08/04/2011 1:49PM

With NFL lockout over, books, bettors get busy


In pop culture, “the day the music died” can either refer to Jan. 3, 1959, and the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, or to Dec. 8, 1980, when John Lennon was shot and killed.

But I think we can all agree that “the day pro football was saved” was July 25, 2011, when the NFL owners and players reached a 10-year agreement that ended the lockout, ensuring that we will have our favorite betting sport this year and for the next decade.

We’ve all heard the ripple-down effect that a lost NFL season would have caused, affecting TV stations, bar owners, and hotels. Las Vegas would have been affected as much as any NFL city, considering how much the local economy relies on the crowds that come here during football season.

The bookmakers and bettors here joined the entire sporting nation in a collective sigh of relief as the Hall of Fame Game – originally scheduled for this Sunday between the Bears and Rams – ended up being the only casualty. Every team will play four preseason games starting next weekend, followed by the full 16-game schedule leading up to the playoffs and the Feb. 5, 2012, Super Bowl in Indianapolis.

Future-book odds on that game have been up since January. Week 1 lines have been up since the then-tentative schedule was released in April, and Cantor Gaming put up lines on all 256 games June 10. But a lot of other NFL betting was put on hold until the lockout was ended.

It wasn’t too surprising that, within 24 hours of the labor agreement being announced, the first over/under season win totals were posted in Vegas. What was surprising was that the MGM sports books were the first to post them. They are not known for taking the leads in these types of bets, but it shows how the sports books are fighting to stand out as bettors are anxious to return to the windows. Here were the opening numbers posted by MGM’s director of race and sports book operations, Jay Rood:

11.5: Packers, Patriots

11: Ravens, Steelers

10.5: Falcons

10: Eagles, Chargers, Colts, Jets, Saints

9.5: Giants, Bears

9: Cowboys

8.5: Buccaneers

8: 49ers, Texans, Dolphins, Chiefs

7.5: Bengals and Lions

7: Rams, Raiders, Seahawks

6.5: Vikings, Redskins, Titans, Browns

6: Cardinals, Jaguars, Broncos

5: Bills

4.5: Panthers

There was sure to be some difference of opinions, especially because these numbers were up before any trades or signings were made. The wise guys were out in force to grab the best numbers based on any information that was out there. The biggest early move came on the Bengals under 7.5 wins, probably because of the rumors that the Cincinnati front office wasn’t going to trade Carson Palmer and Palmer’s threat to retire. While most totals get adjusted by the amount of juice you have to lay on either the over or the under, the Bengals were dropped a full game, to 6.5.

Bettors also thought the Bears and Redskins were overrated and pounded the Bears under 9.5 and the Redskins Under 6.5.

Cantor Gaming, which runs the sports books at the M, Tropicana, Hard Rock, and Cosmopolitan, put up their season win totals the following day, July 27, with the Bengals adjusted down to 7. Bettors who missed out on the MGM’s 7.5 pounded that under down to 6.5. Other early moves at the Cantor books were the Falcons over 10 (note that the MGM opened them at 10.5), Bills under 5.5 (5 at MGM), Browns under 7 (6.5 at MGM), Jaguars under 6.5 (6 at MGM) and Vikings under 6.5 (same as MGM).

That final move on the Vikings happened before they were known to be in the market for Donovan McNabb. As we saw with the Bengals, the NFL is known as a quarterbacks’ league, and the odds on teams are most affected by the movement and current form of its marquee players. When the Week 1 lines first came out, the Vikings were a 10-point underdog to the Chargers, but now that has been bet down to 8 at the Leroy’s chain of sports books and 8.5 just about everywhere else.

The worst-kept secret in the offseason was that the Cardinals were interested in trading for Eagles backup QB Kevin Kolb. Oddsmakers set their odds on the Cardinals based on the assumption he would end up in Arizona, but when the trade became official last week the bettors still jumped on the news and took the Cardinals over 6 wins and also bet their Week 1 line vs. the Panthers from -3 to as high as 5 at the Caesars/Harrah’s network of books.

When the Las Vegas Hilton posted its over/under season win totals earlier this week, it went with the adjusted number of 7 for Arizona.

There is sure to be more adjustment to the odds during the preseason. Books are reporting an increase in handle already and are expecting more interest than usual in this year’s preseason games, with all the late player movement causing bettors to have opinions on which teams need to have their starters play longer.

Next column (Aug. 20): We’ll take our annual look at all the football handicapping contests available in Las Vegas (and Reno). The Hilton SuperContest, with its $1,500 entry fee, started accepting registrations on Aug. 1 and the rest of the contests are lining up after putting their rules on hold until knowing there would be a full season. Yep, with the end of the NFL lockout, Vegas sports books are back in business, and business is good.

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