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Summer doldrums

Jun 10, 2003 9:38 PM

As Nevada bookmakers patiently wait for the lucrative football season, a lackluster NBA finals has done little to ease the effects of a lull in legal sports wagering.

Sunday’s third game between the Spurs and Nets had the lowest-scoring first half in NBA Finals history, and it only served to magnify a below average betting interest.

"Betting is down from last year’s championship," said the sports book director of a locals-oriented casino in Henderson. "You’d expect that because the Lakers aren’t competing. But we never expected anything this dismal."

And, yet, other sports book directors are finding the glass "half full" rather than half empty.

"It was a good weekend for us," said John Avello, race and sports director at Bally’s/Paris Las Vegas. "Belmont with Funny Cide was certainly exciting here, and there was a good bit of interest in inter-league baseball with the Yankees playing the Cubs. Throw in the popularity of the Ducks in the Stanley Cup and a very good LPGA tournament and there was enough to offset a down time for the NBA."

San Antonio began the NBA Finals as an overwhelming favorite and lead the best-of-7 series 2-1 heading to Game 4 this Wednesday at the Meadowlands. New Jersey was a 1-point favorite at Bally’s as of late Monday night.

"I don’t think many people wanted to lay —330 (bet $3.30 to win $1 for a total return of $4.30) on the Spurs at the start of the series," Avello said. "There was some hype and early value on the Nets. More money was wagered on the Spurs in Games 1 and 2, but both teams are hard to rate.

"The Spurs are inconsistent," Avello continued. "They blow big leads and don’t shoot free throws well. New Jersey goes as Jason Kidd goes. I expect a big effort from him Wednesday and it wouldn’t surprise me if the series isn’t even heading to Game 5."

Avello said the identity factor has a lot to do with the sagging interest in this NBA Finals. The ABC television ratings, down 40 percent and 29 percent in the first two games over last year’s Lakers-Nets series, support Avello.

"The NBA lost a lot when Michael Jordan left," he said. "The Lakers held things together for three years, but now you have two teams with a lot of young players. When that happens, you tend to see mistakes. Plus, the Spurs and Nets are not really big on a national level. That keeps betting down."

Avello said he’s looking forward to another positive weekend of sports action with Tiger Woods set to defend his title at the United States Open beginning Thursday in suburban Chicago.

"Anytime Tiger plays, there is a large amount of golf interest," he said. "Add that to a major like the U.S. Open and it should be a very nice handle. We’re definitely not rushing football along. Things have been going well on a weekly basis and I hope we can ride this out for the summer."