06/12/2002 11:00PM

House rule on shortened baseball games is all wet

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Rain, rain, go away . . . unless I bet the under and the score is 9-6.

Every sports book has its house rules. In Nevada, the rules must be posted publicly in each sports book. Offshore, they can usually be found on a website.

For the most part, the rules are logical and fair for the players. However, there is one long-standing house rule that could probably use some revision. The wording may be slightly different at your betting shop, but it goes something like this: "When wagering on total runs in baseball, the game must go the regulation 9 innings or 8.5 innings if the home team is leading, otherwise it will be no wager."

So, even if you bet over 9 runs and the score is 9-6 in the sixth inning, you still haven't officially won your bet. And if you mis-handicapped the game and bet the under, you're doing a rain dance. This is one of only two cases in which a losing bettor has an escape clause - the other being a two-team teaser in which one game is a push. In that case, the bettor gets a refund whether he wins or loses the other bet.

Books have rules like this on all sports. For a game to be official for wagering purposes, NFL and college football games must complete 55 of their 60 minutes, NHL games must go 35 of 40 scheduled minutes, NBA games must complete 43 of their 48 minutes, and college basketball 35 of 40 minutes. These numbers may vary by a few minutes at some books.

Shortened games rarely happen in other sports, but that is often a possibility in baseball.

Professional handicappers Tim Trushel (Trushel Sports Consulting) and Andy Iskoe (Logical Approach Sports Handicapping) say that as the rules are written now, they penalize a winner and give a loophole to a loser.

"It's a silly rule," Trushel said. "If I was running a sports book, I would rewrite it to read: 'All games not over the total must go at least 8 1/2 innings.' Otherwise, if the outcome has already been determined, there's no reason it shouldn't be a valid bet."

"I've always maintained that as long as a game is considered official by major league baseball standards, there is no way to justify not paying off if the game goes over the total," Iskoe said. "An under can always turn out to be over, but an over can never turn into an under. It makes sense that bets are refunded if it's still an under and doesn't go the distance, because both sides have an argument. I could understand if there's a software issue in which books wouldn't be able to treat the two situations differently by refunding on unders. That's why I say the fairest rule would be to pay off on any result if the game is made official."

Some might say that rule change would give under players an unfair advantage because they would have a better chance to cash if a game is shortened. But of the 2,430 games played each year, only about five, or two-tenths of one percent, end up being shortened.

"With the advanced drainage systems at stadiums today and better weather reports and less travel restrictions, you don't see games shortened as much as in the past," Trushel said. "I've been betting since 1993, and I can only remember two games in which I've had a total bet on a game that was shortened."

It's not like unders will start happening at a much higher rate if the rule changes. If anything, over bettors already have an advantage in all sports because they often have the opportunity to turn a losing bet into a winning one by having the game go into overtime.

There won't be hundreds of people pounding the under on the minute chance of rain-shortened games. Besides, oddsmakers already check weather reports, so they might adjust the number down a half-run if they think a game might be shortened. And as long as they balance their books, bookmakers shouldn't care either way as long as everyone knows the rules.

The surprising thing is that bookmakers didn't change this one long ago. Assuming a book is balanced on a game, the last thing it wants to do is refund all the money wagered. You would think the book would welcome a rule that makes as many games official as possible.

But until that time, a game still won't be over until it's over. And it won't be under until it's over either.