A line drawn in Vegas sand

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

LAS VEGAS -- It took some time in this NFL season of domination, but Chuck Esposito has found a group that can regularly beat up on the New England Patriots.

You know who you are, underdog bettors.

As the sports book director at the world famous Caesar's Palace on the heart of the strip here, Esposito is one of the most astute analysts in the NFL. His livelihood depends on it, after all.

He may not be able to break down film with the aplomb of ESPN whiz Ron (Jaws) Jaworski, but in setting and adjusting the betting line at Caesar's and its sister casinos here in Sin City, Esposito has plenty at stake with each game he handicaps.

None more than the Super Bowl, of course, a contest that gaming analysts predict could set a record for Nevada's legalized sports books and top $100 million US in wagers.

So count the big bookie among those surprised when the initial flood of money for Sunday's contest came in on the underdog New York Giants.

"The game did open at (14 points) and we really felt that would be a solid number to generate two-way action," Esposito said this week from his office at the famed Vegas betting parlour. "Looking back at it now, the way the Giants have played on the road and the fact that the Patriots are 1-8 vs. the number in their last nine, that may have been a bit too high."

It didn't take long for Espo's customers to support that opinion.

Like most books in town and on the internet, Esposito opened the Patriots as two-touchdown favourites moments after Giants kicker Laurence Tynes split the uprights in OT of the NFC Championship thriller against the Green Bay Packers.

If you wanted that many points, you had to move fast though.

"It was up for a very short time, maybe 30 minutes," Esposito said. "It wasn't that there was a tremendous amount bet, it's just that it was apparent early that (bettors) were liking the Giants."

By Monday morning the line was down to 13 and like the TSX and Dow, continued to plunge early in the week, bouncing as low as 111/2 before returning to 12 where Esposito expects it to stick until the big shooters roll into town as the weekend approaches.

"Right now I think it will settle at 12 until later in the week when we get heavier action," Esposito said.

"If there's going to be a move in the Super Bowl line, it's usually in that 72 hours leading up to kickoff.

"We've already seen the highest it will go. And if it went down to 11 that would surprise me too. It has a better chance of going up a full point than down a full point."

So why the apparent enthusiasm to back the Giants? Well, for one, in recent history it has been fashionable to bet the underdog in the Super Bowl. But the biggest attraction, it would seem, is bettors making a play against the slumping Patriots.

Yes, they may be 18-0 in the standings and are on the verge of NFL history, but they are slumping where it counts in Vegas.

After opening the regular season 8-0 vs. the spread, the Pats are just 2-10 as hugely bloated lines and the tougher, tighter football that comes with cooler weather has helped the bookies recoup some of the pummelling they took earlier on.

Esposito won't say if Caesar's is up or down on the Patriots overall on the season but when you consider the way the powerhouse squad rolled so convincingly in those first eight games plus the fact they have been Super Bowl favourites all season, odds are he'll be pulling for the Giants come kickoff on Sunday.

"My rooting interest will be for whoever Caesar's needs at kickoff," Esposito said, taking a fiscal rather than fanatical approach. "It's going to be an exciting week around here. You've got the big market Giants, you've got the Patriots and their story."

And as always, he will have enough people with a strong opinion and fat wallets to support those views.


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