08/31/2003 11:00PM

NFL odds shift as opening day gets closer

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Usually the opening lines for the upcoming weekend's NFL games can be seen by attending the Stardust "lottery" at 5:30 p.m. Sundays, when the first odds are posted in Las Vegas. But the opening week of the NFL season is different, because point spreads have been available down the Strip at the Imperial Palace since April, so those are the true openers this week.

In the 16 games on the pro schedule, the point spreads in five of them are exactly the same as they were back in April (Panthers -4 vs. Jaguars, Broncos -6 vs. Bengals, Lions -4 vs. Cardinals, 49ers -6 1/2 vs. Bears, and Eagles -3 vs. Buccaneers on Monday night) and four have moved by only a half-point. Of those, two attracted money on the favorites (Chiefs bet up from -4 to -4 1/2 vs. Chargers, and Seahawks from -2 1/2 to -3 vs. Saints) and two on the underdogs (Vikings bet from +6 to +5 1/2 vs. Packers, and Ravens bet from +6 to +5 1/2 vs. Steelers).

Two games have seen a change of favorites because of injuries to marquee quarterbacks. Back in April, the Imperial Palace opened the Jets as a 2-point road favorite in Thursday night's opener vs. the Redskins. It had been bet to pick-'em last month, and then Chad Pennington's injury prompted the IP to move the line to Redskins -3, which is where it stood Monday morning after having been bet up to -3 1/2 and back down again. The Falcons opened as a 2 1/2-point favorite over the Cowboys, but Michael Vick's injury caused the line to move to pick-'em. The line has since been bet up to Cowboys -1 at the IP, and it is at -2 at most other books around town.

The biggest point spread of the opening week is also the one that has moved the most. The Dolphins opened as 10-point favorites over the Texans, but that number has been steadily bet up to at least -13 1/2 around Vegas, and it moved to -14 at the Imperial Palace on Sunday.

The other NFL moves are the Giants from -2 down to pick-'em vs. the Rams, the Bills -3 down to -1 vs. the Patriots, the Browns -2 1/2 down to -1 vs. the Colts, and the Titans from -1 up to -3 vs. the Raiders in the Sunday night prime-time game.

Stardust college football openers

The Stardust put up its opening college football numbers at around 4 p.m. Sunday.

Ten lines had moved by later Sunday night. The most significant was in the Colorado St.-California game. The Stardust made Cal a 2 1/2-point favorite, but money flowed in on Colorado St., which was bet to -1 1/2. The other dogs to take early money were Northwestern (bet from +8 1/2 down to +7 1/ 2 vs. Air Force), UCLA (bet from +4 1/2 down to +4 vs. Colorado), and Middle Tennessee St. (bet from +33 down to +31 vs. Georgia).

The favorites were Ohio St. (bet from -31 to -32 1/2 vs. San Diego St.), North Carolina St. (bet from -7 1/2 to -8 vs. Wake Forest), Arkansas (bet from -36 to -37 vs. Tulsa), UNLV (bet from -10 1/2 to -11 vs. Kansas), Southern Cal (bet from -20 to -21 vs. BYU), and Nebraska (bet from -31 to -32 vs. Utah St.).

Books post small win

On the first big football weekend of the season, with 45 games on the betting boards stretching from last Thursday through Monday, favorites went 28-15-1 against the spread (heading into Monday night's TCU-Tulane game).

That would usually indicate a disastrous weekend for bookmakers (as the betting public tends to back favorites), but most of the big-money moves were losers. Duke was a popular play, being bet down from +17 to +13 1/2 vs. Virginia before losing 27-0. Other teams that failed bettors included Miami-Ohio (bet from +11 to +9 vs. Iowa and lost 21-3), South Florida (bet from +17 to +14 1/2 vs. Alabama and lost 40-17), Oklahoma St. (bet from +8 1/2 to +7 1/2 vs. Nebraska and lost 17-7; not a big move, but it was a marquee TV game), and Mississippi St. (bet from +4 1/2 to +3 vs. Oregon and lost 42-34).

It wasn't all bad news for bettors with big wins on Wisconsin (bet from -1 1/2 all the way up to -5 1/2 vs. West Virginia before pulling out a 24-17 victory) and Florida St. (bet from -15 1/2 to -17 1/2 vs. North Carolina and winning 37-0). That late game was cited by more than one bookmaker as capping off a number of live parlays that significantly cut into books' profits on the day.

That just goes to show that the time of day a game is played can have a huge impact on the bottom line. While bookmakers were not happy with the way the day ended, it could have been worse. The Wisconsin game kicked off at 9 a.m. locally and didn't handle as much volume as the later marquee games, but it still was steamed all the way to -5 1/2.

As one bookmaker said, "If that Wisconsin game had been in prime time, we would all be looking for another line of work."

Race book notes

The Del Mar Pick 5, a Coast Casinos promotion (held at The Orleans, Barbary Coast, Gold Coast, and Suncoast) in which participants pay $5 per entry and try to pick the first five races at Del Mar on Wednesdays and Fridays, hasn't been hit since Aug. 15 and has a carryover of $15,225 heading into this Wednesday. Coast Casinos adds another $2,000 to Wednesday's jackpot in addition to all the entries.

If no one hits the Pick 5 on Wednesday, there would be a mandatory payout on Friday, which is the last day of the promotion. Coast will add another $2,000 on Friday. If no one picks all five winners, the jackpot would be split by all those picking 4 of 5 (regardless of mutuel payoffs).

* The early-bird deadline for the Oct. 9-11 Fall Classic at The Orleans was originally set for Wednesday, but tournament coordinator Debbie Flaig said she will be taking early sign-ups until Sept. 10. Those who pay the $500 entry fee by then will be eligible to play in a free bonus contest worth $20,000 on Oct. 12, the day after the regular tournament ends.