06/29/2005 11:00PM

Most money is on Pats' 3-peat


As far as NFL bettors here are concerned, it's halfway to football season.

Odds on Week 1 games and season win totals have been up for two months, and we're two months from the start of the regular season (and just a month away from preseason).

Professional bettors here have already been pounding the numbers into place, but the diligent shopper can still find value on the betting boards. The Patriots, the two-time defending champions, have been bet down to 3-1 in Super Bowl futures at many Vegas sports books - including the MGM Mirage properties, Golden Nugget, Harrah's/Rio, and the Leroy's outlets - but they can still be found at 6-1 at the Palms. The Palms actually has the Eagles and Colts as the 11-2 co-favorites. The Colts have been pounded at some books, as low as 7-2 at the Coast Casinos, but they're as high as 7-1 at the Plaza downtown.

The most enigmatic team is the Vikings. Despite losing Randy Moss, they've been bet down as low as 9-1 at the Coast Casinos, but are still available as high as 20-1 at the Plaza.

The Las Vegas Hilton also has a line on the Super Bowl, with the AFC -3 1/2 and the total at 48.

Every book in town has Super Bowl futures, with many breaking it down to odds to win the AFC and NFC (roughly half of a team's Super Bowl price), but if you're looking for bets to end at the close of the regular season, you can find division odds and over/under season win totals at the Las Vegas Hilton, Imperial Palace, Aladdin, Palms, and Plaza. You'll note that those five sports books are at independent casinos and not part of the mega-mergers. On Thursday, the Stratosphere joined the fray with its over/under season win totals.

Week 1 lines are pretty widely available, though the lines have essentially been pounded into place with no more than a point variance between books. The Plaza has lines on every NFL game, all 17 weeks, available for wagering, and it now has two dozen head-to-head matchups, such as Daunte Culpepper -5 1/2 TD passes vs. Donovan McNabb, Corey Dillon -132 1/2 rushing yards vs. Curtis Martin, and Terrell Owens -1 TD vs. Moss.

All Sunday and Monday night games can be bet now at the Hilton and the Imperial Palace.

Colleges also getting action

The BCS title game is being held at the Rose Bowl this season, with defending champion Southern Cal as an overwhelming favorite to repeat.

USC is between even-money and 9-5 at Las Vegas books, with Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, Tennessee, and Miami vying for second-choice status, from 6-1 to 15-1.

With the Trojans seemingly head and shoulders above the competition, the MGM Mirage properties and the Plaza have additional props involving USC. The MGM prop pits USC vs. all others, and the Plaza asks if USC will finish the season undefeated. Both have the Trojans priced +180, the equivalent of 9-5. Word to the wiseguy: If you want to bet on USC, the MGM prop is a better bet since USC could possibly win the national title without going undefeated.

* In a piece of good news for Vegas college football bettors, Leroy's is filling the void in the handicapping contest scene. Last year, no casino had a college contest, but Jimmy Vaccaro is set to announce details of a $250 buy-in contest at Leroy's in which handicappers will pick seven games a week against the spread with a guaranteed prize pool of $50,000, with $25,000 going to the champion. Prizes will increase if entries exceed $50,000 worth, and with three entries allowed per person, that should be no problem.

Speaking of contests . . .

There is also bad news on the Vegas contest scene. The Golden Nugget's high-end $5,000 buy-in NFL contest, which made its debut last year, will not be renewed. The Nugget's owners, Tim Poster and Tom Breitling, are in the process of selling the downtown casino, and race and sports book director Chris Andrews said the new owners are new to the gaming business and aren't expected to be going after the high rollers.

That leaves the Las Vegas Hilton and the Station Casinos to battle over the big contest players.

The Hilton's SuperContest, the most established of the NFL contests, will again have its $1,500 buy-in with the format of picking five NFL games a week vs. the spread. Last year, a record 411 people entered, with first prize being worth $246,600, second only to the Nugget's $250,000 first prize. Both marks should easily fall this year.

In addition to the regular competition, early-bird signups are also eligible to take part in a free $10,000 mini-contest over the final three weeks of the regular season. Hilton race and sports book director Jay Kornegay said he will start taking registrations July 29 and that the early-bird deadline will be Sept. 2, a week later than in the past.

Details on the Station Casinos' Gamblers' Challenge haven't been announced yet, but it's expected that the $1,000 buy-in will remain the same with contestants picking five games a week with some totals available on prime-time matchups and two college games on the card.