08/15/2002 11:00PM

A parlay card for every situation

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Are you ready for some football? Well, Las Vegas is.

The real American pastime has already started and, although the preseason play is only exhibition, sports fans and football fanatics have lined up to bet the warm-up games that are televised through the final dog days of summer.

This is the time the sports books of Nevada gear up for their busiest and most lucrative part of the year. And it couldn't have come soon enough.

Football, baby. Football is king. And so is cash. Plenty of cash.

Since the early days at the hole-in-the-wall sports book at the Castaways on the Strip, contests devised around gridiron action have blossomed. Sonny Reizner, who started all this craziness at the Castaways, an unassuming sports book that was located where the mighty Mirage now sits, could never have dreamed what his offerings have led to over the past two decades.

Like parimutuel racing, which branched out from win-place-show wagering to exactas, trifectas, superfectas, and other exotic bets, football is no longer just a -110 side proposition anymore. Now, you can bet parlay cards that offer everything but the kitchen sink. And, there is at least one football contest out there that supplies the house to go with the sink if you are right 50-percent of the time.

Although football contests line the sports books from the Strip to the neighborhood locals properties, the parlay card remains a popular option for football bettors.

There are "ties win" cards that pay off even if you kiss your sister, "half-point" cards that pay higher odds but eliminate the possibility of a tie, and "Sunday-Monday" cards that link the nationally televised evening games on those nights. Then there are the "teaser" cards. These are cards that give bettors an additional 6-point margin in exchange for lesser odds. And, of course, there are now "mega-teaser special" cards that give you a chance to cover on anything but a blowout, but at even lower odds. Imagine, a $5 mega-teaser special card on which you go 15 for 15 - and get a measly $150 back for the sweep. Hey, but ties win!

And just when you think you have seen every possible football parlay card imaginable, you haven't.

This year, the Station Casinos sports books are offering a "first-half" card and a "Wednesday" card. The first-half card lists the first-half line of each game. This is a cardboard form of the popular "off the board" bets.

The Wednesday card will be distributed in each of the Stations eight sports books only on - you guessed it - Wednesdays. It has special pointspreads and payouts.

Art Manteris, vice president of race and sports book operations for Station Casinos, said the new card is intended as a midweek booster for his sports books, to fill the normal lull after the Monday Night Football hangover.

"This year, more than that of recent years, there seems to be a real excitement in the air about the football season," Manteris said. "People are chomping at the bit to bet. It really is the most exciting season in a long time; you can feel it."

With the reality of baseball coming to a halt and the possibility of another canceled World Series, football could be the only non-equine game in town.

Although the Wednesday card will offer higher odds, those betting it have the disadvantage of not knowing who will be on the injury report for that weekend. They take a chance that key players may not suit up for action on Sunday.

Manteris believes the payoffs offset that disadvantage. A three-teamer will pay 6 1/2 for 1 (5 1/2 to 1), a four-teamer 13 for 1, a five-teamer 26 for 1 and a 10-teamer 860 for 1.

Manteris has also fine tuned a contest he created while serving as vice president of the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook, which he opened in December of 1986. Manteris took the helm at Station Casinos last July.

A competition for high-end players, the Station contest is called the Gamblers Challenge, and will offer a prize fund of $200,000 based on 200 entries. Each $1,000 ante goes back into the prize pool, and the winner receives a cool hundred-grand. The Challenge asks players to make five selections each week against the posted Station Casinos pointspreads. The entry that picks the most winners, including college games and game totals, wins, and the top 25 finishers also cash.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.