09/13/2004 11:00PM

Reduced vig promotions a genuine deal


People who get involved with football betting - or any type of sports betting for that matter - usually start out as regular fans. We follow our home team, then start getting interested in teams all across the country.

As youngsters, we didn't call it "handicapping," but we learned the things that help us predict the outcome of games: a good defense beats a good offense, a "team" can beat a group of individual players, teams are motivated by revenge, etc. When we got older, we learned that there can be monetary rewards for this applied knowledge.

It should be pointed out that this rudimentary style of handicapping leads to betting on a lot of favorites and the typical comment you hear from bettors - "They're going to kill them . . . the 20-point spread is no problem." But that's a discussion for another day.

The first real sports betting lesson we learned was the basics of the point spread. If you pick the favorite, it has to win by more than the spread. If you bet the underdog, it has to lose by less than the spread. Most people pick that up fairly easily.

The next lesson invariably was that you have to pay a 10 percent commission (usually posted as -110) on your losing wagers. The ol' bet 11 to win 10. The juice. The vigorish, the vig.

The next lesson should have been that you must win in excess of 52.38 percent of your bets to show a profit. If your teachers were diligent, they should have explained that the math is worked out by dividing 11 (your initial investment) by 21 (the potential payoff if you were to win the bet), which is .5238, or 52.38 percent.

So this is the number that is repeated a lot in sports betting circles. But professional bettors and other sharps know that it's possible to win by hitting at a lower rate (and, no, I'm not talking about betting underdogs to win straight up on the money line, though that's true, too).

Several sports books offer reduced vigorish promotions in which bettors have to only risk 5 percent (usually posted as -105) of their wager instead of the standard 10. That equates to betting 10.50 to win 20.50, or 51.22 percent. Over the long haul, that can be the difference between a winning and a losing season.

So, where can the rest of us get in on this deal?

The Las Vegas Hilton offers 5 percent vig on NFL and college sides on Thursdays from 3-11 p.m., the longest such promotion in town.

The Stratosphere (a short drive from the Hilton) and its sister Arizona Charlie's properties have 5 percent vig from 5-9 p.m. Thursdays on NFL sides and totals, plus selected college games. In addition, you can parlay games off the board, up to eight teams, and gain higher payouts because of the reduced vig.

The Caesars Entertainment family of books (Caesars Palace, Bally's, Paris, Flamingo Las Vegas, Flamingo Laughlin, Reno Hilton, and Caesars Tahoe) have their promotion from 8-9 p.m. Thursday on NFL and college sides.

Of course, even with reduced vig, bettors need to shop not only for the best price but also for the best line, especially around the key numbers of 3 and 7. If a line is +6 1/2 at a -105 reduced juice book, but you can get +7 while -110, the extra nickel is worth it.

NFL betting trends

An axiom of football betting is that if you pick the winner of the game, you usually also have the point spread winner. That's typically true with the NFL because the point spreads are relatively low compared to college football. But that wasn't the case on the opening weekend as favorites won 11 of the 16 games, but only went 7-8-1 against the spread.

The Patriots pushed with a 27-24 win over the Colts as a 3-point favorite, while the Steelers (24-21 winners over the Raiders as a 3 1/2-point favorite), Rams (17-10 winners over the Cardinals as an 11-point favorite), and Falcons (21-19 winners over the 49ers as a 3-point fave) also won but failed to cover. There were five outright upsets by underdogs as the Browns shocked the Ravens 20-3 as 3-point home dogs, the Jaguars scored a TD on the final play of the game to beat the Bills 13-10 as 3-point road dogs, the Lions held off the Bears 20-16 as 1 1/2-point road dogs, the Chargers outlasted the Texans 27-20 as 4 1/2-point road dogs, and the Packers beat the Panthers 24-14 on Monday night as 3-point road dogs.

Overall, road teams went only 6-10 straight up, but they were 9-6-1 against the spread.

The explosion in scoring didn't happen, with officials not flagging defensive holding as much as expected, and the under went 9-7 in the opening week. It remains to be seen if this was because of the lack of enforcement by the officials, or because of inept play of some of the league's quarterbacks. As they get sharper, they should take more advantage of the looser coverage.

College bankroll up, NFL down

I was disappointed to hear that Hurricane Ivan has forced the cancellation of Thursday night's California-Southern Mississippi game because I'm champing at the bit for more college action. Last weekend, my bankroll plays went 4-0 as I cashed on Miami-Fla. -1 1/2 vs. Florida St., UCLA -2 at Illinois, Arizona St. +2 at Northwestern, and Fresno St. +13 1/2 at Kansas St.

That improved my college record to 5-1 for a net profit of 3.9 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). And, before you ask: Yes, for record-keeping purposes, I'll continue to grade my plays on the standard 10-percent vig.

The results weren't as good in the NFL. I went 2-3, with wins on the Cardinals +11 vs. the Rams (always within the number) and the 49ers +3 1/2 vs. the Falcons (a lucky late back-door cover). The losses were clearly the wrong sides as I had the Buccaneers +2 1/2 vs. the Redskins (though a lucky defensive TD gave me hope), Saints +2 1/2 vs. the Seahawks (a bad call all the way) and the Giants +9 vs. the Eagles (a loser all the way, though had a chance to get in the back door).

The 2-3 mark puts my NFL bankroll at -1.3 units, but it's early. The football season, and sports betting in general, is a marathon, not a sprint.