09/02/2010 3:10PM

Football season begins in earnest


LAS VEGAS – Thursday night saw the end of fake football, with all 32 NFL teams wrapping up their exhibition schedule and the kickoff of the college football season.

The sports books here are celebrating like it’s a holiday – which we have with the long Labor Day Weekend – and are gearing up for a nearly full slate of NCAA games, with every ranked team in action, and then getting everyone ready for the NFL regular season to start next weekend.

One major change this college season is the fact that USC is on probation and ineligible for the national title and off the BCS title game futures. But other than that, it’s the usual suspects getting the most action, with Ohio State the consensus favorite at Vegas sports books around odds of 4-1 to 9-2 and defending national champion Alabama between odds of 5-1 and 6-1 to repeat. Perennial title contenders Florida and Oklahoma are next on most lists around 7-1. This year, we do have non-BCS conference member Boise State as the expected party crasher, ranked No. 3 by The Associated Press behind Bama and OSU, and is between 10-1 and 12-1, depending on where you shop.

My thought as the season gets under way is that we might be getting to the point where the public is starting to overrate these teams from smaller conferences and it could be profitable to fade them. In addition to Monday night’s marquee matchup in which Boise State is a 2 1/2-point favorite over Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., a spot where they definitely would have been getting points in the past, we see BYU favored by 3 over Washington, TCU –13 1/2 over Oregon State and Michigan only –3 over UConn (granted, Michigan’s loss to Appalachian State two years ago still being fresh in everyone’s mind and subsequent problems in the Rich Rodriguez era also have something to do with this number being lower to what we’re used to seeing). I’m looking to take all the big conference schools in those matchups (Washington, Oregon State, Michigan, and Virginia Tech).

Leroy’s goes mobile

The Leroy’s sports books in Nevada released a new product Wednesday that allows bettors to use Blackberry smartphones to place wagers.

Just like with other account-wagering methods already in place, customers are required to post up their deposit at a Leroy’s location but then they download the app and wager from their device as long as they’re within the state of Nevada. This also works for Leroy’s customers in Reno, where they hadn’t offered phone wagering before. This is mostly aimed at Nevada residents, but anyone visiting will be able to sign up and wager while in the state.

“This is the future of sports betting,” said Vic Salerno, CEO of American Wagering Inc., the parent company of Leroy’s. “Everyone has a cell phone, and this is truly mobile. Other places have systems where you can place bets away from the sports book, but you have to check out special equipment and can’t leave the property. With this new app, you can bet from your couch or while you’re at your kids’ ballgame.”

Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile networks are currently supported, with Verizon to be added in the next three to five months with the iPhone, Droid, and Windows-based mobile phones to follow shortly thereafter, Salerno said. He also said horse racing would be added in early 2011.

Salerno said the project took 14 months to develop through another AWI subsidiary, Computerized Bookmaking Systems Inc. (CBS), and Blackberry’s Sports division, plus to receive approval from the Gaming Control Board. Salerno said the Blackberry was chosen not only due to market penetration but because of its reputation of being the most secure network, something the GCB is a stickler for. Salerno said he has a patent pending for the program that guarantees a bettor is within the state lines (note to smart-alecks: it won’t accept bets within 300 yards of the border).

Race and sports book notes

In last Saturday’s NHC Tour story in this space, I mentioned Dave Gutfreund of Chicago winning a Belmont tournament in June for the second time. Well, he did it again. Last Saturday, Gutfreund won the three-day Pick the Ponies Invitational at the Las Vegas Hilton for a record third time, breaking a tie with Patrick Gorgan of Las Vegas. The 155 contestants made 10 mythical $100 across-the-board wagers each day, and Gutfreund, who was fourth entering the final day, had three winners and three seconds on the final day to pull away from the field. He finished with 18,595 contest points to earn the first-place prize of $29,450. Gary Brous of Las Vegas was second with 14,780 to win $14,725. Paul Matties of Rensselaer, N.Y., was third at 14,670 (just 110 points, or mere breakage, behind Brous) and settled for $6,975.

“I was shocked I won by that much; I thought I was grinding my way in a tight race,” Gutfreund said of the contest that doesn’t use an updated scoreboard.

The next Pick the Ponies will be held Nov. 3-5. The entry fee is $500, but those signing up by Monday, Oct. 25, have to pay just $400 with the Hilton kicking in the extra $100 into the prize pool. The field is limited to 200 players.

◗ ESPN’s Hank Goldberg was at the Red Rock Resort this past week, recording NFL preview pieces that will appear on Sunday morning’s SportsCenter. Goldberg was returning to his new lucky spot. On July 3, Goldberg was playing in the Firecracker Shootout tournament at the Red Rock and finished eighth in the NHC qualifying tournament that paid to the top five, but he was still a happy camper as he hit the pick six at Belmont, cashing for more than $35,000 including consolations.

◗ Next week in this space, I’ll be previewing the NFL season. In the meantime, I like the Vikings +4 1/2 vs. the Saints in the Thursday night opener and a rematch of the NFC title game that the Vikings should have won (but they did cover for us back then, too).