02/08/2006 12:00AM

More handle, less profit for books

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Another year, another record.

Nevada sports books handled a record $94.5 million in wagers on Sunday's Super Bowl, setting a new standard for the third straight year, according to figures released Tuesday by the state's Gaming Control Board. The increase was 4 percent over last year's $90.75 million.

After three years of declining handle between 1998 and 2001, Super Bowl betting has increased each of the past five years.

While the handle was a record, the sports books' overall win, $8.8 million, was down 43 percent from last year's record $15.4 million. But, after a rough year in which favorites hit at 58 percent in the NFL and cut into their profits, sports book directors were happy to hold 9.3 percent of the wagers on the big game and end the season on a positive note.

The Steelers won, 21-10, as 4-point favorites vs. the Seahawks, with the game finishing well under the total of 47 points.

"From talking to the books, and it was pretty consistent, early money came in on Pittsburgh and many places went from 4 to 4 1/2, and then late money came in on Seattle and the line went back to 4," said Frank Streshley, senior analyst for the GBC. "The books lost a majority of the straight bets on the under, but they fared well as a lot of bettors parlayed Pittsburgh with the over, so that was kind of a wash."

The two previous years were the two winningest Super Bowls in Nevada history, primarily because the Patriots, 7-point favorites each year vs. the Eagles and Panthers, respectively, won by 3 points and thus didn't cover the spread, while bettors taking the underdogs to win straight up also lost.

That could have happened again if the Seahawks had scored a late touchdown and made the two-point conversion.

While most analysts point to the increased popularity of sports wagering and the opening of new hotels such as Wynn Las Vegas and the South Coast as the reason for the increases in handle, it's my opinion that in a bit of irony, the NFL's crackdown on parties in Las Vegas has contributed to the spike in handle the last three years. Instead of hotel guests being sent off to huge convention areas and ballrooms for decadent buffets and large-screen viewing parties, more Vegas visitors have been forced to cram into the sports books and in closer proximity to the betting windows.

More football betting

The NFL season officially ends Sunday with the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Just like in the Super Bowl, the AFC is a 4-point favorite over the NFC. The total, however, is an incredibly high 68 points in the exhibition that has started to emulate the NBA and NHL all-star fests with a minimum of defense being played. Four years ago, the total was as low as 44. Two years ago, the total was bet up to 51 1/2 and the NFC won, 55-52. Last year, the total opened at 58 and got steamed all the way up to 67 before many professional bettors bought back the under and shot for the middle. The books got burned when the AFC beat the NFC, 38-27. Oddsmakers tried to ensure that doesn't happen this year by inflating the number, so I will take the under just on principle.

* For those who love football in all its forms, or don't want to deal with withdrawal symptoms just yet, there is the Arena Football League. The league is entering its third week with a full slate of nine games this weekend. The local entry, the Las Vegas Gladiators, are 1-1 after a 51-41 victory over the San Jose SaberCats on Monday night and are 10-point underdogs at the Colorado Crush this Sunday. The Crush are the defending league champs and are 4-1 to win it all again this year.

* NFL fans can already bet on next year's champion as future books for Super Bowl XLI have been up for several weeks. The Colts are the favorite in the 7-2 range, followed by the Seahawks (6-1), Patriots (7-1), and Panthers (8-1). The Steelers can be had at 10-1 to repeat. I'm shopping around for the best price on the Chargers (consensus line of 12-1) as they showed with wins at New England and Indianapolis that they have the talent on both offense and defense to play with anyone. Intriguing longshots on the come include the Jaguars (25-1) and Dolphins (30-1).

No Olympic wagering

The Winter Olympics begin this weekend in Turin, Italy, but nary a wager will be taken in Nevada. Back in 2001 when Congress was trying to outlaw NCAA wagering with the oddly named Amateur Sports Integrity Act, Nevada took the pro-active step of policing itself by outlawing wagering on high school sports and on the Olympics, despite the fact that no wagering existed on high schools and the only significant action on the Olympics has been when the Dream Team (a team of professionals from the NBA) were playing. The law remains on the books even though the majority of Olympic athletes can hardly be called amateurs anymore.

But there are other things to bet on.

America's fastest growing sport, stock car racing, starts its season a week from Sunday with the Daytona 500. Station Casinos has Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the 6-1 co-favorites with defending Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart at 7-1. Stewart, however, is 5-1 favorite to defend his title, with Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle (both at 6-1), Gordon (8-1), and Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards (both at 10-1) seen as his biggest threats for the season-long points title.

* On Feb. 25, "Sugar" Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas meet in a junior middleweight elimination bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center with Mosley favored between -180 and -200 around town. The over/under is set at a full 12 rounds with "will go" at -200 and "won't go" at +180.

* If missing the Olympics gives you a craving for betting international competition, the World Baseball Classic begins March 2 with the championship game to be played March 20 at Petco Park in San Diego. The United States is the 8-5 favorite, according to Las Vegas Sports Consultants, followed by the Dominican Republic (17-10), Venezuela (4-1), and Puerto Rico (9-1).

* And if you want to bet the ultimate international event, the World Cup runs from June 9-26 in Germany with Brazil the 3-1 favorite at most books, followed by Germany (6-1 at most books), Argentina (7-1 at the Las Vegas Hilton), England (8-1 at most books), England (8-1 at Terrible's) and Italy (10-1 at the Plaza).

Super Bowl handle in Nevada: The last 10 years

YearHandleResultWin/LossHold Pct.
2006$94,534,372Pittsburgh (-4) 21, Seattle 10$8,828,4319.3
200590,759,236New England (-7) 24, Philadelphia 2115,430,13817.0
200481,242,191New England (-7) 32, Carolina 2912,440,69815.3
200371,693,032Tampa Bay (+4) 48, Oakland 215,264,9637.3
200271,513,304New England (+14) 20, St. Louis 172,331,6073.3
200167,661,425Baltimore (-3) 34, NY Giants 711,002,63616.3
200071,046,751St. Louis (-7) 23, Tennessee 164,237,9786.0
199975,986,520Denver (-7.5) 34, Atlanta 192,906,6013.8
199877,253,246Denver (+12) 31, Green Bay 24472,0330.6
199770,853,211Green Bay (-14) 35, New England 212,265,7013.2

Source: Nevada Gaming Control Board