01/07/2003 12:00AM

There's not lying and then there's telling the truth

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LAS VEGAS - Every football bettor wants to end the season on a winning note, turning a losing season into a winning one, or a winning season more profitable.

Tout services know this, and they want to help their bottom line before their main revenue stream dries up. So, if you have not noticed already, expect an increase in the number of sales pitches, whether they are in newspapers, on radio or television, or in your mailbox.

But be very skeptical. There will be a string of people bragging about being rated No. 1 by this monitoring service or that, or claiming 70-, 80-, even 90-percent winners on certain plays. Now, I'm not saying that these people are dishonest - I'm also not saying that they're telling the whole truth - but we've all seen how stats can be manipulated to prove anything.

For instance, there's a Las Vegas-based football handicapper who can truthfully make the following claims:

* 100 percent on wild-card pointspread plays.

* 66.7 percent on top-rated college bowl games.

* 66.7 percent on top-rated NFL games this season.

* Beat thousands of entrants to win $10,000 in the Pigskin Payoff handicapping contest at the Palms Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

* Won first-place prize of $3,000 in the Football & Fantasy contest at the Hard Rock Hotel.

That's all very impressive. Based on those facts, you'd buy picks from this guy, right? Well, I have it on good authority that this handicapper was below 50 percent on all of his released plays this season. How do I know for sure? Because it was yours truly.

Anyone who has followed my picks in Daily Racing Form knows I lost money with both my college and NFL bankrolls. So, how are those above statements accurate? It's very simple.

* I did go 3-0 on plays against the spread last weekend with the Falcons, Browns, and Giants, but if I was running a service I certainly wouldn't advertise that I went 0-2 on totals and was 60 percent overall.

* In the college bowls, I won 2-unit plays on Marshall and Oklahoma State (so I should have stopped when I was hitting 100 percent) before losing with Penn State on New Year's Day.

* In the NFL this season my base plays were 1 unit and I started with 2-unit plays for my best bets. Then, I went with 3-unit plays on the Rams vs. the Raiders in week 6 and the Vikings vs. the Packers in week 11. Again, I should have quit while I was perfect, but lost with the Raiders vs. the Jets in unlucky week 13. Is it ethical to raise the units (or stars, as a lot of handicappers designate their plays) and toss out past losers? Probably not, but it's still the truth.

* As for the contests, I had a very good 2002. But those contests are picking straight-up winners - which is much different than picking winners against the spread - and I'm in contests at 12 different casinos (adding up to $700 in entry fees) with multiple entries in all but two of them for a total of 30 entries per week. With 17 weeks in the NFL, that's more than 500 contest entries I made this year. When you consider that I switched out a lot of picks in contests with multiple entries, it really increases the odds of getting a winning card every now and then for someone with just a little bit of football knowledge. That's why I encourage everyone to enter as many contests as they can handle.

Another contest in town is further proof that you can't believe the inflated win percentages of many touts, especially in the parity-filled NFL. The Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest attracts the top professional bettors, plus tout services and dot-coms that are trying to make a name for themselves (and win the first prize, which this year was $168,600). The Hilton offers a $10,000 bonus to the champion who can pick 67 percent winners. In all the years of the contest, the bonus has been claimed once. The next time you hear someone claim to be that good, ask them why they don't enter the SuperContest and pick up the easy money.

It's because it's not that easy. Just about every legitimate professional bettor I've talked to says he's happy if he can hit 55 percent on football games. If it's 60 percent, he's having a great year.

It takes 52.3 percent to break even when laying the standard 11-10 in football betting. If you end up paying $20, $50, or even $100 for those picks (as some services charge), you have to hit an even higher percentage to cover those expenses. That's not the way to go.

Sure, I make selections every week in Daily Racing Form, but that's not my primary job. Whether it's charting the opening line moves to see where value might be later in the week, tracking trends, exposing trends that are basically statistical anomalies and utterly worthless, or reporting on what Las Vegas's sports books have to offer, my goal is to provide information to make us all better handicappers.

It's really the same way Daily Racing Form approaches its coverage of Thoroughbred racing. You get all the information to make your own educated decisions. Sure, there are selector pages for each track with predictions by Analyst, Hermis, Sweep, and staff handicappers, but serious players are looking at the past performances and doing their own handicapping.

Give a gambler a winner and they'll play for another day; teach a gambler to handicap wisely and they'll play for a lifetime.

Handicapping services can't sell you that type of knowledge.