vegas - at least until the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet opens at the end of the month. Most race books see a reduction in the number of horseplayers for the Fairplex meet, so they put their contests on hiatus.

There are two casino companies that are bucking that trend. The first is the group of Circus Circus satellite properties. The Excalibur will hold its contest this Wednesday per usual on Del Mar. The Monte Carlo's contest gets skipped Thursday as SoCal racing is dark, and the Circus Circus Las Vegas and Reno casinos will host a combined contest on Friday on the Thoroughbred races at Fairplex, and the Luxor will do the same on Monday. That rotation will then continue through the end of the Fairplex meet on Sept. 28.

"With the other properties dropping their contests during Fairplex, that usually means good crowds for us," said Jeff Stoneback, race and sports book manager at the Excalibur.

The other exception to the rule is the Imperial Palace, which continues its Super Saturday contest 52 weeks a year. This Saturday's contest, using Belmont and Fairplex, should have a bonus pool of $7,500 (based on 150 entries).

* The early-bird deadline for the Oct. 9-11 Fall Classic at the Orleans is Wednesday (early signups play for free in a bonus $20,000 contest on Oct. 12).

* Last Friday, the staff at the Las Vegas Hilton mailed out the invitation letters for Pick the Ponies XXII on Oct. 22-24. The early-bird deadline is Oct. 6 (early signups only pay $400 per entry instead of the posted $500, with the Hilton kicking in the difference).

COLLEGE

Took moneyOpenBet ToOpponent

Louisville+4+3SYRACUSE

PITTSBURGH-29-32Ball St.

WISCONSIN-19-20Unlv

WAKE FORESTPK-1Purdue

Iowa-3.5-4IOWA ST.

South Carolina+14.5+14GEORGIA

Minnesota-18.5-19.5OHIO

Notre Dame+11+10.5MICHIGAN

Kansas +5.5+4.5WYOMING

DUKE -8.5-10Rice

VANDERBILT+14+13.5Auburn

Memphis+6+5.5SO. MISS

FLORIDA ST.-23-23.5Georgia Tech

NEBRASKA-9-10Penn St.

Byu -1-3NEW MEXICO

CONNECTICUT+6+4Boston College

North Texas+9+8.5AIR FORCE

NFL

Took moneyOpenBet ToOpponent

Browns+3 (-120) +2.5RAVENS

JAGUARS+3+2.5Bills

CHIEFS-3-3.5Steelers

Seahawks-4-4.5CARDINALS

Bears +8.5+7.5VIKINGS

GIANTS (Mon.) -7-7.5Cowboys

Browns-Ravens over4041

Bills-Jaguars over 4243

Home team in CAPS