07/31/2008 12:00AM

Redskins a 6-point favorite as NFL preseason kicks off


All things considered, the Arena Football League has had a pretty good 21-year run.

But to know its place in the football universe, one needs only consider that the Arena Bowl - the biggest game of the year with Jon Bon Jovi's Philadelphia Soul taking on the reigning champion San Jose SaberCats - was held last Sunday, and that the NFL's meaningless Hall of Fame game - featuring mostly backup players of the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins for the majority of the game - will be held this Sunday and will see more betting action.

Personally, I enjoy arena football, but nothing gets the pigskin juices flowing like a real (or even fake) full-sized gridiron clash. And most people in Las Vegas feel the same way. That's why this preseason opener was talked about for 10 minutes a month ago when Jimmy Vacarro was on the "Raceday Extra" radio show with Ralph Siraco and Rick Herron. Vacarro now works for the Lucky's Race and Sports Book operation, which at the time just had books in Elko and at the Grand Sierra in Reno but this Friday expected to start running the Plaza book in downtown Las Vegas, and he was saying the Lucky's brass was thinking of making the Redskins -1 1/2 vs. the Colts, since Indianapolis usually doesn't put forth its best effort in the preseason. Herron said the number should probably be closer to 3.

Lucky's was the first book in the state to offer the line, settling at Redskins -2. Of course, in recent weeks, Peyton Manning had minor knee surgery and was declared out for 4 to 6 weeks, and now the line is Redskins -6 just about everywhere (the Station Casinos here in town had it at 6 1/2 as of noon Thursday). This begs the question: Is the loss of Manning worth 4 points to the Redskins in a game that he wouldn't have stayed in for more than one touchdown drive anyway? I think not, so I'll take the Colts +6 or better.

More football odds

It's a good time to check the future books. The Patriots are the 7-2 favorites to win the Super Bowl at the Las Vegas Hilton, followed by the Cowboys (6-1), Colts and Chargers (both at 7-1), Jaguars (12-1), Giants and Steelers (both 15-1), Eagles (20-1), and the Seahawks and Packers (both 25-1).

Speaking of the Packers, just like everywhere else, Brett Favre has been a popular topic in Vegas sports books.

On that same radio show a month ago, Vacarro revealed that Lucky's had a prop on the number of passes Favre would throw this year: it was over/under 1, with the under -130 and the over +110. (State gaming regulations require wagers to be decided on the field, so it couldn't be worded "will Favre play this year.") Herron and yours truly, who just happened to be on the show that day, touted the over since it was looking more and more like Favre would unretire, though unfortunately we couldn't bet it without a trip to Elko or Reno at the time. Anyway, as more news came in that Favre was planning to return, the prop was pounded to -700 on the over before being taken off the board. Lucky's now has a prop on which team Favre will throw the most passes for this season. As of noon Thursday, the Buccaneers were the 5-7 favorite, followed by the Jets (5-1), Ravens and Dolphins (both 7-1), and Vikings (8-1).

* In the college ranks, the Hilton has USC as the 7-2 favorite to win the BCS National Championship Game in Miami on Jan. 5. Florida, Oklahoma, and Ohio State are the co-second choices at 5-1, followed by Georgia (7-1), and then a dropoff to Missouri (15-1), and LSU and West Virginia (both at 20-1). A key early-season game with national title implications is Sept. 13 with Ohio Statte visiting USC. The Trojans are favored by 5 1/2 at the Hilton.

Race book notes

Big Brown makes his first start since his Belmont DNF in Sunday's Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park. After the draw Thursday, Lucky's sent word that it would have prop bets tied to that race once the Plaza book opened Friday morning. The odds are subject to change, but they were planning to make Big Brown -375 (risk $3.75 for every $1 you want to profit) to win the race and +325 (win $3.25 for every $1 wagered) on him to lose. Other props are for Big Brown to win by over/under four lengths (if he loses, the under would cash) and the final time for the 1 1/8-mile race at over/under 1:48.30. Those odds were to open at -110 each way.

* Trey Stiles, 40, of Houston, won the National Handicapping Championship qualifying tournament at the Santa Fe Station last Saturday. On a day when a lot of longshots came in, Stiles compiled a whopping score of $196.20 from 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers to claim the $7,100 first-place prize. Hristina Arnold, 34, of Farmington, Mich., was a close second, with $192.60 to earn the $2,840 second-place prize. The tournament was set up to send the top two finishers to the NHC finals, but since Stiles had qualified for his annual trip to Vegas (he'll be making his seventh straight NHC finals appearance at the Red Rock on Jan. 23-24) the previous week with a third-place finish at Louisiana Downs, the second NHC berth went to Brian Schwade, 33, of Dublin, Ohio, who scored $156 and collected the $2,130 third-place prize in addition to lucking into the NHC berth, which also includes roundtrip airfare and hotel accommodations. For recaps of other qualifying tournaments across the country and previews of upcoming events, go to http://drf.com/nhc/2008/qualifiers.html.

* Also last weekend, the Gold Coast Summer Classic was won by James Henderson of Ohio as he outlasted a field of 474 entries to take the first-place prize of $75,840. The top 10 finishers earned berths to Coast Casinos's Horseplayer World Series on Feb. 19-21 at the Orleans.

* A vote on the possible repeal of the cell-phone ban in Nevada race and sports books was tabled at the state's Gaming Commission hearing last Thursday. The measure is expected to be on the agenda at the Aug. 27 commission meeting.