06/17/2010 11:00PM

World Cup handle brisk at Vegas sports books


LAS VEGAS - The U.S. soccer team snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat Friday in the World Cup.

After playing to a draw in their opener versus England six days earlier, the United States were --200 (odds of 1-2, risking $2 for every $1 you want to profit) favorites in their game versus Slovenia in Johannesburg, South Africa. And just like in the opener, the U.S. fell behind and things looked even worse when they trailed, 2-0, before halftime. But, just like against England, the U.S. rallied.

Landon Donovan's goal early in the second half made it 2-1 and put the game over the total of 2 1/2 goals. That made the over 4-2 in the second round of group play after the under was an incredible 11-1-4 in all teams' opening games.

Michael Bradley evened the match at 2-2 in the 82nd minute. The Americans, with all the momentum on their side, continued to attack and appeared to have taken the lead when Maurice Edu put a free kick from Donovan into the back of the net in the 86th minute, but the goal was disallowed on a controversial call by the referee.

For casual soccer fans and bettors, the odds can be confusing. All games have two sets of lines available in Las Vegas sports books. There is the two-way betting that we're accustomed to with sports in this country but also three-way betting - with a draw as the third option, which makes a loser of those betting specifically on either team - that is commonplace with soccer wagering around the world. The two-way betting in the USA-Slovenia game ended in refunds with the push at 2-2, but the draw cashed at +230 (win $2.30 for every $1 wagered) while USA bettors lost at --110 as well as Slovenia backers at +300.

Team USA, which plays in Group C (with the two top teams from each of the eight groups advancing to the single-elimination round), now faces a must-win game Wednesday against Algeria. On Friday, USA opened as a 1-goal favorite. The game will take place in the same time slot (9:30 a.m. Eastern, 6:30 a.m. Pacific) as the England-Slovenia game - which helps to minimize other teams from being able to watch competitors in earlier games and then decide to play for a draw or rest players if they have nothing to gain (the NFL tries to do that with Week 17, but it doesn't always help). England is -1 1/2 goals vs. Slovenia, a team that was 11-1 to win Group C at the start of the World Cup but has played surprisingly well to upset the chances of both England (the -325 favorite) and the U.S. (+350, or odds of 7-2) from both advancing as expected. The U.S. was --135 to advance out of group play in a prop offered at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Sports books here have been pleasantly surprised by the handle on World Cup games so far and have been offering more and more betting options compared with past World Cups.

Brazil and Spain entered the tournament as 4-1 co-favorites. The most shocking result of the opening week of play was Switzerland's 1-0 upset of Spain last Wednesday. Almost as surprising for casual fans was the fact that Spain remained the co-favorite to win it all after the loss. The Spaniards are still expected to advance out of group play and are 2-goal favorites over Honduras on Monday. They will also be favored over Chile on Friday, the final day of group play.

Single-elimination matches begin Saturday, and we'll see if the United States is still around.

Lakers prevail as favorites

The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title last year and were installed as 2-1 favorites to repeat. They wrapped up their 16th NBA title Thursday night with an 83-79 victory over the Boston Celtics in L.A., but it wasn't easy on many levels.

The Lakers fell behind three games to two in the best-of-seven series and had to win the final two games at home to claim the title, although as 6- to 7-point favorites in each game, oddsmakers still had them at even-money to pull off the feat. After winning in a rout in Game 6, the Lakers were 6 1/2-point favorites and -300 to win straight-up in Game 7.

Thursday night's game was a defensive battle, and the Celtics led, 23-14, at the end of the first quarter. At that time, in-game wagering -- which has been gaining in popularity in Las Vegas led by Cantor Gaming at the M and Venetian as well as other books such as the Hilton, Wynn, and Leroy's books jumping in with adjusted odds during the course of big games -- had the Lakers down to a 1-point favorite. It was clear that oddsmakers thought the Lakers would somehow prevail at home.

At halftime, the Celtics still led by six points, 40-34, and the second-half line was put up around town at Lakers -6 to -7; so basically it was seen as pick-em for the game with the Lakers expected to come back.

Shortly after halftime, however, the Celtics opened up a 13-point lead and only then did the books make the Celtics the favorite by 5 points. The Lakers then started chipping away at the lead and were back within 57-53 at the end of the third quarter, with the Celtics then only favored by 1 1/2 points.

When Derek Fisher nailed a three-pointer to tie the game 64-64 with just more than six minutes to play, the Lakers were back to a -120 favorite.

For most of the game, Boston bettors who took the points had to feel good about their wager, but in the closing minutes the Lakers built their lead to 6 points on several occasions and seemed ready to cover the spread as well as win the game. They didn't quite get there as they won, 83-79, in the only game of the series that wasn't covered by the winning team. It also was the fifth straight game of the series that stayed under the total (and only one of those was within 5 points of the closing total) as the under went 5-1-1 overall with the push coming in Game 1.