06/30/2010 11:00PM

NBA future book on hold as James's decision looms

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LAS VEGAS - Thursday was the start of the NBA free agent signing period, in case you haven't heard.

And that would be near impossible for just about any sports fan because speculation about where LeBron James will end up playing has run rampant on every medium from ESPN to talk radio to Twitter since even before the playoffs ended.

James, the two-time reigning MVP who has spent the first seven years of his pro career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, is at the head of the free-agent class that also includes Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Dick Nowitzki, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudamire, and many others.

Whenever there's a big-time player changing teams, the first thing I want to know is how it will affect the future-book odds of the team they're joining as well as the team they're leaving. So, I went to the Las Vegas Hilton because it is almost always the first sports books in Las Vegas (and often the world) to put up futures, usually posting them during the previous year's playoffs to get early action from die-hard fans. For instance, the NFL future-book odds for this upcoming season were posted in late January to catch the attention of all the people coming to town for the Super Bowl. The Hilton usually puts up the following year's NBA odds during the previous year's finals.

This year? No dice.

"We haven't put up the NBA odds yet because we're waiting to see who LeBron signs with," said Jay Kornegay, director of race and sports for the Hilton. "Even though there are free agents every year in every sport and a certain degree of uncertainty, I can't remember ever delaying our futures because of a free agent in any sport."

Kornegay said the current situation is much different than seemingly similar ones. For starters, a single basketball player -- with just five players on the court for each team at one time -- can have a much bigger impact than a football or baseball player.

"Even with Brett Favre the last couple of years, we still put up odds on the teams that could be affected," Kornegay said. "I don't care what team James goes to, they're going to become a top contender, and there are so many teams that have been mentioned as possibilities that he really impacts the odds for four or five teams in whether they get him or not. And what it comes down to is we're just not sure where he's going to go, so we just decided it was better to wait."

The Lucky's sports books did put up a James-related prop in mid-May. Nevada gaming regulations require that sports bets be determined on the playing field (no MVP voting, etc.) so they worded it "For what team will LeBron James score his first point in the 2010-2011 NBA regular season?" At that time, Lucky's opened the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks as co-favorites at 9-5, with the Miami Heat at 2-1 and the Cavaliers at 9-2. It took it down a short time later, after minimal action.

Some offshore sports books, including Bodog.com, also were booking similar bets, but they've also taken down those props with all the rumors flying around this past week. First rumors were saying that he was going to sign with the Bulls, but then the alleged "summit" among James, Wade, and Bosh led to speculation that they would all end up in Miami.

As of Thursday morning, it was all still a guessing game. Count on the fact that the 2010-2011 future-book opening favorite is likely to be either the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers or whatever team James signs with.

NCAA football betting starts strong

NCAA football can be a confusing sport to follow, with players leaving early for the pros, teams put on probation, off-season injuries or academic ineligibilities, and even teams leaving for new conferences (though the recent rash of conference merry-go-round doesn't affect schedules for the upcoming season), but the Golden Nugget went ahead with its plan June 11 to post numbers on 200 college football games.

The first game on the schedule is Utah as a 3 1/2-point home favorite over Pittsburgh on Sept. 2, with South Carolina a 14-point favorite over Southern Miss that same night.

Some of the biggest line moves in the early betting were the hometown UNLV Rebels bet down from a 23- to a 19-point home underdogs vs. Wisconsin on Sept. 4; defending national champion Alabama bet from -9 1/ 2 to -11 vs. Penn St. on Sept. 11; Oklahoma bet from pick-em to -2 vs. Texas in the Red River Rivalry in Dallas on Oct. 2; Texas Christian bet from -10 to -13 vs. BYU on Oct. 16; Alabama from -4 to -6 vs. LSU on Nov. 6; and Ohio St. bet from -7 to -10 vs. Penn St. on Nov. 13.

Tony Miller, race and sports book director at the Nugget, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that his standalone book handled $130,000 the first day and more than $200,000 overall. Betting limits were set at $1,000 and will be increased to $3,000 in August. Miller said more than 80 percent of the games have taken action. The Nugget posted 59 early lines in 2008 and 129 last year.

Last call for Firecracker Shootout

The Red Rock Resort, which will be the home of the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship finals for the third straight year on Jan. 28-29, 2011, will be host to a one-day qualifying tournament Saturday, with three NHC berths up for grabs for those in town for the holiday weekend.

The entry fee is $300, and players make 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers with eight races being mandatory and the other seven being player's choice from the contest tracks of Belmont, Monmouth, Calder, Churchill, Louisiana Downs, Arlington, and Hollywood. Payoffs are capped at $42 to win and $22 to place.

Entries will be accepted until noon Saturday.