11/19/2002 1:00AM

Holiday bargains for the sports bettor


Thanksgiving is only a week away, and then the holiday shopping season officially begins.

If you're like most folks, this means you're balancing your budget and trying to figure out how much is available for buying gifts. At this time of year it's important to get the most out of your gambling dollar.

So, consider this your Christmas Club savings plan.

* In Nevada, you can start Thursday night at the Park Place Entertainment properties (Caesars Palace, Bally's, Paris, Flamingo, Las Vegas Hilton, Reno Hilton, Caesars Tahoe, and Flamingo Laughlin). Those sports books offer 5 percent vig on football games from 8-9 p.m. every Thursday.

* On Mondays, the Aladdin has 5 percent vig and two-team parlays that pay 14-5 (instead of the standard 13-5) from noon until kickoff of the Monday night game. If you bet with offshore books, many of those have reduced vig promotions at different days and times.

* You generally have to wander away from the Strip to find higher-paying off-the-board parlays. The Las Vegas Club downtown has 13.5-5 on two-team parlays, three-teamers are 6.5-1 (instead of the standard 6-1), four-teamers are 13.5-1 (typically 10-1), five-teamers are 26-1 (compared to 20-1), and six-teamers are 45-1 (usually 40-1). Hit one of those six-teamers and you'll be buying more than stocking stuffers.

* If you want to play parlay cards and a chance to win extra cash, the Stratosphere and the two Arizona Charlie's properties allow you to earn one drawing ticket for each $10 parlay card play. Drawings are held on Thursday night. Winners get $1,000 if they claim the prize right away. If a ticket is drawn and the person isn't there, the name is posted and can be claimed by the close of business Friday for $500.

* If you don't want to risk any of your money, you can still enter the free All-American Football Contest at the Boyd Gaming properties (Stardust, Sam's Town, Main Street Station, California, Fremont, Eldorado, Joker's Wild). Whoever picks the most winners straight up from the listed 17 college and pro games splits $10,000.

Every dog has its off-day

Favorites went 9-7 against the spread in Week 11, only the second time this year they have posted a winning record (Week 7 was the other). For the season, underdogs still hold a commanding 91-64 (58.7 percent) edge with five pushes.

Road dogs were the main reason for the setback, going 3-6 against the spread. However, home dogs continued their winning ways, 4-3 - including outright upsets by the Vikings, Titans, and Chargers - and are 30-21 (58.8 percent) with two pushes overall. There are seven home dogs again this week: Ravens +2 vs. the Titans, Panthers +3 1/2 vs. Falcons, Cowboys +2 1/2 vs. Jaguars, Seahawks +3 1/2 vs. the Chiefs, Cardinals +8 vs. the Raiders, Redskins +5 1/2 vs. the Rams, and Texans +5 1/2 vs. the Giants.

Tackling the team trends

Illinois nearly beat Ohio St. last week and they are 10-2 against the spread in their last 12 road games, but be wary about laying 12 points in their game Saturday at Northwestern.

Washington has won the Apple Cup0/00 four straight years, so it's tempting to take the Huskies +8 1/2 as they try to knock Washington St. from atop the Pac-10 in this bitter rivalry.

In the NFL, the Ravens have covered six of their last eight games and the last four times against the Titans. The Ravens are a live 2-point home dog Sunday.

The Saints went under last Sunday but are still 9-1 with the over. They now play the Browns, who are 16-5 with the over in their last 21 road games. Sunday's game in the Superdome in New Orleans has a total of only 48 1/2. Seems kind of low.

Including last week's cover at Kansas City, the Bills are 4-0 as a road dog this season. On Sunday, they're getting 3 at the New York Jets.

The Chiefs are 5-0 against the spread on the road this year, but only one of those was as a favorite. They are being asked to cover 3 1/2 at Seattle this week. Lay the points at your own risk.

Here's an interesting one: the Broncos, tied for the best record in the AFC at 7-3, are 0-3 both straight up and against the spread in night games. The Broncos play this week in the Sunday night ESPN game and are laying 6 1/2 points to the Colts. Take the points or pass the game.

Vikings upset boosts NFL bankroll

My NFL bankroll continued its slow return to respectability as I hit my 3-unit best bet on the Vikings +7 (an outright 31-21 winner over the Packers). Other 1-unit winners were on the Texans +6 and the Bills +3 1/2. Bankroll losses were on Panthers +9, the 49ers -2 1/2, and the Bills-Chiefs over 51. If the 49ers and Panthers had come through (and they were both covering late in their games), it would have been a banner day, but as it was the bankroll was 3-3 for a net profit of 1.7 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1), thanks to the best-bet victory. For the season, my NFL bankroll is 42-48-3 for a net loss of 8.4 units.

The best bet didn't fare as well in the college games Saturday as Nebraska, +11 for 2 units, got blown out late in a 49-13 loss at Kansas St. The rest of the day went well, as I had winning plays on Wisconsin +11, Virginia +6 1/2 and Illinois +9. My only other loss was on LSU +2, but overall I showed a .3-unit loss despite the 3-2 record. For the season, my college bankroll is 25-23, 11-9 on 2-unit plays, for a net profit of 1.8 units.

Pittsburgh (+21) at Miami-Fla.

Pittsburgh showed it could play with the big boys in a 28-21 win over previously unbeaten Virginia Tech three weeks ago. The Panthers then beat Temple and have had an extra week to prepare for Miami, which had to play at Tennessee last week.

That 26-3 victory was the Hurricanes' first cover in five games. They've let teams hang around all season and that could be dangerous against Pittsburgh. Pitt coach Walt Harris keeps heaping praise on Miami (a la Lou Holtz) while Miami seem to be more worried about whether Ken Dorsey or Willis McGahee wins the Heisman. Miami doesn't have to win this by three or more TD's to stay alive for the Fiesta Bowl - they just have to win. That gives the Panthers a lot of room to cover the big number.

PLAY: Pittsburgh for 1 unit.