05/19/2004 11:00PM

Odds set on NFL season win totals


There's a lot going on in the sports world, and by association, on the betting boards here.

We have a Triple Crown quest. The NBA playoffs have been exciting. The Stanley Cup Finals are about to start. The baseball pennant races are starting to take shape, plus there's the thrill of Randy Johnson pitching a perfect game. The French Open starts Monday. We've had some exciting boxing matches, with more on the schedule. Golf's U.S. Open is right around the corner. NASCAR is going strong, and the Indy 500 is just over a week away.

But all that notwithstanding, when NFL odds get posted in this town, it makes bettors' ears prick up as much as Smarty Jones's.

Such was the case on Thursday when the Imperial Palace sports book put up its NFL over/under season win totals. The IP's staff of oddsmakers hammers out the number for each team, and then also sets the price for bettors to make on the over or the under. If the oddsmakers feel they have a rock-solid number that should attract two-way action, the odds will be -115 (lay $1.15 to win $1) either way, but if the oddsmakers feel the money might come in stronger on one side, they'll shade the number and make those bettors pay a little higher premium.

For instance, the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots were set at 10.5 wins with the thought that the under might get more action, so under betters have to lay -120 while over bettors only have to lay -110.

Rich Dressler, who has been the Imperial Palace's sports book manager since the departure of longtime race and sports director Jay Kornegay, points out that the top three teams are all priced with the under as the favorite.

"It's absolutely attributable to parity," Dressler said. "We don't see a clear-cut team like the Pats were last year - and even they weren't expected to run away with it after their slow start and all their injuries - so everyone should be coming back to the pack.

"The teams that won at least 12 games last year have tougher schedules. If we put up 11, people will pound the under because it's going to take 12 to beat you, so we settled on 10.5 as the highest number."

A check of some offshore websites Thursday afternoon showed that none of them had any teams at 11 wins, either. Olympic sports book (thegreek.com) even had the Eagles as low as 9.5 wins.

"The Eagles might not win 12 games again, but we didn't want to lower them too much with them adding Terrell [Owens]," Dressler said.

It appears that one of the hardest numbers for the oddsmakers to make was on the Cowboys. The Imperial Palace has them at 9 wins, with over bettors having to lay -160. At caribsports.com, they have the Cowboys at 9.5 wins and under bettors having to lay -150.

The only team without a betting number is the 49ers. Former starting quarterback Jeff Garcia is gone in a salary-cutting move, and his heir apparent, Tim Rattay, is out three or four months after undergoing groin surgery last week. So oddsmakers are waiting for the 49ers to decide what they're going to do with that key position. Judging from where the 49ers are on the IP's list, the number should come around 6.5 or 7.

Football bettors ought to note that Dressler said the IP likely will put up its NFL games of the year - marquee matchups from each week - by the first week of July, with the college football over/under season win totals and games of the year scheduled to appear in mid-July.