10/02/2005 11:00PM

It's busy season for the oddsmakers


On the surface, Sunday's action in the sports books here was pretty typical.

Bettors and bookmakers were cheering the action on the football field while also following baseball's playoff races. The White Sox beat the Indians, giving the Red Sox the American League wild card, and the Astros beat the Cubs to clinch the NL wild card - and then most of the attention turned back to football.

Meanwhile, at the offices of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the country's top oddsmaking firm, the work was just beginning. In addition to the usual work of putting together lines for next weekend's college and pro football games, the oddsmakers also had to make their lines on the opening games of the baseball playoff series, make the odds to win each series, and update their AL, NL, and World Series futures.

Adding to the workload was the start of the NHL season Wednesday, with 15 games on the betting boards.

"This was comparable to March Madness," said LVSC oddsmaker Dan O'Brien. "On that day, you watch the selection show and then have to put lines up on all those games, plus the odds to win each region and the whole thing. And just when you think all your work is done, you have to find the NIT matchups and do those, too."

O'Brien said that, in a way, setting the odds for the baseball playoffs is a little easier, since there are only four games as opposed to the 16 on a typical regular-season day and the eight remaining teams are so well known. He said the pressure, however, is increased.

"Baseball betting has been dormant since the NFL started, but now people who don't usually bet baseball will be getting involved in the playoffs," O'Brien said. "There's more pressure to set a good line, because each individual game gets more attention. It's not like a Detroit-Tampa Bay game in the middle of August. You can't make a significant error and have it go unnoticed. Even with fewer teams, we do as much work, because we're doing stuff like props that you don't do during the regular season."

LVSC sent out series prices to its sports book clients, with the Cardinals a prohibitive -270 favorite (risk $2.70 for every $1 you want to win) over the Padres, whom LVSC set at +210 (win $2.10 for every $1 wagered). The Red Sox were -145 vs. the White Sox (+125) and the Yankees were -160 vs. the Angels (+140), even though neither the Red Sox nor Yankees have home-field advantage.

In the Astros-Braves series, LVSC settled on the Braves -115/Astros -105.

O'Brien commented on each series:

* Padres-Cardinals: "The only question is if you grade [Chris] Carpenter on how he did in his first 30 starts or his last four. He's going against [Jake] Peavy in the opener, but the Cards can win this series even if they lose both [games Peavy pitches] - that's how strong of a favorite they are. Most people are saying you have to either bet the Cardinals or pass, so we had to make the plus-money high enough to attract money on the Padres."

* Red Sox-White Sox: "Boston has the far, far, far better lineup. The games at Chicago will be around pick-em, while the games at Boston will be closer to [the Red Sox -150]." The White Sox were slight -110 favorites in Tuesday's opener.

* Yankees-Angels: "Other than when [Bartolo] Colon pitches for the Angels, the Yankees will be favored in every other game, even when [Chien-Ming] Wang pitches, especially at home. We also had to price the Yankees high because of the way they've been playing and all the public money that will come in on them."

* Astros-Braves: "This was a tough one. Atlanta has the better lineup and home-field advantage, but the Astros have two of the best big-game pitchers in recent history," he said, referring to Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens.

In addition to all the baseball playoffs odds, LVSC sent out its football numbers like clockwork on Sunday afternoon. And then it was on to getting ready for the hockey season after last year being lost to the owners' lockout of the players.

"Hockey is dwarfed by the betting on football and baseball, but the games are on the board and we have to have solid lines there, too, because the people that bet hockey are not recreational types that just put down money because it's on TV," O'Brien said. "These better know their stuff."

There has been a lot of uncertainty leading up to this hockey season, with all the rule changes that have been implemented to encourage scoring. Some books are planning to hold off on posting totals until they get a chance to see how much of an impact the rules have on scoring.

"Our hockey oddsmakers have been monitoring preseason games more than in previous seasons, but you don't how much you can trust what you see in any sport's preseason games," O'Brien said.

Football bettors roll in dough

The sports books here took it on the chin Saturday and especially Sunday, as the majority of big decisions went to the players: the Chargers, Colts, Eagles, Giants, Saints, and Raiders were all popular plays, though the sports books were bailed out by the Bengals and Buccaneers, both of whom failed to cover.

Flush with cash, professional bettors churned the money back on this upcoming weekend's games. At the Stardust and Stratosphere - the only books in Las Vegas to take early bets Sunday night on the college board - most lines were bet only enough to move them a half-point. The exceptions were Florida, which opened -26 at the Stardust and got bet to -27 1/2 (the Stratosphere's opener), vs. Mississippi St., and San Jose St., which opened +7 1/2 at the Stardust and got bet to +5 1/2 (the Strat opened it at 6) vs. Utah St.

The NFL board seemed to get more action than usual when early lines were posted at the Imperial Palace (4:15 p.m.), Las Vegas Hilton (4:30 p.m.), Stratosphere (5 p.m.) and Stardust (5:30 p.m.). Interestingly, all five of the moves at the Stardust (where the limits are $10,000 and take more to move the line) were from money coming in on the favorites: the Browns from -2 to -3 vs. the Bears, the Lions from -1 to -2 vs. the Ravens, the Texans from -1 1/2 to -2 1/2 vs. the Titans (and bet to 3 at most books by noon Monday), the Broncos from -6 1/2 to -7 vs. the Redskins, and the Jaguars bet from -2 1/2 to -3 vs. the Bengals.

* With its opening lines becoming more popular, the Stratosphere has had to set up a lottery for bettors on Sunday similar to the one the Stardust has done for years. Names are taken at 4:30 p.m., and then players draw cards to determine their position in line for when the odds go up at 5 p.m. Each bettor then makes three plays of up to $3,000 apiece, and then they go to the end of the line.