07/01/2002 12:00AM

World Cup betting still a specialized taste in U.S.


While the U.S. team advancing to the quarterfinals brought a lot of attention to the World Cup in this country, Nevada bookmakers say they didn't see a huge spike in handle, though it was more than they expected before the tournament began.

Professional bettors in Las Vegas stuck to the sports they know best and largely ignored the World Cup. And while locals jammed sports books to watch the games on the huge screens, they weren't necessarily betting a lot through the windows. Another obstacle was that the games started in the middle of the night here (11:30 p.m., 2 a.m., and 4:30 a.m. being the most popular starting times), so they weren't able to draw as much betting action.

"If the U.S had gone farther, and if the games had been on at a better time, that might have been different," Stardust race and sports book director Joe Lupo said. "But, actually, when the U.S. played Mexico we had a lot more tickets on Mexico."

Jeff Sherman, sports book supervisor at the Palms, said handle was highest during the early rounds.

"We had totals on all the games, and most of our action was on parlays, especially on days when a lot of games were being played at the same time," he said.

In that way it was similar to the NCAA tournament, when the vast majority of bets are made during the opening Thursday-Sunday stretch, and then betting tapers off after the quantity of games dwindles.

"I'm sure in Europe that they had their biggest betting volume in four years because this is their NCAA tournament," he said.

Sherman said the Palms fared well overall with the World Cup, but it did lose money on its prop on the winner of the Golden Boot award, given to the top goal scorer of the tournament. Brazil's Ronaldo scored eight goals in leading his team to the title to win the honor.

"We had Ronaldo at 15-1 because of the uncertainty with the amount of injuries he's had the past few years," Sherman said. "But he's a name player, and we took quite a few bets on him because most bettors were just looking for players they recognized."

Most of the favorites to win the Golden Boot played for France, Italy, and Argentina. When those teams made early exits, that opened the door for Ronaldo to win the scoring title and lead his team to victory.

In Sunday's finale, Brazil was a -220 favorite and defeated Germany 2-0 with both goals by Ronaldo.

Most books fared well with Brazil (6-1 at the start of the tournament) winning the title, as a lot of money was bet on Argentina and France, who both failed to advance out of pool play.

Tennis betting anyone?

The other major international sporting event going on is Wimbledon, where the performances of Americans have had a direct impact on betting handle. During the early rounds, a lot of books usually put up odds only on recognizable names. With the early ousters of most of the top male players, matches to bet have been hard to find.

Sports books will put up odds on more individual matches as the field dwindles, but no one is expecting much in the way of handle.

The women will probably attract more betting action through the next week with the continued dominance of the Williams sisters - No. 1 seed Venus and No. 2 seed Serena. And with Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles still alive, the women's lineup still has marquee names.

British bookmaker William Hill posted odds of 799-1 last Wednesday against Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Marat Safin losing by the second round. No one took the bait, which was a shame since they all lost. And the upsets kept coming. In fact, no American men even advanced to the round of 16.

The men's bracket is a Who's That? list with only two of the top 17 seeds remaining heading into Monday's action. No. 1 seed Lleyton Hewitt, England's Tim Henman, and 1996 champ Richard Krajicek are about the only recognizable names left.

Woods on tour of his own

Golf odds are back to being skewed this week with Tiger Woods playing in the Western Open. The past two weeks, with Woods getting some R&R in preparation for the British Open July 18-21, the odds were looking like they used to in the pre-Tiger era. Phil Mickelson was the 6-1 favorite and won the Greater Hartford Open two weeks ago, and David Toms was the 10-1 favorite this past weekend in the St. Jude Classic, which was won by 30-1 longshot Len Mattiace.

This week, Woods is the overwhelming 3-2 favorite at the Western Open in his last warm-up before trying to win his third straight major.

"There are two lines of thought," Sherman said. "I almost made him higher because he concentrates so much on the majors that he might not put forth his best effort this week. But this isn't a strong field, so I made him the same 3-2 odds as I have him in the British Open."

Mickelson is passing this tournament, so the Palms has Vijay Singh as co-second choices at 12-1, with Justin Leonard at 15-1.

* File this away for next year: The Oakland A's concluded interleague play this year with a 16-2 record. That shouldn't have caught any handicappers off-guard because the A's interleague record heading into this season was 50-35, best in the majors. Other top interleague teams this year were the Braves (15-3) and Dodgers (12-6). The worst teams were three NL Central squads: Reds (2-10), Brewers (2-10), and Pirates (3-9), while the Red Sox's lead in the AL East disappeared with a 5-13 performance. Overall, the NL had a slight 129-122 advantage.