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Today’s preseason games mark the beginning of the NFL betting season

Jeremy Evans

At last, football is here. Well, kind of.

A good set of glasses and a media guide might be necessary to recognize some of the players, but today’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers marks the beginning of the NFL preseason.

And the peak betting season.

“Football is king and there is no second place,” said Charlie Ludlow, Race and Sportsbook Manager at the Carson Station and Pinon Plaza Casinos.

Three other preseason games are scheduled this weekend, including Monday night’s nationally televised game on ABC between the St. Louis Rams and the Miami Dolphins.

Ludlow hopes to televise the other games via satellite at both sportsbooks.

Ludlow admits that there hasn’t been major cash wagered on this weekend’s games, but action definitely has picked up since the spreads and totals were put on the board last week.

“The money hasn’t been really been coming in, but the interest is there,” Ludlow said. “Football always attracts handicappers.”

The St. Louis and Miami game has been attracting the most wagering, as the Rams went from 4-point favorites to 3-point underdogs in less than a week.

“That one I don’t understand,” Ludlow said. “I know the Rams have a few players dinged up, but I’ve rarely seen a 7-point swing like that. To me, if you like the Rams, this is when you take ’em.”

Cal-Neva has set a $2,000 limit on sides and $500 on totals for all preseason games. Also, money lines probably won’t be available for preseason games, Ludlow said.

It’s pretty dangerous to put your faith-and money-on teams that aren’t really worried about winning or losing in the preseason, but on evaluating its weaker players.

“Preseason games are nothing but a bunch fat guys running around or guys fighting for a job,” Ludlow said. “Who knows what’s going to happen.”

Ludlow points to the bulletin board behind the counter at the Carson Station as the type of bet available that will raise some eyebrows.

One afternoon last November, a guy who just won $1,000 playing blackjack at the Carson Station, walked over to the sportsbook and wagered his winnings on the Baltimore Ravens. At the time, the Ravens were 20-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl, just four weeks before the playoffs started.

After the Super Bowl, the guy cashed in for $20,000 and Ludlow photocopied the winning ticket and put it on the bulletin board. The reason why these future bets are now so popular is because of the parity of the NFL. Any team has a chance to win, except for Cleveland, Arizona, and Cincinnati.

The Cal-Neva printed its odds on who’ll win the Super Bowl and their respective conferences. The early favorites are the Oakland Raiders, who are 2-1 to win the AFC and 4-1 for the Super Bowl. The Rams are 5-2 to win the NFC and 5-1 for the Super Bowl. The San Francisco 49ers, which had one of the worst defenses in the NFC last season, are surprisingly 15-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl and 8-1 to win the NFC.

According to those numbers, the 49ers are the third best team in the NFC.

“That’s nothing more than a reflection of this area,” Ludlow said. “All the west coast teams are favorites, but especially those two. I think the 49ers are about as good as Detroit,” said Ludlow about the Lions, who are 40-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl.

If you want to wager on Oakland or San Francisco, Ludlow advises to wait until the regular season begins on Sept. 8.

“If either of those teams starts slow or has some players get injured, you’ll see those numbers rise,” Ludlow said. “And that’s when they become a good play.”

Ludlow’s darkhorse favorites are the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs (both are 40-1 to win the Super Bowl) and the Carolina Panthers (60-1 to win the Super Bowl).

The current odds on futures won’t change until the regular season begins, Ludlow said. College futures won’t be printed until the end of August.