02/04/2002 12:00AM

Patriots, under keep everybody happy

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It was supposed to turn out this way. Half the bettors won. Half the bettors lost. The bookmakers kept the vig. Everyone had a great time.

That's an overly simplistic summary of Super Bowl Sunday, but it's pretty close in describing the scene in Las Vegas. The city was packed and the atmosphere was electric for one of the few times since Sept. 11. New Year's Eve didn't seem to have this strong of a vibe. But the Super Bowl was better than any fireworks display for the local economy. The Patriots' 20-17 upset of the Rams had winning bettors lined up at the cashiers' windows all over town, and that's a lot of happy customers who will probably return.

When the final numbers are released by the Gaming Control Board around midweek, the results should be similar to the 1998 and 1999 games, when statewide handle was around $75 million but the overall win by the casinos was relatively small. The bookmakers didn't win the major decisions, but they ground out a profit with volume and the house edge.

The betting was amazingly balanced. The point spread settled in at the Rams -14 early last week, and there were very few instances of the number moving. The total, though it varied from 52 1/2 to 54 around town, was pretty stable and didn't leave much jeopardy for bookmakers no matter the result.

That can't be said of all the other wagers. The biggest winning wager for bettors was the Patriots on the money line and the Patriots/under parlay. In Super Bowls, it's common for the public to lay the points with the favorite but take the dog to win straight up. In this case, you could easily find +400 (bet $100 to win $400) to +500 on the Patriots to win straight up, though the highest I saw was +650 at the Stratosphere on Sunday.

The Patriots/under parlay was the second-worst possible result for the house (Rams/over would have been a disaster). So when Adam Vinatieri lined up to kick the game-winning field goal, bookmakers were cheering for overtime. They were hoping the Rams could win straight up and minimize their losses on the money-line wagers (relatively few bettors were willing to lay 1-5 or 1-6 that the Rams would win straight up). A Rams win also would have helped the books win more in their futures.

Every casino in town made money on their future books because the highest liabilities (Bears, Steelers, Raiders) were already eliminated. But some books had raised the Patriots to 200-1 or 300-1 after they lost their first two games and starting QB Drew Bledsoe, so there was more exposure there than the Rams, who were at low odds all season.

Interesting propositions

Bettors were fairly successful with proposition wagers (usually a sure money-maker for bookies). The bettors who tended to think it would be a high-scoring game pounded Kurt Warner's passing yards from over 290 1/2 to over 294 1/2 at the Imperial Palace (he had 365 yards), while those who thought it would be low-scoring won with bets such as over 7 1/2 punts (there were 12).

Another big winner for bettors was "will there be a defensive or special teams touchdown?" When Ty Law intercepted a Warner pass and returned it for a TD, bettors were jumping for joy. The Imperial Palace opened that prop with the "yes" at +120 and it closed at -140.

Oddly, that play also led to one of the books' biggest wins. The most popular prop bet every year is "who will score the first touchdown?" Offensive players are the only ones listed. Law was part of the unpopular field at 5-1, and the books pocketed all the money bet on the individual players.

Successful Super Bowl

I won my 22-unit (to win 20) pick on the under and dropped 11 units on the Rams -14. The bankroll, which began the season at 1,000 units and was at 810 entering the playoffs, made a profit of 9 units on the week and was 7-5-1 overall in the playoffs for a net win of 58 units to end the season at 868 units.

In my real-money breakdown of Super Bowl wagers, including eight prop bets, I made $499 in wagers and cashed for $556, an 11 percent return on investment. I lost $110 on the Rams -14 but more than made up for that with $220 (to win $200) on the under. Winning props were on the Rams' first pass to be incomplete ($20 at odds of +150), more than 3 1/2 Rams to have a rushing attempt ($20 at +115), and Michael Jordan's points +5 1/2 vs. Rams points ($23 at -115). Losing props were on the Patriots to score first ($20 at +190), Patriots' first pass to be incomplete ($20 at +130), Patriots to make longest field goal ($20 at +145), Kurt Warner's longest completion over 42 1/2 yards ($23 at -115) and Isaac Bruce's receiving yards vs. Tiger Woods's fourth-round score ($23 at -115).

Get your 2003 bets in

Let's end the season with a look at the odds to win next year's Super Bowl (see chart).

Las Vegas Sports Consultants actually released these odds last week so the big Super Bowl crowds could get their bets down. LVSC made the Rams the 5-2 favorites, followed by the Steelers (6-1), Eagles (8-1), the Colts and Raiders (both 10-1), and the 49ers and Broncos (12-1). The Patriots were at 15-1, but after Sunday's upset LVSC lowered their recommendation to 12-1. Around town Monday, the Patriots were as low as 8-1 and as high as 12-1.

With the topsy-turvy world of the NFL, where parity reigns and teams can improve greatly, it's worth a look at some longshots (though it should be noted that with realignment next season into eight four-team divisions, the "fifth-place schedule" that many teams used to go from worst to first no longer exists).

That said, value plays appear to be the Ravens (15-1), the Seahawks at (35-1) and the Texans (200-1). The Ravens should get RB Jamal Lewis back for next year and have a defense that can return to dominance. The Seahawks just missed the playoffs and are a player or two away from being a legit contender.

The Texans have the money and the draft opportunities to be competitive right away.

And, as we've seen, anything can happen.