10/17/2005 12:00AM

NFL bettors soar, college wise guys wilt

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If you ask a sports book director about the typical football weekend, this is what you will usually hear: "We lost Saturday on the colleges but won it back Sunday in the NFL."

The general feeling is that it's easier to beat the books at college football, with many games in which the point spread doesn't come into play. In addition, the books often get hit hard in games in smaller conferences in which the bettors are able to get information or focus on teams that the oddsmakers don't have enough time to analyze.

Conversely, the NFL is pretty much regarded as a crap-shoot, with so much coverage of all the teams that there are very few secrets, and so many of the games end up within a score of the spread. With so many "coin-flips," the books usually have no problem grinding out a profit.

But this past weekend, the results were reversed. Most sports books here did well on Saturday's football card, but got buried Sunday. I've often cited some of the handicapping contests in town as anecdotal evidence of how well bettors do on a specific weekend, and form held true this past weekend, too.

In the Leroy's College Challenge, the consensus best bets of the 380 contestants won only one of the top six games and were 3-7 in the top 10. In the Las Vegas Hilton Super Contest, which just uses NFL games, the consensus went 7-6 overall but 4-2 in its top six plays.

Further proof comes from the invitational tournaments at the Riviera and Stardust. Last Friday night's four contestants went a combined 5-15 against the spread in the colleges and an at-least respectable 3-3-1 in the NFL.

And while early line moves at the Stardust a week ago last Sunday night went 8-7 against the opening numbers in the colleges, they were 5-1 in the NFL.

The moves that hurt the books the most were the ones where they got "sided" - which happens when the final score lands on the point spread number, causing the books to refund all pushes and lose most of the bets made when the line was either higher or lower.

For example, the Stardust opened the Cowboys -3 1/2 vs. the Giants (the Hilton opened them -5 1/2) and the number got bet to 3. When the Cowboys won 16-13 in overtime, all of the bets at 3 got refunded but everyone taking the Giants at more than a field goal got paid. The Chiefs, a 28-21 victor over the Redskins, were another example as the line was between 5 and 7 most of the week with the public mostly laying the points with the favorite.

That was the main reason the vast majority of bettors fared well Sunday: They rode the favorites, who went 9-3-1 against the spread. In addition to the Chiefs covering, the Bears, Bengals, Ravens, Buccaneers, Broncos, Bills, Chargers, and Seahawks all covered, with many bettors also connecting the dots in parlays.

But even one of the "losing" favorites didn't help the books. The Panthers opened as a 1-point underdog at Detroit, but during the course of last week, the Panthers were bet to favoritism and went off between a 2- and 2 1/2-point favorite by kickoff. When the Panthers rallied to win, 21-20, all the bettors who took them early won, plus all the ones who waited and took the value on the Lions +2 or +2 1/2 also cashed.

This week's line moves

But all that being said, the books still took bets Sunday night for this weekend's games and opened for business Monday morning.

On Sunday night, there wasn't as much action as usual when the opening lines for this weekend's games went up. At the Stardust, only seven of the 53 available college games were bet enough to move off the opening numbers. The Stardust has a $5,000 limit on college sides on Sunday night. At the Stratosphere, where they take $3,000, none of the lines moved.

The seven Stardust moves were Ohio State from -14 1/2 to -15 1/2 vs. Indiana (the Strat opened at 15 1/2), Nebraska from +4 to +3 vs. Missouri (the Strat opened at 2), Rutgers from +2 1/2 to +1 1/2 vs. UConn (the Strat opened at 2), Army from +11 to +10 vs. Akron (the Strat opened at 9), South Florida from +3 to +2 1/2 (Strat had it 2), Louisiana Tech from -15 1/2 to -16 1/2 vs. North Texas (Strat had the game off the board) and Florida Atlantic from +10 to +9 vs. Arkansas State (ditto).

As you see, most of the moves were on lower-profile programs.

In the NFL, the biggest move came on the Chiefs-Dolphins game. The Imperial Palace opened the Chiefs as a 3-point favorite at 4 p.m. Less than an hour later, the Las Vegas Hilton opened the Dolphins -1 and it got immediately bet to Chiefs -1 1/2. The Stratosphere opened the Chiefs -1 at 5 p.m. and the Stardust followed with the Chiefs -2 1/2 at 5:30 p.m. It got bet to -1 at the Stardust right away. But then overnight, the Dolphins were bet to a 1-point favorite, which is where it stood as of noon Monday.

Most of the other line moves were mostly just half-point adjustments: Browns from -2 1/2 to -3 vs. the Lions at the Stardust, Giants from -1 1/2 to -2 vs. the Broncos, and some totals.

Sports book notes

The Las Vegas Hilton had odds on the $750,000 Grand Prix show jumping event at the Las Vegas World Invitational show jumping championship last Saturday at the Thomas and Mack Center. Rodrigo Pessoa of Brazil won the $250,000 first-place prize as the 3-1 favorite in the field of 25.

Pessoa and his mount - Baloubet de Rouet, a 16-year-old Selle Francais stallion with whom he won three World Cup Champion titles from 1998-2000 - also won a $75,000 event on Friday night.

* Wes Short Jr. won the Michelin Championship at Las Vegas PGA Tour event as the betting favorite. Okay, that's misleading. The field, which included Short as a relative unknown, was the 5-2 favorite. Short defeated Jim Furyk, the 10-1 second choice and three-time winner of this tourney, on the second playoff hole.

* In Saturday night's Nextel Cup race, the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson once again proved he owns the track, winning for the fifth time in the last six races there, as the 5-1 favorite. And he did it despite having to start at the back of the 41-car field because his engine had to be replaced after qualifying; having his alternator go out during the race; and having to negotiate through a field in which 16 drivers had tires blow out, leading to 15 caution flags.