01/20/2003 12:00AM

Raiders a Super Bowl action boon


LAS VEGAS - It cost them a little, but Nevada bookmakers got what they wanted: the Raiders in the Super Bowl.

Midway through the fourth quarter of the Raiders' 41-24 victory over the Titans on Sunday afternoon, the Raiders were installed between a 3 1/2- and 5-point favorite over the Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII on Sunday. Within an hour, most books had moved their line to 4, and that's where it sat as of Monday morning. The over/under opened at different books between 42 1/2 and 43 1/2 and still hadn't stabilized as of Monday morning, though it was inching higher and looked like it would settle at 44.

Earlier Sunday, the Buccaneers upset the Eagles 27-10 in the NFC Championship game. Bookmakers fared very well on that game, as the Eagles had opened -3 1/2 and had been bet up to at least -4 1/2 at every book in Las Vegas, and at some it went as high as -5. Bob Scucci, director of race and sports book operations at the Stardust, said it was the most lopsided handle he had seen this year, writing four tickets on the Eagles for every one on the Bucs. The bookies also won when the game went over the total of 33 1/2 (which had opened at 35 1/2) on a late interception return for a touchdown by Ronde Barber.

In the AFC title game, the public again loaded up on the favorite as the Raiders were bet up from -7 to -8 1/2 or -9 around town. Obviously, the bookmakers were hoping for a Titans cover, but not so obviously, they were hoping the Raiders would still win straight up to ensure a huge Super Bowl handle. A Bucs-Titans matchup wouldn't have been as appealing, and that looked like a distinct possibility with the Titans leading 17-14 in the second quarter, but two fumbles led to 10 points and a Raiders 24-17 halftime lead. The Raiders then poured it on in the second half.

Even though they were burned by bettors with the Raiders covering (and also losing big on parlays on the Raiders and over 47 points), bookmakers were still glad to see the Raiders-Bucs matchup in the Super Bowl, with Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden coaching against his former team.

Nevada's sports books handled $71.5 million on last year's Rams-Patriots Super Bowl during the uncertain economic climate following Sept. 11. The economy isn't much better now, but conservative estimates have this year's game handling at least $75 million, and possibly approaching the record $77.2 million handle on the 1998 game between the Broncos and Packers.

The Raiders are a huge public favorite, and handle will certainly go through the roof in the Reno area casinos that get a lot of their visitors from the Raider Nation in northern California. When the Super Bowl is held in San Diego, as it will be next Sunday, a fair share of people going to the game (or at least to soak up all the festivities in the host city) plan a stop in Las Vegas.

Add in the fact it's the No. 1 offense (Raiders) vs. the No. 1 defense (Buccaneers), and a low pointspread that gives dog players a realistic feeling that their team can win straight up while still giving chalk players the comfort of not laying too many points, and you have a recipe for a huge handle.