09/12/2004 11:00PM

Line moves can help fine-tune strategy

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The accompanying chart shows the football line moves from Sunday night's lottery at the Stardust sports book.

These are not intended to be predictions on the games. It shows where the line opened at the Stardust and shows the direction it has moved, and in which direction it is likely to continue to move. Bettors can use this information to decide if they should bet a game before the line moves further against them (or pass the game altogether if they feel they have lost the value in the line), or, if they are looking to bet the other side, they can feel relatively confident that they can wait in order to get the best line available.

A lot of the early action that moves these numbers happens when professional bettors compare the lines in Las Vegas to those available at offshore books. A vast majority of the time, the lines move toward the offshore numbers. This can be because bettors feel they are getting a better number to bet the side they like, or because they're betting both sides of the game and trying to catch a middle in which they cash both bets.

In last Wednesday's column, I cited seven games that were bet enough to move the opening lines at the Stardust. In those, bettors went 3-4. They won games with Boise St., Iowa St. and Alabama, while losing with Florida St., Illinois, Northwestern and Utah St. There's a good chance that the bettors who caused that move might have gone 4-3 at other books in Vegas or offshore.

Therefore, you shouldn't read too much into the won-lost records unless one set of books is beating the bettors fairly consistently, in which case you can make the assumption that the book is coming up with consistently sharp opening lines (this was the case last year when early bettors at the Stardust were hitting at less than 40 percent for the first half of the college football season).

It's fairly rare, barring a major injury or other extenuating circumstances, for a point spread to reverse after moving off the Stardust opening line. But it has already happened this week - twice. The Thursday night game opened with California -6 at Southern Mississippi and the first bets dropped the line to 5 1/2. By Monday morning, Cal was up to a 7-point favorite. For the Friday-night game, Boston College opened as an 8-point favorite over Connecticut and was bet up to 8 1/2. By Monday morning, it had dropped to 7 1/2.

Good luck deciphering what those line movements mean. A more tangible example of a line move is the one change of favorites we saw on Sunday night. The Stardust opened Northern Illinois University as a 1 1/2-point favorite, but after the news that NIU quarterback Josh Haldi would be out, Iowa St. went to a 1 1/2-point favorite and actually climbed to 2 1/2 on Monday morning.

The other big move was on Oklahoma St., which was bet from -30 over SMU up to 34 1/2.

In the NFL, only two spreads moved. The Raiders and Eagles opened as 4-point home favorites, and money came in on the underdogs, the Bills and Vikings, respectively, and both lines moved to 3 1/2. There was much more volatility in the totals wagering, with six bet enough to move the odds. Here, the offshore influence was really seen as the Steelers over/under was bet down from 37 1/2 to 37 (the Olympic offshore book opened it at 36 1/2), the Redskins-Giants total was bet up from 41 to 42 (Olympic opened at 43), the 49ers-Saints was bet down from 44 to 43 (Olympic opened at 41 1/2), and the Bills-Raiders was bet down from 38 1/2 to 37 1/2 (Olympic opened 39 1/2).

Racing bits

Bob Lester won the Brawl in the Fall horse handicapping tournament (aka the September Shootout) at the Reno Hilton on Saturday and Sunday. Lester earned the most money from his $300 in live bets each day and added the $5,600 first prize to his winnings. The top four finishers earned berths in the $1 Million Horseplayers World Series to be held Jan. 27-29 at the Orleans in Las Vegas. Making the trip in addition to Lester will be Maurice Burnett, Robert Snyder, and Jackie Bunch.

* The early-bird deadline for the Fall Classic at the Orleans horse handicapping tournament on Oct. 14-16 is Wednesday. All contestants who pay their $500 entry fee by Wednesday will be eligible to play in the free $20,000 mini-contest on that Sunday, Oct. 17. A minimum of 50 berths to the Horseplayers World Series will be up for grabs.

* A lot of people - especially those with East Coast or Midwest ties - complain that nearly all of the race book promotions here in Vegas are tied to California tracks. Well, Arlington Park Day at the Suncoast takes place Thursday with a free $1,000 contest on races 5-9 at the Chicago-area track.

* The Sam's Town-sponsored "Track Talk" radio show, a longtime 7:30 a.m. Wednesday-through-Sunday fixture on KLAV AM-1230 and samstownlv.com, has seen its broadcast schedule trimmed to just Saturday and Sunday. The show features Gordon Jones and Patrick McQuiggan with host John Kelly. Handicapper Bruce Finkelstein, who did the Wednesday through Friday shows, will pursue other ventures. Finkelstein's trip handicapping insights can be found on Jason Levine's "Inside Racing" show from 8-9 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays on XTRA Sports AM-690 and AM-1150 in Southern California and at racingjason.com.

Early football line moves

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

TOOK MONEYOPENBET TOOPPONENT
SOUTHERN MISS +6 +5.5 California
BOSTON COLLEGE -8 -8.5 Connecticut
San Diego St. +23 +22.5 MICHIGAN
WEST VIRGINIA -6 -7 Maryland
IOWA ST. +1.5 -1.5 Northern Illinois
OKLAHOMA -25.5 -26 Oregon
ARIZONA +11.5 +10.5 Wisconsin
EASTERN MICHIGAN +11 +10.5 Toledo
NORTH CAROLINA +11+10 Georgia Tech
TEXAS A&M +3.5 +3 Clemson
OKLAHOMA ST. -30 -34.5 Southern Methodist
Nebraska -3 -3.5 PITTSBURGH
COLORADO ST. +4.5 +4 Minnesota
Air Force +7.5 +6.5 Nevada-Las Vegas
ARIZONA ST. PK -1 Iowa
MID TENNESSEE ST. -1 -1.5 Florida Atlantic
UTAH ST. +22 +20.5 Utah

NFL

TOOK MONEYOPENBET TOOPPONENT
Bills +4 +3.5 RAIDERS
Vikings +4 +3.5 EAGLES
Steelers-Ravens under 37.5 37  
Redskins-Giants over 41 42  
49ers-Saints under 44 43  
Rams-Falcons under 47 46  
Patriots-Cardinals under 42 41.5  
Bills-Raiders under 38.5 37.5  

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