08/04/2003 11:00PM

Rain bails out books on NFL game


LAS VEGAS - A lot of football bettors experienced their first bad beat of the season Monday night.

The Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, between the Chiefs and Packers was shortened because of lightning and torrential rain with the Chiefs leading 9-0 and 5:49 remaining in the third quarter.

House rules at all Nevada sports book - and copied by most offshore bookmakers - require a football game to go 55 minutes (five minutes remaining in regulation) before it becomes official for betting purposes, so all bets were a wash.

Some news outlets reported that Monday night, but what they didn't mention was that the majority of betting was on the Chiefs. The Packers opened as a 1 1/2-point favorite, but over the weekend - as news leaked out that QB Brett Favre and other Green Bay starters weren't going to play much, and that Kansas City RB Priest Holmes would see playing time - money poured in on the Chiefs, making them the favorite. By game time, most sports books were at Chiefs -2 1/2 with some moving the line to -3.

Bookmakers were definitely pulling for the Packers, but the Packers were shut down by the Chiefs, who built a 6-0 halftime lead and went up 9-0 right before the storm hit Fawcett Stadium. The players were sent to the locker rooms, and the stadium announcer told fans to take cover. After a 30-minute delay, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue canceled the game and the Chiefs went into the history books as a 9-0 winner.

But the sports books were bailed out because of the 55-minute rule. Even though it was an exhibition game with low betting limits, the books would have suffered a decent-sized loss. Bettors who took the under, between 35 1/2 and 36 1/2 points around town, also were cursing their bad luck as they really looked to have an easy winner.

This is the season's first good lesson for football bettors: Never count your winnings until the game is official, and never throw out a ticket until you are certain it's a loser (though you shouldn't throw out any tickets for tax purposes, but that's another column for another time).

A situation like this is often said to be a break-even situation for the bookmakers, but what no one ever mentions is that they will actually win some money, because uninformed bettors might throw out their tickets if they had the Packers or the over because they assume they lost.

No Lewis-Klitschko this year

In a semi-related case, Lennox Lewis announced Monday that he wasn't going to fight Vitali Klitschko in December. If you already bet that proposed fight, check your book's house rules.

Some boxing bets are written that the bet is valid as long as it takes place before Dec. 31 of the current year, while some books set a date, such as a year from when the bet was first offered. You will have to wait until the designated deadline to get your money back.

One reason those types of wagers aren't refunded right away is because boxers are notorious for changing their minds.