09/16/2005 12:00AM

Football bettors can shop now to find value on future games


Quick, name the popular new way to bet on football in Las Vegas? How about going back to the future.

No, this one isn't starring Michael J. Fox. The idea belongs to creative race and sports book directors such as Lou D'Amico at the Plaza and Jay Kornegay at the Las Vegas Hilton, and the folks at the Imperial Palace.

This summer, D'Amico and Kornegay put point spreads on NFL and college games for the entire season. Savvy football bettors have been advance wagering on games that will be played in future weeks.

It's fun and interesting to see sports books gambling on football games again, like old-school Las Vegas bookmakers.

"We've had the NFL up since May 7," said D'Amico, "So we made the first NFL lines."

This is the second year D'Amico has done this. It affords visitors a chance to bet on their home team for the entire season. As an offshoot, wiseguys have come to the Plaza looking for "soft" numbers to jump on.

"That's what you're supposed to do," added D'Amico. "That's the way old Vegas was. A player would start at Churchill Downs, go to Little Caesars, the Barbary Coast, and hit all the sports books shopping for the best odds."

Consolidation among casino companies has reduced the choice of odds out there for sports bettors. But independent sports books such as the Plaza, Hilton, and the IP remain and give the bettors variety and value.

Two good examples this weekend include UCLA, an 8-point underdog against Oklahoma in the future book, but now a 6 1/2-point favorite. The Chiefs, who were a 2-point underdog in future betting, are now 1 1/2-point favorites over the Raiders.

So what's the best way to play futures? As with all betting, you're seeking value in the odds. I think you're better off making judgments on teams over the long run, though you can still cherry pick individual games.

For example, if you bought into new Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, you could have made a future bet on Notre Dame as a 16-point underdog against Michigan. The line ended up at 7, which became moot after the Irish won, 17-10.

But you get the idea. In Las Vegas, where sharp professionals will shop around for a half-point edge on a game, getting the benefit of a field goal or a touchdown on the point spread in your favor is like enjoying Christmas every weekend.

Let's do a lab experiment using the Plaza lines and play a hunch that the Packers will stink this year. In December, we will go against Green Bay using the Plaza future-book point spread on these four games: -3 1/2 over Detroit; +6 1/2 against Baltimore; -7 over Chicago; and -2 1/2 over Seattle. We will revisit this after the season.

To check out the 2005 Plaza NFL point spreads on the Internet, just go to http://www.vegasinsider.-com/nfl/plaza-odds/.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.