Updated on 09/15/2011 12:29PM

Hard-hitting, good gridiron reading


A lot of people like to catch up on their reading over the summer. But for football fans, this isn't the time to check out a Harlequin romance or reacquaint yourself with Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, or Edgar Allan Poe. Nope, "The Raven" takes a back seat to the defending Super Bowl champion's media guide.

Newsstands and bookstores have been flooded recently with football magazines. But those publications from Street & Smith, Athlon, and Sporting News are written for a general audience, the kind of football fans who just watch the games that the networks and ESPN decided to televise.

But football bettors require more. They want not only to know a team's draft picks, free-agent signings, and the team's won-loss record from last year, but also how it fared against the spread, home/away, on grass/turf, etc.

That's where the Gamblers Book Shop, located on 11th Street just north of Charleston Boulevard in Las Vegas (and at www.gamblersbook.com on the Web), comes in. It was originally called the Gamblers Book Club when it opened in 1964, and most old-timers still refer to it as the GBC.

The GBC has what must be the world's largest selection of gambling books, and this time of year the football publications have been arriving by the truckload.

Annually, the first book out of the box (and the perennial bestseller at GBC) is Al O'Donnell's "Point Spread Playbook" (paperbound, $19.95).

"It's our most popular book each year," said Howard Schwartz, the GBC's marketing director. "It gives point spread records for each NFL team under all situations, and points out their trends and over/under tendencies. It's an invaluable resource."

In addition, the Playbook shows results for each team's games from the past three years, including the line, total, whether it was on grass or turf and whether it was day or night. There is also a page for keeping a running tab on this year's results.

"For the most part, point-spread past performance data had been neglected as a handicapping tool," O'Donnell wrote about why he started publishing his book 23 years ago. "I felt that ignoring such data was somewhat similar to going to the race track without a copy of the Daily Racing Form."

Now the market is flooding with this type of information. Schwartz, along with GBC general manager Peter Ruchman, were quick to recommend several other available publications. At the top of the list for college football was "Marc Lawrence's Playbook" (magazine, $7.95) and "Phil Steele's 2001 College Football Preview" (a smaller magazine version sells for $7.95 while the larger spiralbound version, which includes all teams from smaller conferences, is called the "2001 College Football Scorebook" and sells for $24.95).

Schwartz called Steele's books "one of the greatest compilations I've seen in 20 years. There are trends and angles for every college football game to be played this year. Anyone who doesn't buy this is not a serious player."

Steele's publications are impressive, complete with projected starting lineups, and the attention to detail is mind-boggling (Ruchman applauds Steele for "sheer volume and accuracy of information"). If you're wary of too much information, "Marc Lawrence's Playbook" whittles down to the essentials, and also includes NFL teams. Lawrence lists scores from the past 10 years and also provides "good, bad and ugly" trends for each team.

"Years ago, you had to dig this type of information out for yourself. It would take hours," Schwartz said. "Now, it's all compiled and you can get the magazine for under $10. It's a real time-saver."

Many serious handicappers throw trends out the window (especially since players that played those games to develop those trends over the years are long gone). Schwartz recommends "College Football Handicapping: A Professional Approach" (spiralbound, $39.99) by Trace Fields. "This book shows you how to analyze defensive line play and rushing statistics and also how to make your own power ratings."

Other "how-to" books include J.R. Miller's "How Professional Gamblers Beat the Pro Football Pointspread (spiralbound, $34.95), "The Complete Guide to Football Betting" (paperbound, $19.95) and Don Peszynski's "Win More - Lose Less!" (spiralbound, $24.95), which delves into such topics as parlays, when to buy a half-point, hedging, shooting for middles, and money management.

For bettors who crave statistics, Ruchman also recommends Andy Iskoe's "2001 College Football Statistical Pattern Book" ($10, and there is also a pro version).

"When I first started working here in 1979, there were maybe 10 books on sports betting," Schwartz said. "This year, we have two to three dozen football books alone plus 20 magazines."

There truly is something for everyone as they prepare for the upcoming football season, and plenty more arriving soon, including the "Gold Sheet Football Preview" (magazine, $7) and the "Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook" (paperbound, $21.95).