09/10/2006 11:00PM

Some bettors locked in Saints plus 3

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Most football bettors don't start seriously looking at point spreads and totals for the coming weekend's games until the middle or late part of the week. And the beginners and less-sophisticated recreational gamblers often assume that whatever point spread they see on a game is the one and only line available.

But that's far from the truth. The lines move quite a bit. For the uninitiated, here's a quick history and rundown of the way the current lines are hammered into place.

The Stardust here in Las Vegas had put out the first opening lines on Sunday nights for years, but in recent years the offshore industry and other local books started to beat the Stardust to the punch. The Stardust is being torn down later this year or early next year to make room for a $10 billion resort complex called Echelon Place. So, the Stardust no longer has early lines on Sunday night.

The Las Vegas Hilton has assumed the leadership role by putting up the next week's NFL lines at 4:30 p.m. (right as the afternoon games are ending). The Stratosphere is right behind at 4:45 p.m. and also posts college football openers. The Palms and Leroy's (in conjunction with its Leroy's Line radio show at 9 p.m. on KBAD AM-920 that fills the void of the old Stardust Line show) also put up numbers this past Sunday night.

So, in this space each Wednesday (and available as early as Monday evening in the Sports Betting News section at drf.com), as I've done the past few years, I'd like to bring you some of the big opening line movement from what happened in the sports book here in Vegas as the professional bettors pound the initial lines into place.

This is not meant as recommending specific plays, but it's just another handicapping tool to see where the early money went and to tell if you still like a side that you better bet it before it moves further, or if you like the other side, it's a clue that it's probably better to wait until you can get maximum points fading the action closer to game time.

Technically, the Hilton put up its NFL openers last Tuesday as they put up the following week's action 12 days ahead of time (for instance, Week 3 lines will be up as of this Tuesday afternoon). Last week, the Hilton had the Packers -3 1/2 vs. the Saints for this upcoming weekend's game. After Sunday's action - with the Saints upsetting the Browns and the Packers getting shut out by the Bears - the Hilton adjusted the line to -3. However, professional bettors didn't think that was enough of an adjustment and quickly bet it to 2, then 1 and then pick-'em within an hour's time. By Monday morning when the rest of the books in Vegas posted opening numbers, the Saints were a consensus -1 1/2-point favorite over the Packers. Those earlier numbers will never be seen again. So, if you hear anyone say they've got a great bet on the Saints at -1 1/2 this weekend vs. the hapless Packers, you can tell them about the people that have it at Saints +3.

The Hilton opened the Falcons as a 3 1/2-point favorite over the Buccaneers. Offshore books made the line between -6 and -7 and the money flowed in on Atlanta. By Monday morning, everyone in the world was quoting it at a solid 6.

After the Eagles' rout of the Texans, and before the Giants' game Sunday night vs. the Colts, the Stratosphere made the Eagles a 4 1/2-point favorite vs. the Giants this coming week. Money came in on the Giants and it dropped to 3 1/2. By Monday morning, that line was a solid 3 everywhere.

Generally, the NFL numbers are tighter and that last line move is much more commonplace than the first two. Numbers are much more likely to run in the colleges, as books have lower betting limits on those games and move the number more aggressively.

There were two really big college moves this past Sunday night at the Stratosphere. No. 1 Ohio St., fresh off its big win over Texas, was made a 34 1/2-point favorite over Cincinnati, but that was quickly snapped up by Cincinnati backers and it was only about 10 minutes until it was lowered to 30 1/2. By noon Monday, most every book in town had it Ohio St. -30 with the MGM Mirage properties as high as 31.

Since points are obviously more valuable the lower you go, the fact that Arizona St. was bet from -7 to -10 vs. Colorado was probably a more significant move.

The other notable move was Florida being bet from -3 to -4 on the road at Tennessee in their key SEC battle.

Sports book notes

On Saturday, Maria Sharapova won the U.S. Open women's tennis. Bettors who believed those commercials that she's not just another pretty face before the tournament were able to cash in on her victory at odds of 8-1. In the finale vs. Justine Henin-Hardenne, she was right around pick-'em.

* In the men's bracket, Roger Federer won as expected. Before the tourney, Federer was a prohibitive 2-5 favorite. On Sunday, the MGM Mirage books had him as a -550 favorite vs. Andy Roddick as he won his third straight Open and ninth Grand Slam title, passing Andre Agassi on the all-time list in a tournament that will be remembered as much for the pomp and circumstance surrounding Agassi's retirement as for who won it.

* Kevin Harvick won the Chevy Rock and Roll 400 Nextel Cup race at Richmond International Speedway on Saturday night. He was the 6-1 favorite at Caesars Palace, but just like Federer's victory, he was overshadowed by the top news story being that defending points champion Tony Stewart didn't qualify for the "Chase for the Cup." I'll have updated odds heading into those final 10 races in Friday's editions.

* In a tournament without Tiger Woods (thus significantly decreasing the media coverage), Jim Furyk won the Canadian Open over the weekend. He was the 7-1 co-favorite along with Vijay Singh at the Hilton sports book.