02/07/2008 12:00AM

Tourists turn books' bad number against them

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When the Giants upset the Patriots, 17-14, last Sunday in Super Bowl XLII, Nevada sports books lost more than $2.5 million. It was the worst loss in the 18 years that the Nevada Gaming Control Board has compiled statewide figures and blew away the only other losing year on record. The books dropped $396,764 in 1995 when the 49ers blew out the Chargers, 49-26, and everyone seemed to have the 49ers and the over.

That's almost always the case when the books lose, as the public tends to back favorites and parlay them with the over. But this year was different. The books were actually cheering for the Patriots to win and wouldn't have minded the usually dreaded favorite-over parlay, though the Patriots winning and not covering was the best-case scenario for the books.

How did this happen?

When the Super Bowl line first went up the night of the conference championship games on Jan. 20, some books installed the Patriots as 14-point favorites with the rest opting for 13 1/2. Less than 18 hours later, the line had been pounded down to 12. It sat there most of the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl and the books expected late money to flow in on the favorite when the tourists came to town.

While some books went back up to 12 1/2 on Saturday and Sunday and some six-figure wagers were taken on the Patriots, it still wasn't enough to offset the masses that were buying tickets on the Giants plus the points.

But the thing that created the most liability for the books was the money line on the Giants to win the game outright. When there's a 12-point favorite in the NFL, the money line on the underdog is around 6-1. In most Super Bowls, the public tends to bet the favorite with the spread and the dog to win outright, so oddsmakers had already taken the pre-emptive strike of lowering the price to the 7-2 neighborhood. However, that didn't stop the Giant backers from betting it.

The vast majority of Super Bowl bettors who come to town - many of whom might not make a bet all season don't shop around and will just bet at the place they're staying or where they're watching the game, so if they're in line and get to the window and get a depressed price, they're still going to bet it. A captive audience usually works in favor of the house, but not in this case.

The $2.5 million figure is bad enough, but from the casino accountant's point of view, it's much worse when you figure in that the books have averaged winning $9.7 million over the past seven years. They don't throw expensive high-roller parties with free food and drinks and expect to lose money to the bettors on top of it.

Despite the Giants outplaying the Patriots most of the game, it looked like the books were going to get bailed out when Tom Brady hit Randy Moss with a 6-yard touchdown pass with 2:42 remaining for a 14-10 lead and just needing one defensive stop to complete their perfect season. But Eli Manning led the Giants on a 12-play, 83-yard drive and hit Plaxico Burress with a 13-yard TD with 35 seconds left to seal the Patriots' - and the bookmakers' - fate.

The handle of $92.1 million was the third highest all-time, but it was down for the second straight year after the record of $94.5 million on the Steelers-Seahawks Super Bowl two years ago. There had been hope that the handle would reach $100 million, because of the Patriots' record and because the Giants play in the nation's biggest market. Plus, the game was being held close to Las Vegas, in Glendale, Ariz.

Of course, the economy probably has as much to do with the dip as anything else. Two years ago, people were sitting on a lot of cash after seeing their homes appreciate at a record rate. It was also at the peak of people betting offshore and firing away at every opportunity, whether they were online or in Vegas. In the fall of 2006, Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act that tied up a lot of people's money offshore for last year's similarly attractive Colts-Bears matchup, and a lot of people have seen the equity in their homes disappear this past year.

Going through NFL withdrawal?

Despite the loss, the sports books here in Las Vegas are still open for business and some are already taking action on next year's Super Bowl. The Las Vegas Hilton has the AFC as a 7-point favorite over the NFC with an over/under of 52 points. The Hilton has also had odds to win Super Bowl XLIII since the week of this year's wild-card round. The Patriots opened as 9-5 favorites but were adjusted to 5-2 after their loss on Sunday. The Cowboys are the second choice at 7-1 with the Colts and Chargers at 8-1. The Giants are the co-fifth choice with the Packers at 15-1 after opening at 30-1 a month ago. The Falcons are the longest shot on the board at 200-1.

If you can't wait to have NFL action, there is Sunday's Pro Bowl in Honolulu with the AFC -3 and an over/under of 63 points.