08/06/2003 11:00PM

If knowledge is power, one store has muscle


"You and your football betting buddies are like little kids," my wife Wendy said the other day. "You make your bets and watch these games and act like you're an active participant, saying 'we won' or 'we lost' as if you had anything to do with the outcome. You're just trying to relive your youth vicariously through these players. It's really a case of arrested adolescence."

Well, consider me guilty as charged.

Even as a youth, I looked forward to the end of summer vacation. It wasn't as much a desire to get back to school as for the corresponding start of the football season. I'm a student of the game. I always have been, and I suspect I always will. Maybe we can coin a new phrase: student-bettor (as opposed to student-athlete).

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that I made my way to the Gambler's Book Shop (630 S. 11th Street, just north of Charleston, in downtown Las Vegas) this past week to stock up on my study materials for the upcoming season. It helps to hit the books before hitting the books.

The Gambler's Book Shop has the widest selection of gambling books and magazines in the world (the full list can be found at www.gamblersbook.com), including those you won't find on newsstands or in mass circulation stores such as Barnes and Noble. Football season is the store's busiest time of year, and just about every big bettor in town stops by the GBC (the acronym is from the Shop's original name of the Gambler's Book Club).

"It's like people going back to school, taking a refresher course," said Howard Schwartz, the GBC's head librarian.

While general-circulation magazines such as Athlon, Street and Smith, and Sporting News give you the basics about who's returning, who's gone, and basic final score information and schedules, those who really want to "go to school" on past performances of teams in point-spread situations such as home/ away, favorite/underdog, grass/turf, and over/under will look at "Phil Steele's College Football Preview" ($7.95), "Mark Lawrence Playbook Annual" ($8.95), "The Golf Sheet College and Pro Football Annual" ($6.99), "Jim Feist's Pro Football Annual" ($6.95, there's also a college version), "Killer Sports NFL Annual" ($24.95), and the "Pointspread Playbook 2003" ($19.95) by Al O'Donnell.

"These publications are a real time-saver," Schwartz said. "Instead of spending hours researching these type of trends, you can have them at your fingertips."

Schwartz said the store has had a steady stream of customers since the annuals started arriving by the truckload earlier this summer, but business really picks up the closer we get to the start of the season.

"Some people come in every week to see what's new," he said, "while others wait until we have everything in."

The latter group will be flooding the store this upcoming week as the "Marc Lawrence Playbook Stat and Log Book" ($34.95) - a more detailed spiral-bound version of the magazine-style annual, with sections devoted to your own record-keeping - is set to arrive by Monday, with the last of the football offerings trickling in, such as Andy Iskoe's books on teasers in both the NFL and colleges ($29.95 apiece).

Schwartz said in recent years he has seen more of an interest in specialized wagers such as first-half and halftime betting, as well as teasers and totals. He points to one of the few new books this year, the "NCAA Football Statistical Snapshot" ($14.95), that includes first- and second-half scoring in its analysis.

All of the above publications are reprinted each year to provide the most updated information, and most are geared to the students at the head of the football betting class. If you're feeling in need of a remedial course, however, you can go back to the basics with a lot of classic textbooks. Among the best are "Beat the Sportsbook" by Dan Gordon ($29.95), the "Complete Guide to Football Betting" ($19.95) by Jim Feist and Kelso Sturgeon, "How Professional Gamblers Beat the Pro Football Pointspread" ($34.95) by J.R. Miller, "College Football Handicapping" ($39.99) by Trace Fields, and "Sharp Sports Betting" ($19.95) by Stanford Wong.

Wong is best known as a professional blackjack player and author of "Basic Blackjack" ($14.95) and "Professional Blackjack" ($19.95). As he grew older and found it harder to ply his card-counting skills in casinos, he turned his analytical brain to studying football pointspreads.

It just goes to show that you're never too old to learn.