12/13/2002 1:00AM

Sports books wary of wise guys


The distinction between parimutuel betting on horses and sports betting in Nevada's casinos was illustrated in a recent dispute between Station Casinos and professional gambler Ron Boyles.

The dispute was chronicled in several publications. In brief, three weeks ago Boyles bet $2,200 on the Miami Heat at +8 1/2 points against the Orlando Magic at Green Valley Ranch Station casino. The bet was made 15 minutes to game time and the amount was a normal size sports wager for Boyles.

The Magic's Grant Hill had been declared out of the game, but the Magic's Tracy McGrady, suffering from back spasms, was scratched right before game time, and most books took the game off the board.

According to published stories, Boyles claimed a sports book executive asked him to void his Heat bet. Boyles refused and later was told that he was barred from all Station Casino properties. The Magic won, 77-75, but did not cover the spread, so Boyles's bet was a winner.

Art Manteris, vice president of race and sports book operations for Station Casinos, declined to comment on the matter, according to reports, and Boyles has filed a complaint with the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

A winning bettor like Boyles is a double-edged sword for a race and sports book, and here's why. In parimutuel betting, a race book is in the rare position of rooting for all horseplayers in its room to win. The race book profits from a percentage of the handle. So it behooves them to help the horseplayers win so they can churn winnings through the betting windows over and over again.

The beauty of a race book is the house and horseplayers are partners and not adversaries.

Horseplayers go against the house only on house quinellas and parlays, which are booked and are not parimutuel bets. However, that exposure can be controlled because large wagers require a supervisor's approval.

Thus the recruitment of good horseplayers is good business, which is one reason for the growth of handicapping contests in town. Gaining a big horseplayer is like finding a goose that lays golden eggs and Ron Boyles is that kind of goose.

The sports book functions much differently. Pointspreads, totals, and money lines are set on games theoretically to attract equal betting on both sides. The sports book then profits from the vigorish or vig, as it is commonly known. Bettors can beat the house in the sports book, but not in the race book.

So while a race book wants its players to be informed and win, the sports book is wary of wise guys with information that can beat them.

Possibly, Boyles was a winning sports bettor whose action was no longer wanted. Station Casinos, as with all Nevada casinos, has the right to bar a person from its facilities without cause. The Nevada Gaming Control Board will support the casino industry 100 percent on this.

Jimmy Vaccaro, one of the most respected bookmakers this town has known, summed up the dispute this way: "It will not change the fortunes of any casino and the lines will be 10 deep at every sports book window when they are kicking off. Ron's story will be just that in a few weeks - another story. I could be way off base, but I believe nothing will change."

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up Show.