10/21/2001 11:00PM

NFL line moves go in winning directions

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When each week's football lines originate on Sunday nights at the Stardust, it's usually with an NFL game playing on TVs in the background. But most of the early betting is done on the college games. It's not uncommon for the books to move 30 college lines before the first NFL bet.

This is generally because by Sunday nights the handicappers have had 24 hours to digest Saturday's NCAA games, look at the following week, and decide who they're looking to play. Most NFL games were completed just that afternoon, and the big bettors are busy tracking down injury information and talking to their partners about their game plans.

Last Sunday night there was no NFL game (just dueling baseball games on big-screen TVs), so it was even more surprising that Las Vegas's big bettors stepped to the windows with their stacks of $100 bills to get down early on the pros.

After Kansas State was moved from a 20- to a 21-point favorite over Kansas, the next line move was the Rams from a 12- to a 13-point favorite over the Saints. (The chart shows the games in the order in which they are listed on the board, not the order in which they were bet). The fifth line move was the Cowboys, bet down from a +2 underdog to the Cardinals to +1. The seventh move was the Steelers, from a 2 1/2-point favorite up to a 3-point favorite (even-money). In all, seven sides and three totals were bet; the typical number of NFL line moves this season has been four or five.

Someone later bought back the Saints at +13 and the Rams were lowered from 13 to a 12 1/2-point favorite. Other than that, there were no double moves in the NFL games.

Big-money moves of more than one point in the college games were on: Hawaii, Temple, Virginia Tech, Kent, Iowa State, Wyoming, Tulsa, Stanford, LSU, and San Diego State.

Last week, the NFL line moves were 4-1 against the spread, with the Eagles going Monday night, to improve to that mark to 15-11 (58 percent). The college line moves rebounded with a 15-11 record last week, and are 79-61 (56 percent) for the season.

Dogs bite bettors

Even though professional bettors had a good weekend, the general betting public did not. And NFL underdogs are to blame for that.

The Rams were the only favorite to cover the spread on Sunday. Including the Bills' 13-10 upset of the Jaguars last Thursday night, NFL favorites this week were 1-11 against the spread, heading into Monday's Giants-Eagles game.

The general betting public, especially tourists, tend to bet favorites regardless of the price, and they have been doing unusually well so far this season. As recently as two weeks ago, NFL favorites were 35-20-3 against the spread. All of the bookmakers and professional players in town knew that trend couldn't continue . . . they just didn't expect it to turn around so drastically.

Two weeks ago, favorites were 2-11-1. Combined with this week's 1-11 mark, favorites are now a losing bet, with a record of 38-42-4.

The only thing that kept it from being a banner weekend for the books was that the professionals in town were buying the underdogs at what they saw were inflated prices. In all, seven of the 11 NFL line moves were in favor of the bettors, and it was mostly big bets by the wise guys. But the bookmakers more than made up for it in parlays and teasers that were killed time and time again with each underdog that covered.

Thoroughbreds take center stage

With the Breeders' Cup coming up on Saturday, it's appropriate that the city's last big handicapping contest of the year takes place this week. The Las Vegas Hilton's "Pick the Ponies XIX" is ready to break from the gate Wednesday for a three-day event.

Race and sports book manager Cyrill Burger didn't know what to expect for a turnout, but he was pleasantly surprised as a record 193 people (as of Monday morning) signed up for the $500 buy-in tournament. Contestants make 10 mythical $100 across-the-board wagers on races from six contest tracks.

If the field grows to 200, first prize would be $38,000, with the top 30 finishers at least earning their entry fee back. In addition, the Hilton will kick in $5,000 in daily prizes to the top three finishers, though the bonus money is open only to people who signed up by the early-bird deadline.

Interested players can still sign up until 2 p.m. Wednesday, in time to make 10 plays on races at Santa Anita and Bay Meadows.

Horsepower plays

For those who want to mix auto racing and horse racing this weekend, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be hosting the NHRA AC Delco Nationals on Thursday through Sunday.

Micah Roberts, the Santa Fe Station race and sports book manager who has made a name for himself as the top auto racing oddsmaker in town, is making the Santa Fe a necessary pit stop for auto racing fans/bettors. On Thursday night, drag racing stars Gary Scelzi and Bruce Sarver will be signing autographs at the hotel from 5-7 p.m.

In addition, all of the Station Casinos carry Roberts' odds on the weekend's races. Kenny Bernstein is the 5-2 favorite, followed by Larry Dixon (7-2) and Scelzi (9-2), in the Top Fuel division. John Force (5-2), Whit Bazemore (3-1) and Ron Capps (5-1) are the top contenders in the Funny Car competition, and Warren Johnson (9-5), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6-2) and Jim Yates (5-1) are the top choices in Pro Stock.

Qualifying begins under the lights Friday night, with the championship events on Sunday.