08/23/2012 3:49PM

Tuley: Tight playoff races in baseball mean more betting interest

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College football kicks offs next weekend and the NFL the following week, so this is a good time to look at the last month of the baseball season.

It has been a year of surprises. The Phillies, the preseason favorite, have never been in the running. The Red Sox are wallowing below .500. And the Angels are struggling to stay in the playoff hunt despite their big off-season spending spree. Some of the surprises have been pleasant, notably the Pirates, Orioles, A’s, White Sox, and Diamondbacks exceeding expectations by staying alive in the playoff race as well as over/under win totals posted here in the sports books.

The Nationals are another surprise in many eyes, though they were seen as an up-and-coming team and have lived up to the hype, holding a six-game lead in the National League East heading into Thursday’s action. The Nationals are the 5-2 co-favorite along with the Reds to win the NL, according to the LVH – Las Vegas Hotel and Casino (formerly the Hilton). Both teams are 6-1 to win the World Series behind the Yankees and Rangers, who are both 5-1.

Major League Baseball added an extra wild-card spot to each league this season so more than half of the 30 teams are still battling for playoff spots. By my count, 16 were still in the hunt, with eight in each league alive for five playoff spots.

The odds for the other dozen teams are the Dodgers at 10-1; Braves, Rays, Giants, Tigers, and White Sox at 12-1; Angels at 15-1; Cardinals at 20-1; Pirates at 25-1; A’s and Orioles at 30-1; and Diamondbacks at 60-1.

You might remember last year when the Cardinals were considered out of it but came back to win the World Series, and there were stories of people holding tickets on them at 300-1. The books seemed to learn their lesson. The Red Sox are only 100-1 despite being 8 1/2 games out of the wild-card race with a month to go.

It is odd to see the Phillies, Red Sox, and Angels relegated to the possible role of spoiler, but it does make for a potentially interesting and competitive stretch run. I could make an argument that they’ll offer betting value several times in the closing weeks against teams that need to win to make the playoffs.

As mentioned before, football will be taking over the discussions in the sports books here very shortly, but with the majority of the MLB schedule every day having games with playoff implications, it won’t be as easy to ignore baseball wagering this final month.

Back to the futures

Let’s look at some other future books before football takes over:

◗ Indiana is the LVH’s 7-1 favorite to win the NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville is the second choice at 8-1, and defending champion Kentucky is 12-1. Kansas is 18-1, with other traditional powers at 20-1, including Syracuse, Duke, Michigan St., and Ohio St.

◗ The Heat are the 9-4 favorite to repeat as NBA champions. The Lakers are the second choice at 5-2 after adding Steve Nash and Dwight Howard over the summer. The Thunder, the previously solid second choice, are next at 9-2 with a big dropoff to the Bulls at 10-1 and the Spurs at 12-1.

◗ The Penguins are the 8-1 favorite to win the Stanley Cup, with the Rangers at 9-1 and the defending champion Kings at 10-1 along with the Canucks and Blackhawks. OK, that’s enough NHL talk until February.

◗ For those who need a football fix and can’t wait, USC is the 3-1 favorite to win the BCS title game this season. Alabama is 5-1, LSU is 6-1, and Oregon is 8-1. Oklahoma and Florida St. are next on the list at 10-1. In the NFL, it looks like the Patriots are going into the season as the 9-2 favorite, followed by the Packers at 7-1, 49ers at 8-1, the Texans and Eagles at 10-1, the Broncos and Ravens at 14-1, the Saints at 16-1, the Giants, Chargers, and Bears at 20-1; and Cowboys, Falcons, and Lions at 25-1.

Parimutuel contract dispute

Horseplayers in Nevada’s race books might not be able to take part in parimutuel wagering this weekend if an agreement isn’t reached by Friday night between the Las Vegas Dissemination Company, which imports the signals from race tracks all over the world and acts as the wagering hub for the state, and the Nevada Off-Track Pari-Mutuel Wagering Committee, which negotiates for the casino’s race books.

The current contract expired July 31, but the Nevada Gaming Commission granted an extension to Friday, Aug. 24. No agreement had been reached heading into a Thursday morning hearing.

Without the contract, the state’s race books would have to book their own bets. That’s usually not a problem with win, place and, show pools and the books paying off bets at track odds, but they would only book more exotic bets such as exactas, daily double, pick threes, etc., with house limits that tend to turn off bettors. For instance, if a $2 exacta pays $500 at the track but a book institutes a 200-1 limit, the bettor would receive only $402.

Books would also be unable to offer their customers access to popular pick-four or pick-six pools.

It’s never a good time for something like this to happen, but obviously the books are hoping for a big handle this weekend with the Travers Day card Saturday at Saratoga and the Pacific Classic Day card at Del Mar on Sunday.