Play ball!

Apr 5, 2005 5:54 AM

The long-awaited baseball season gets under way this week, much to the delight of players and bookmakers alike.

"It’s been ”˜flat line’ in the sports books since the Super Bowl," says Jerry Mendelsohn, a regular player at Palace Station. "College basketball was okay, but the NBA isn’t interesting anymore. We’re all primed for a long, leisurely baseball season."

Indeed, the 162-game season offers plenty of opportunities for players as well as Las Vegas sports books.

"Serious players — those who take the time to do their homework — do very well betting baseball," said the sports director at a Strip casino. "The house usually comes out ahead at the end of the season, but baseball is the least profitable for a book — the win percentage can be less than 1 percent."

Well, maybe not quite that low. Last year, Nevada sports books held (won) about 2.1 percent of the $426.5 million bet on baseball.

The amount bet has been steadily climbing since it topped out at $567 million in 2000, a year before 9/11 sent sports betting into a tailspin.

But bettors have been coming back to baseball, and they’ve been winning more often. In 2003, players wagered $378.9 million with books holding only 3.2 percent.

Many experts say underdogs are the key to winning.

"Some fans will overplay a favorite and bring in a good price on an underdog," says GamingToday sports columnist Andy Iskoe. "Most handicappers won’t play overpriced teams. Eighty percent of baseball betting comes from wise guys and serious players, and if you could get a consensus of their plays, you’d do all right."

Last year’s stats bear out Iskoe’s admonition.

In games where teams were favored from -110 to -200, blindly betting the favorite would have resulted in a losing bankroll.

"You have to pick your spots and find a solid underdog," Mendelsohn said.