06/03/2002 12:00AM

When betting the fights, read the rules

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Thirty-nine-year-old Evander Holyfield used his head to defeat Hasim Rahman Saturday night in Atlantic City, setting up a possible third meeting with the winner of this Saturday's Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson heavyweight title fight in Memphis. Holyfield has fought Lewis and Tyson twice each.

Holyfield (38-5-2, 25 KOs) was the betting underdog, but the public loved him. Sports books around Las Vegas opened Rahman around a -160 to -170 favorite but money on Holyfield drove the price down to nearly pick-'em.

As with most major fights these days, there was controversy. Holyfield head-butted Rahman in the fourth and seventh rounds, causing a knot above Rahman's left eye to swell to the size of a baseball. After letting Rahman answer the bell in the eight round, it finally dawned on referee Tony Orlando to have ring doctors examine Rahman, who said his vision was blurry. The decision went to the judges and Holyfield was ruled to have won six of the seven rounds on two scorecards with Rahman ahead on the other.

The way the fight was decided should serve as a reminder to anyone planning to bet the Lewis-Tyson fight: read all betting rules at your casino.

Because the fight wasn't held here in Vegas and wasn't considered a major event, most books didn't have over/under, "pick the round," or decision/KO/draw props, but the lessons can still be learned.

For instance, did you know that even though the fight didn't go the distance, it was considered a decision? Therefore, all money bet on a knockout would have been lost. Also, just because the seventh round ended without a knockout, anyone with a "Holyfield 7th round" ticket shouldn't have torn it up right away. If the referee had sent Rahman to the doctors before he answered the eighth-round bell, it would have still been considered a 7th-round stoppage.

Taking this further, if the judges' scorecards had resulted in a draw, the main betting on the fight would have been refunded since no winner was determined, but the KO and decision bettors would have lost and the draw prop would have been paid. If the referee had disqualified Holyfield for his head-butts, it would have been ruled a KO by Rahman.

Also, there was a possibility that the fight could have been ruled a "no-contest." That happened when Tyson fought Orlin Norris in 1999 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Tyson hit Norris after the bell to end the first round. Norris said his knee was hurt and the referee stopped the fight and ruled it a "no-contest." Bettors went to the sports book to get refunds and lot of them were out of luck. The MGM refunded the straight bets (Tyson was a -850 favorite with Norris a +750 dog), paid 25-1 for those who bet draw, but kept the money bet on a KO or decision. Also, since it went one round - and a fight is considered official for betting purposes once the opening bell sounds - the MGM paid bettors who took under 4 rounds. It was all in the house rules, but a lot of people were still caught by surprise.

Since then, sports books have tried to include these types of rules on their betting sheets, but it helps to read the official rules posted on the wall.

Because crazy stuff has gone on in some of Tyson's fights, some of this might come into play.

Let's not forget that it was Tyson's frustration with Holyfield's head butting that led him to bite Holyfield's ear in 1996.

Anything can happen. It pays to be prepared.

A game 7 thriller

The Lakers-Kings Western Conference battle, especially Sunday's series finale, lived up to its advance billing. Despite game 7 being played late Sunday afternoon Pacific time - after a lot of people have generally left town - sports books all along the Strip were standing-room only.

The crowds at Mandalay Bay, Caesars Palace, the Mirage, and the Stardust were fairly split between Lakers and Kings backers, though a lot of those cheering for the Kings were doing it because they're anti-L.A.

The Kings were 1 1/2-point favorites around town (though they were bet up to -2 at the Mirage) and the game was a seesaw battle throughout. The Stardust had quarter betting, with the two teams listed as pick-'em for each quarter. The Lakers led 22-21 after the first quarter. The Kings then outscored the Lakers 33-30 to grab a 54-52 halftime lead to cover the Stardust's half-point halftime spread. The Lakers held 21-20 and 27-26 edges in the third and fourth quarters to tie the game at 100-100 to force overtime. Every shot meant something as the Lakers finally prevailed 112-106.

The Lakers now face the Nets in the NBA finals, starting Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Most people see it as a foregone conclusion that the Lakers will roll to the title after getting past the Kings. The West has been best all year in the NBA.

But bettors know the best team doesn't always win, and certainly doesn't always cover the spread, so I'm going to have to look to the dog again. Oddsmakers have no choice but to inflate the line on the Lakers because that's the way the general public will be looking to bet. The Lakers opened as an 8-point favorite in Wednesday's game 1, and that's too many points to pass up with a Nets team that should relish the underdog role.

There's no doubt the Lakers are the better team, but it's also obvious that they often do only just enough to win. Even with Sunday's victory, the Lakers are only 4-11 against the spread this postseason.

I would have preferred the Nets's chances against the Kings because their big men would have matched up better against Vlade Divac and Chris Webber than they will against Shaquille O'Neal. So the series price, even with the Nets at 6-1, isn't reasonable and I'm not going to risk a money-line wager on the Nets in any of the games. Besides, if the Nets cover enough games, it can still be a profitable series for dog players.