01/22/2007 12:00AM

Super Bowl line settles at Colts -7

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LAS VEGAS - The Colts are favored by 7 points over the Bears in Super Bowl LXI with an over/under of 49 points, and it doesn't look like those odds are likely to change.

As quarterback Peyton Manning took a knee on the final play of the Colts' 38-34 victory over the Patriots on Sunday night, top oddsmaking firm Las Vegas Sports Consultants sent out Colts -7 and 49 1/2 as the total to its sports book clients. At 7:20 p.m. Pacific, the MGM Mirage properties posted the first bettable number in Las Vegas with the numbers shaded to Colts -6 1/2 and 49. A minute later, the Harrah's Entertainment group, headed by Caesars Palace, and Station Casinos also put up 6 1/2, while Wynn Las Vegas and the Olympic offshore book put up 7. By 7:24 p.m., MGM Mirage, Harrah's and Stations all moved to 7.

The lone holdout in town was the Stratosphere, which opened at Colts -6 and stayed there for an hour and a half before moving to 6 1/2. When the Strat went to 7 at 10:30 a.m. Monday morning, every book in Vegas was at Colts -7. The total was 49 everywhere except 49 1/2 at the Wynn and 48 1/2 at the Palms. The Palms deserves a tip of the cap for being the first in town to offer reduced juice on the point spread with bettors able to lay -107 on either side instead of the standard -110.

Sports books directors report loving the matchup of the Colts, a high-powered offense that the public loves to bet, and the Bears, a major market team with a loyal following and a tough defense. Most are expecting the handle to top last year's record $94.5 million and possibly top $100 million.

I'll go on record in predicting it will blow that away and perhaps land in the $110-$120 million range. In addition to the matchup of teams with contrasting styles, the proposition wagers are certain to draw even more handle than usual. And then there is also the fact that the Pinnacle offshore book stop taking bets from U.S. customers, and with it being harder to fund offshore accounts with the Neteller online banking company doing the same, more of that money should find its way to Nevada.

Conference title games recap

Saints at Bears: The Bears closed as a 2 1/2-point favorite with a total of 43 1/ 2. The Bears took a 16-0 lead and looked like they might rout the Saints, but then gave up a late first-half touchdown and an 88-yard TD pass to Reggie Bush, and all of a sudden the game was 16-14 and right around the number. But then the Bears got a safety and scored three unanswered touchdowns to win 39-14 and easily cover. Despite the favorite/over combination, the game worked out well for the sports books as the Saints took a lot of money, plus the books had a lot more future-book liability on the Saints and were happy to see their season end.

Patriots at Colts: The line on this game slowly climbed from -3 to -3o1/2 during the week. In the hour before game time, the Station Casinos, Palms and Hilton all went to 4. For the longest time, it didn't look like the point spread would come into play as the Patriots grabbed a 21-3 lead, but the Colts rallied in the second half and pulled out the 38-34 win on a late touchdown (and then had a sweat out a final drive by Pats' quarterback Tom Brady). All but the last-second Colts backers cashed their tickets, while only the latest of Patriots bettors escaped with a push. The books gave back a lot of their earlier profits with the Colts covering for the majority of bettors, but their disappointment was overshadowed by their joy about the Super Bowl matchup.

Rookie wins major handicapping event

Geoffrey Dutton, 30, of Lowell, Mass., topped a talented field of 715 in winning the $357,500 first-place prize in the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans last Thursday through Sunday.

The field included most of the top names on the handicapping circuit, but if you don't recognize the Dutton name from past tournaments, there's a good reason: this was his first tournament try.

Dutton said he has a finance degree but was making $10 an hour as an EMT-paramedic until mid-December when he said he "took a leap of faith and quit my job and planned to take accounting classes while playing one to two big tournaments a year."

He said he has wanted to play in tournaments for a long time and his first one was going to be at Suffolk Downs but was canceled due to inclement weather. He said he had always wanted to come to Vegas, so he entered the World Series. The rest is history.

As for his history, Dutton has been playing the horses the past five years and describes himself as a weekend warrior and small-stakes bettor. His previous biggest racing score was in a Santa Anita turf race in which he said he had $20 win on a 25-1 shot and had the exacta 10 times and made about $2,500, total.

But now he has a much better story to tell.

Dutton had saved up the $1,000 for the entry fee and got a $79 airfare online. He stayed at the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas and took the hour-long bus ride to the Orleans each day.

Over the three-day tournament, in which contestants make 11 mythical $20 win-and-place wagers (the first $2 is credited at full track odds with the remaining $18 capped at $40 to win and $20 to place), he limited his plays to only Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, and Santa Anita, and earned 2,929.40 points to beat out Emory Nihipali of Las Vegas with 2,858.

Dutton entered the final day in 36th place but hit his first two longshot plays - Zafin at 29-1 in Gulfstream's second race and Smashing Brass at 21-1 in Fair Grounds's third race - and said he knew he had a chance. The horse that put him over the top was Save at 9-1 in Santa Anita's eighth race.

Nihipali earned $71,500 while Byrne Jay Kinney, the leader after each of the first two days, held on for third with 2,818 and earned $57,200.

Last chance for NHC berths

For those who want to pursue Dutton's dream, the Last Chance qualifier for the Friday and Saturday Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is taking place on Wednesday in the Bally's race book. The top five finishers will earn NHC berths and a chance to compete for the $400,000 first-place prize.

Entrants pay $300 and will make 15 mythical $2 across-the-board wagers on races from Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Turfway, and Santa Anita. The top five also share in a prize pool made up of $50 per entry, with the remaining $250 of each entry going to the NHC purse.