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You Come Out For The Lines: Part Two -- The Weekend...By Nelson Lardner

After a sustained Saturday morning attending to college football business, we shipped out to the Las Vegas Hilton for afternoon game watching. With multiple large screens dedicated to both football and racing, the Superbook is tough to beat on big days. The book itself is more than worthwhile, with wide offerings, some opinionated lines (thank you, UCLA, +6), aggressive halftime offerings (announced, so you needn't stress yourself, staring at the screens), and some unique wrinkles, most-notably ten-cent NHL lines. Drink service is prompt and thorough, and servicable nourishment is close at hand; no good reason to split the scene, which is the whole idea. And need we mention the high percentage of crowd characters, and long-familiar faces? The Hilton on gameday is a high-ranking wiseguy convention, in a town full of them.

Long may it wave . . . though some rumors which germinated late last month have isolated said Hilton as a possible renovation target in the near-to-intermediate term, with a measure of gossip centering around some kind of theme-park development. Those who know aren't telling . . . and perhaps those in charge will learrn from previous mistakes made by MGM in this area . . . but say it ain't so, Joe. Built in '69, the hotel which was originally known as the International -- one-time showroom home of Elvis and Wayne (and now Barry Manilow) steadily evolved into what became the largest hotel in the world, at one time. Long controlled by the Hilton chain (doh!), it's now in the hands of the Resorts International people, who of course were the first to break the bank in Atlantic City. Rooting for the status-quo . . . stayed there many a time as a Hilton loyalist, and continue to recommend it as a great place to establish your personal Command Central.

Following the early games, my subsequent involvement lay in the UTEP/Marshall matchup, a situation which reminded me of my occasional fallability, and quickly. Returned to home base, downtown, to reconnoiter the realities of the evening's sporting situations, and to rest up for them. My weekend's late start had put a crimp in my needed rest, and Vegas is no place to be running around loose if your mind isn't crisp and fresh. Going around groggy and fuzzy isn't all that much fun, and can prove needlessly expensive.

The evening was a good one, culminating in the aformentioned UCLA +6 over an ineffective, overrated Arizona State outfit . . . a classic case of an overriding power angle prevailing over insufficient, rudimentary handicapping technique. Remain in an increasing professional minority in my belief that sharpshooting a handful of games is safer than shotgunning multiplays with minimal edges, for all but the highest-bankrolled practitioners. . . . but, hey, at this point, it works for me.

Sunday morning downtown was largely an exercise in frustration, as we failed to snag full-value lines over-the-counter on games which continued to pique our interest. We settled on reduced-vig alternatives at our ever-present Plan B fallback, and prepared for an afternoon of gamewatching at a friend's fully-equipped spread in the Henderson area. Had no trouble finding the place, and stepped into a well-used, comfortable bachelor pad with three TVs, access to NFL's Sunday Ticket, and some congenial acquaintances . . . 'bout midway through the morning's opening halves. Our host is a shotgunner, a talented one . . . exulting in the wins by the Bengals and Bucs . . . writhing from the torture induced by the Texans and Jets. His early o/u action was quite favorable, and only the horror of the late Steeler rally (knifing my friend, who had the Browns +3 1/2) could dampen spirits, but only slightly. We disagreed, but mostly around the edges. My much-preferred side in the junk matchup in question was the Bills, and I liked the Dolphins, rather than Minnesota . . . but I gave back part of that advantage in the late games, during which I had unfortunately passed on the Cowboy side he had embraced. We both thought the Cardinals and Niners were the right sides, and he edged me again, in the nightcap, where he liked the Chargers and I leaned to Jake and the Broncs. Interspersed was frequent, typical caustic commentary on players we believed were less than they appeared to be (Vince Young, J. P. Losman, et al), and coaches who drank the ultraconservative NFL Kool-Aid rather than taking legitimate percentage chances, were not treated kindly. There's more than one way to skin this league, under normal circumstances (those who prospered during last season's 58%-favorites NFL fantasyland get short shrift from me; no other pro season this century has resembled it, and it was the exception that proves the NFL homily -- look to the dog, first, and then again).

I bailed, with thanks, well before the Sunday-nightert, as I had to change hotels, shifting to the Gold Coast. I caught the early Week 12 lines in my room, made some early calculations, glanced at the Sunday-nighter (in which I wasn't involved), and organized for my Monday return back East.

September's Nevada Gaming Control numbers revealed a slight (2.7%) drop in gross win, as opposed to the '05 figures, but don't pass the tin cups, just yet -- we're still talking about a gross figure of close to a BILLION dollars. Of that, the sports books cleared close to $22,500,000, in football's first big month . . . not a bad rake, for something Steve Wynn was reluctant to install at the Golden Nugget -- until Binion's started poaching his foot traffic, big time, with the book across the street. Yeah, the books take time and focus to supervise -- but they're worth having, and the players will agree. We'll hurry back.

Nelson Lardner

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