09/17/2009 12:00AM

Rising line makes Carolina an attractive play

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LAS VEGAS - Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

That's a big thing in this town. How else do you explain the gondola rides at the Venetian with all its other spot-on replicas of Venice, the Eiffel Tower at the Paris hotel, and of course an Elvis impersonator on every corner.

That extends inside the hotel-casinos as well, with the way they copy each other - from the days of everyone adding a topless show to the current state of everyone seeming to have a Cirque du Soleil production.

For years, several sports books have hosted Monday Night Football parties to bring in those crowds, including Sam's Town, the Orleans, the Palms, and the South Point. Those are going strong with food-and-drink specials and drawings.

Sunday viewing parties - except for Super Bowl Sunday - haven't caught on as much. A few years ago, I would spend every Sunday at the Imperial Palace on the Strip. When sports book director Jay Kornegay left the IP for the Las Vegas Hilton in 2004, he moved the party there the following year. Since then, the Hilton's "Football Central" in the theater that usually hosts Barry Manilow has grown into a huge success, with corporate sponsors and a packed room every Sunday.

So, it's no surprise that others would see that and want to duplicate it. Enter the Stratosphere, where Ed Malinowski is the race and sports book director. Last Sunday, the Strat debuted its Sunday viewing party in the showroom that usually houses the "American Superstars" celebrity-impersonation show.

"We wanted to give our hotel guests as well as other Vegas visitors a great place to watch the games in a comfortable atmosphere with big screens and great food," Malinowski said.

He succeeded. The room looked great with nine huge screens wrapped around the theater in the shape of a horseshoe. The food was far above your standard stadium fare, with pulled-pork sandwiches, chicken wings, and stuffed baked potatoes.

Unlike sitting in a sports book, where you might be crammed into a chair that's more conducive to a kids' classroom, the showroom also has table seating, so you can spread out your tickets and parlay cards in front of you, or your fantasy league sheets, and even your Daily Racing Form. Ray Miller, the race and sports book supervisor who oversees the showroom during the games, said they plan to put TVG or a live track feed on one of the screens in future weeks for horseplayers to follow.

The room is half the size of the Hilton, and judging on the crowd the first week when there was next to no advance publicity, it's sure to be a big hit.

And other hotels in town are sure to copy it, which isn't a bad trend.

Back to the betting board

My published NFL plays in this space last week went 1-2 against the spread, with the winner being on the Jaguars vs. Colts and the losers being on the Chiefs vs. Ravens and Bears vs. Chiefs (don't get me started on how brutal those losses were). All gamblers have heard (or uttered) the loser's lament: ". . . but I did great on the rest of my plays." I'm always skeptical when I hear that, too, but I did go 6-2 overall on my website and 3-2 in the Hilton SuperContest, with the Chiefs and Bears again being the only losses. I just wish I had used some of those other five plays here. But let's move on to Week 2.

Panthers +6.5 vs. Falcons

This is an example of a knee-jerk reaction that happens all the time in sports and sports betting. When the advance line for this game came out two weeks ago, the Falcons were listed as 3-point favorites. The Panthers looked horrible in getting blown out 38-10 by the Eagles. Everyone is talking about how Jake Delhomme has 11 turnovers in his last two games as he followed up his awful playoff performance versus the Cardinals in January with another on Sunday. Now, this line is 6 1/2 as of this writing (I'm hoping for +7), but there's really not that much difference between these two teams. The line shouldn't be much more than a field goal, except for people jumping off the Carolina bandwagon. I'll take the added value.

PLAY: Panthers for 1 unit.

Rams +10 vs. Redskins

Double-digit underdogs went 2-2 last weekend, losing both on Sunday (Lions and Chiefs, though again both had real legitimate chances to cover) and winning both on Monday night (Bills and Raiders, who both nearly won outright). This is mostly a bet against the Redskins as they didn't show much against the Giants, despite slipping in the back door for the point-spread cover. They shouldn't be favored by 10 over anyone, even at home.

PLAY: Rams for 1 unit.

Dolphins +3 (EV) vs. Colts

The Dolphins look like a live underdog on Monday Night Football versus the Colts. We saw in the Colts' 14-12 noncovering win over the Jaguars that they're not as good as they've been in recent years. The Dolphins probably won't match what they did last year in going 12-4 as they have to play the NFC South teams instead of the NFC West. Yes, they lost to the Falcons last week, but the defense played well against a potent offense and can similarly contain Peyton Manning & Co. The Miami offense should have an easier time running against the Colts' defense and put them in position for the outright upset.

PLAY: Dolphins for 1 unit.

Last week's record: 1-2 for a net loss of 1.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1 unit).