NFL Edition: Your Odds Are Better in Vegas

A view from bettor's paradise: packed casinos, tons of televised games and parlay cards that pay out a lot more than most state lotteries.
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Last week, we were 4-2, bringing our season record to 16-18 (47%).

Many of you have asked us to explain what goes on during a typical football weekend in Las Vegas. Last weekend was a great one for the casinos and a bad one for the players. This generally happens when underdogs cover in more than half of the games because, as we have explained before, the public almost always bets favorites. As the only state with legalized sports betting, the Nevada casinos, almost all of which have sports books, are packed on Saturdays and Sundays. All the games that are televised anywhere in the country via satellite are available for viewing at the sports books.

In addition to regular sports wagering, football contests and parlay cards are extremely popular. In the typical football contest, the customer pays $25 at the beginning of the season and gets to fill out a card, which contains all the Sunday pro football games. No point spreads are involved in these contests, so only straight-up winners need to be picked. Weekly prizes of $10,000 to $30,000 are available and those selecting the most winners over the course of the season can earn $250,000. The contests are great for the residents of Nevada, because the contests are considered "loss leaders" and pay out more than twice as much prize money as the casino collects in contest entry fees. Parlay cards offer customers the opportunity to pick a number of games against the spread (including over-unders) and turn a small investment into a large payoff. Typical payoff odds on parlay cards are as follows:

Since Nevada does not have a state lottery, this is one way the state's residents and visitors try to "strike it rich." For the statisticians among

TheStreet.com

readers, it is obvious that the parlay cards do provide a house advantage. But that advantage is far less than the "takeout" by most state lotteries, which typically return only 50% of the money taken in as prize money.

This Week's Picks

Jets (plus 2 1/2) over Buffalo

As we noted last week, the Jets' Ray Lucas provides mobility at the quarterback position and makes it more difficult for the opposition to defend the Jets' attack. This added mobility assists the Jets in the same way Doug Flutie's mobility aids the Bills. Lucas was surprisingly accurate on

Monday Night Football

, and if he repeats his performance here, we think the Jets will win this game straight up.

Buffalo

has multiple injuries to its running backs this week and the Jets' defense has been steady, if not spectacular, this season. In the first matchup with Buffalo, the Jets' defense only permitted the Bills to score 17 points. With the Bills' rushing attack severely limited by injuries, the Jets can focus on keeping Flutie in the pocket and stopping the pass. The Jets have not quit, as demonstrated by their performance on Monday night, and we love Bill Parcells-coached teams in the home underdog role.

Rams (minus 7) over 49ers

We are convinced that the Rams are no mirage. After years of taking whippings from the 49ers, we think the Rams will be properly focused to inflict the whipping this week. We usually do not like to lay 7 points on the road, but we think this number is cheap based on the fact that the Rams were 3-point favorites over the Titans and 4-point favorites over the Lions. The 49ers are self-destructing and without being able to count on Steve Young at QB in the future,

San Francisco

is beginning to realize that this team must be rebuilt. We expect to see more of the young 49er players as the season progresses, so the team can evaluate its young talent. The veterans (including Jerry Rice) will realize that the rebuilding is going on and will not take the physical beating that is necessary to win in the NFL. The 49er name is what is keeping this line where it is, because at this time, the 49ers are not much better than the other dregs of the league, like

Cincinnati

,

New Orleans

and

Cleveland

.

Carolina (minus 5 1/2) over Cleveland

We were not impressed by Cleveland's victory over the Steelers last week. The Browns were in the game only because of the poor play-calling by the Steelers' offensive coordinator and the terrible execution of those plays by Kordell Stewart. Last week the Panthers were soundly beaten by the Rams, no embarrassment considering the Rams' strength this year. We think

Carolina's

rushing attack with Tim Biakabutuka will have a big day against a poor Cleveland defense, and that QB Steve Beuerlein will be able to use play action to his advantage. Carolina's defense played decently against the Rams last week, holding

St. Louis

to only 79 rushing yards. The Rams did have some big passing plays, which hurt the Panthers. Cleveland is 31st (last) in the offensive rankings and 30th (next-to-last) in the defensive rankings while the Panthers are 8th and 23rd, respectively. We think laying less than a touchdown is a good bet in this situation.

Kansas City (minus 3) over Seattle

Seattle

has lost 16 of its last 17 visits to

Kansas City

. The matchups in this game strongly favor the Chiefs. The Seahawks allow 4.2 yards per rush and rank 25th in total defense. The Chiefs play smashmouth football, and will run the ball against a poor-tackling Seattle defense, which has multiple injuries on defense (DE Sam Adams-questionable, DE Michael Sinclair-questionable, LB DeShone Myles-out, LB Darrin Smith-questionable). Kansas City is a team that performs well at home, and poorly on the road. While we respect the things QB Jon Kitna has done on offense this season (although the Seahawks are ranked only 24th in total offense), we think he will be out of sync in the noisy confines of Arrowhead Stadium this week. The "public" is still enamoured with Seattle, and this line may only be 2 1/2 points by Sunday. We don't think it will go higher than 3 because of KC's conservative offense. We will wait until Sunday to make our wager on this game.

Denver (minus 1 1/2) over Oakland

Denver

has been playing with great heart in the last few weeks, a good sign for a team that has gone from the

Super Bowl

to the cellar. Mike Shanahan hates Al Davis. The Denver players like Mike Shanahan. This will translate into an all-out effort by the Broncos in this Monday night game. You may be surprised that Denver is the 7th-best defensive team in the NFL through 10 games, while the Raiders are 13th. The Denver home field advantage is huge, both because of the level of the crowd noise and the altitude. It also will probably be very cold and windy for this game and we think those conditions also favor the Broncos. This game will be won in the trenches and we think Denver, which earlier this season beat the Raiders 16-13, will win that battle. One cautionary note -- the Raiders are 4-0 straight up on the road this season.

6 Point Teaser: St. Louis (minus 1) over San Francisco and Indianapolis (minus 1) over Philadelphia

There are three games in the NFL where the point spread is 7 this week: St. Louis-San Francisco, Indianapolis-Philadelphia and Tampa Bay-Atlanta. We have chosen two of those games to include in our teaser.

St. Louis is an obvious choice because we like them to win the game by more than 7. We chose Indianapolis because of the stellar play of the key Colt trio of Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerin James. While we don't know whether the Colts will cover the 7-point spread, we think there is more than a 75% chance that they will win the game straight up -- making the teaser a good play, in our opinion.

Barry Lieberman is the general counsel for a Las Vegas gaming company and an associate of James Padinha. He's been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years, and welcomes your feedback at

barrylieberman1@prodigy.net.