10/03/2004 11:00PM

NFL early lines move toward biggest dogs


On some Sunday nights this football season, the Stardust sports staff hasn't even had to bother with its lottery to determine the order in which professional bettors would take first crack at the following week's opening lines.

But last Sunday night was more reminiscent of past years, as bettors lined up six to eight deep in two different lines and fired away at the openers.

"There wasn't any more handle than other weeks," said race and sports book director Bob Scucci. "It was just more concentrated instead of being spread throughout the night."

But why? One theory is that bettors had a good weekend and had more money to reinvest right away. That theory gets shot down because, in reality, it was the less sophisticated public that fared better than most professionals last weekend.

Or maybe it was that bettors are just starting to get a better grip on the teams? That doesn't make sense either, because most professionals actually feel they have a bigger edge earlier in the season when the oddsmakers might not have a good handle on teams. So it remains a mystery.

Regardless, the increase in activity resulted in extra line movement heading into the coming week, as 21 college games - the highest number this season - were bet enough to move off the opening number and five NFL point spreads and three totals were also bet early.

Departing from the previously observed trend of bettors taking the home teams at the Stardust, of the 21 college lines that moved, 11 were on away teams and nine on home teams. The 21st game was Texas-Oklahoma, which isn't technically a home game for either, even though it is played in Dallas.

NFL bettors took the big underdogs - with the Dolphins +13 1/2 vs. the Patriots, Raiders +10 vs. the Colts and Lions +7 1/2 vs. the Falcons. Those were the three biggest point spreads on the board.

Cardinals are World Series favorites

On Monday morning, the odds went up on the four baseball playoff series as well as adjusted odds to win the World Series.

The Stardust has the Cardinals as the 5-2 favorite to win the World Series, followed by the Yankees and Red Sox at 3-1, the Astros at 5-1, the Angels at 8-1, the Twins and Braves at 12-1, and the Dodgers at 15-1.

It was surprising to see the Yankees not favored since they've had the lowest odds all year.

"The Cardinals weren't the favorite until we put up these odds," Scucci said. "They have an easier path to the World Series. The Yankees have a tough road, opening with the Twins, as they'll have to face Johan Santana - who in my opinion should be the Cy Young winner - probably twice, and then they'll have to face the Red Sox - and that's always a big rivalry - or else the Angels, who always play them tough. The Yankees have had pitching problems and it's only gotten worse."

The other surprise is that the Astros, a team that barely sneaked into the playoffs over the weekend, are the fourth choice at 5-1. In fact, they're a -135 favorite to win their series against the Braves, despite not having home field advantage. Other series prices are the Cardinals -220 vs. the Dodgers, the Red Sox -180 vs. the Angels, and the Yankees -170 vs. the Twins.

Back on Sept. 3 I wrote: "The Astros . . . are listed at 35-1 to win the NL and 70-1 to win the World Series. They might be worth a stab." In the interest of full disclosure, the "they" actually refers to both the Astros and the Marlins, another team I suggested, but even if someone bet on both teams, they would be in a very good hedging position to guarantee a profit in each series along the way, or else let it ride for a nice payoff.

Sports book weekend update

Underdog bettors in the world of boxing didn't fare too well last weekend. Here in Vegas, the top three betting matches at the new Roman Plaza ring at Caesars Palace were all won by favorites. In the featured heavyweight bout between Wladimir Klitschko and DaVarryl Williamson, the fighters accidental banged heads in the fifth round and Klitschko suffered a gash above his right eye. Referee Jay Nady stopped the fight and the decision went to the judges' scorecards. Klitschko, a 1-5 favorite, was ahead on two of the three cards and was awarded a technical split decision.

On the undercard, Kassim Ouma won a unanimous decision over Verno Phillips to claim his IBF junior middleweight belt, and Jeff Lacy knocked out Syd Vanderpool in the eighth round to win the IBF super middleweight belt. Both Ouma and Lacy were around 1-2 favorites.

* On Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway and also took the Nextel Cup series lead by 13 points over Kurt Busch with seven races remaining.

* Ernie Els, the 7-1 second choice, held off 100-1 longshot Thomas Bjorn by one stroke to win the WGC-American Express Championship in Ireland to move into the No. 2 ranking in the world behind Vijay Singh and ahead of Tiger Woods.

Golfers, bettors take their shot here

The PGA Tour invades the valley this week with the Michelin Championship at Las Vegas, formerly known as the Las Vegas Invitational. The event is taking place in the Summerlin area on the west side of town and players will be split among the courses at TPC at Summerlin, TPC at The Canyons and Bear's Best.

A local tourney, especially with all the golf fans in town, always increases handle at the sports books. The Las Vegas Hilton has Phil Mickelson as the 6-1 favorite, followed by Jim Furyk (a three-time winner in Vegas) at 10-1, Stewart Appleby at 15-1, Robert Allenby at 20-1, and the foursome of Charles Howell III, Justin Leonard, Steve Flesch, and Chris Riley at 25-1 each.

Jeff Sherman, the golf oddsmaker at the Hilton, will also have head-to-head matchups and adjusted odds throughout the tournament.