09/20/2004 11:00PM

Gambling series starts like a winner


On Monday, ESPN began a five-part series titled "Gambling on Sports: The National Pastime."

There was a lot of nervousness around town when word first spread that ESPN was coming here to discuss sports betting. Even with the locals getting more comfortable with the seemingly endless number of film crews shooting here, there is still an uneasiness when it comes to the topic of sports betting because you never know how the filmmakers will spin it.

ESPN did a fair and balanced job with Monday's first installment, subtitled "Setting the Line." It wasn't groundbreaking for those familiar with the industry, but by Tuesday morning I had already heard from half a dozen outsiders that found it intriguing.

There were elementary explanations of the bookmakers trying to get equal action on both sides, so the winners and losers cancel out and the books keep the vig, or juice. Also mentioned was that the public is more inclined to bet favorites while professional bettors tend to look for value with underdogs when the line goes too high.

Kenny White and his staff at Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which supplies odds to most of the legal sports books in the state, came off well, as they showed how they come up with the opening lines by committee. White, who serves as the company's chief operating officer, said the secret was that it's not a one-man operation.

"Having five good oddmakers is the best way to make a number," White said. "Not one person can come up with the right number."

The ESPN report accurately pointed out that the bettors cleaned up on the Colts vs. the Titans, while the books made back their money when the underdogs covered five early games, including the Panthers and Bears.

Robert Walker, the race and sports book director for the MGM Mirage properties, was quoted as saying he couldn't remember a better early week in the NFL for the books.

The ESPN series continues through Friday, and it's certain to focus on seedier elements of sports betting leading up to Saturday's premiere of "Hustle," the made-for-cable movie of the Pete Rose story.

NFL betting trends

As stated above, there were five underdogs that covered in the early games Sunday, but the total tally for the weekend was actually 9-7 in favor of the favorites. In addition to the Bears over the Packers and Panthers over the Chiefs - both of which killed a lot of parlays and teasers - the Jaguars squeaked by the Broncos 7-6 as 2 1/2-point home underdogs, and the Giants beat the Redskins 20-14 as 3-point home dogs.

After two weeks, favorites hold a slight 16-15-1 edge. But bettors that had the Colts +3 1/2, not +3 like most bettors, in the season opener vs. the Patriots - a 27-24 New England victory that made most bets a push - are feeling that it's 16-16.

Home-field advantage hasn't been evident in the NFL so far, at least as far as the point spread is concerned. While home teams have won 20 of the 32 games played, they are 13-18-1 against the spread.

The anticipated explosion of scoring hasn't happened so far, as the under is 19-13 through two weeks. And that doesn't tell the whole tale because while most of the games that go over the total are just barely going over, there were five games this week in which the final score wasn't within 10 points of the under number.

Double-digit dogs are usually a good bet in the NFL. They're 1-0 this year, as the Cardinals covered the 11-point spread in a 17-10 loss in the first week vs. the Rams. There were no double-digit dogs this past week (the closest was the Bears +9 vs. the Packers, and we saw how that turned out), but this week there could be at least three and as many as five.

The 49ers are +11 at the Seahawks and that line should stay right around there. As of noon Tuesday, the Cardinals were +8 vs. the Falcons and the Chargers were +10 vs. the Broncos. The two other potential double-digit favorites are the Bears and the Texans. The Bears were +9 vs. the Vikings at most books and the Texans were +8 1/2 vs. the Chiefs.

Both bankrolls take beatings

The sports books' profits in the NFL last weekend were reflected in my results. I went 1 for 4 for a net loss of 3.4 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1) with my bankroll plays, winning with the Bears +9 vs. the Packers, but losing with the Rams +2 1/2 vs. the Falcons, the Patriots +8 vs. the Cardinals, the Chargers +3 1/2 vs. the Jets, and the Vikings +3 1/2 vs. the Eagles on Monday night. For the young season, I'm limping out of the gate with a record of 3-7 for a net loss of 4.7 units.

In the colleges, I went 1-3 for a net loss of 2.3 units. The win was on San Diego St. +20 1/2 vs. Michigan, as the Aztecs nearly pulled off a huge upset in a 24-21 loss. The losses were on North Carolina St. +1 1/2 vs. Ohio St. (early turnovers put the Wolfpack too far behind in a 22-14 loss), Auburn -1 1/2 vs. LSU (every half-point counts in betting, and I lost as Auburn beat LSU 10-9), and TCU +6 vs. Texas Tech (looked easy when TCU was up 21-0, but then the wheels came off and Texas Tech won 70-35). After entering the weekend at 5-1, my college bankroll plays fell to 6-4 for a net profit of 1.6 units.