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Panthers-Jaguars is betting challenge

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Betting on sports is stupid. I realize this occasionally. Like, say, every time I bet. Fortunately, that is not often.

"Honey," I tell my wife, "while we're here in Las Vegas, how about if I bet on my college's basketball team? They can't possibly lose by 30 points again. Plus, their new uniforms are cool."

"Thanks, idiot," the casino cash drawer says to me, figuratively, a few hours later.

"We could've had a nice dinner instead," my wife then says, non-figuratively, minutes after that.

Still, it's comforting to know I am not alone. This weekend, American gamblers are being presented the year's most stupid wagering opportunity. And you'll be happy to know they are responding like champs. They are betting their brains out.

"Oh yeah, we're getting action on the game," said Mike Tenay, a shift manager at Gold Coast Race And Sports Book in Las Vegas. "That's what it's about. Action."

The action-packed event in question? Tomorrow afternoon, in the first NFL exhibition game of 1995, the mighty Carolina Panthers hook up with the juggernaut Jacksonville Jaguars.

Let's be generous and call it the worst sports event of the month rather than of the century.

"I would say a majority of people, when they come to bet, would not be able name a player on either team," Tenay said by phone yesterday.

That's not surprising. This is the unofficial Ignorance Bowl. Both teams are expansion franchises playing their first game of any sort. Both teams are run by men who have never been NFL head coaches. Both team rosters are stocked with wanna-bes, never-weres and oughta-think-about-selling-insurances.

And yet both teams are bringing major money to Nevada's betting windows. According to Tenay, many people wagering on the game this week are the $1,000 bettors who get down early if they like the point spread.

They must love this one. The line, which opened with Carolina being favored by 1 1/2 points, has now moved up to two points.

Oops, correction.

"It's now up to 2 1/2 points, even as we speak," said Tenay.

I am fascinated. Why would anyone bet that much on arguably the most meaningless NFL "game" in history? Why would anyone bet on either team?

For answers, I consulted Michael "Roxy" Roxborough, president of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which supplies odds to 80 percent of Nevada's sports books.

"The game is on national television, for starters," said Roxborough. "There will always be action on games that are on national television. On a per-game basis, more people bet exhibition football than regular-season baseball. People still think of NFL football as an event. And after a summer without it, they want to bet it."

This particular "event" is the "Hall of Fame Game," being played in Canton, Ohio. But that should make it even more difficult to handicap. Neither team has a home-field advantage. So how do bookies set a line?

"Well, we know all the players," said Roxborough. "It's not like we're playing interplanetary football and these guys are from Jupiter. They've played somewhere before, in college or pro ball. And we know coaches have different tendencies. Marv Levy of Buffalo never tries to win an exhibition game. And Dennis Green of Minnesota always does."

Evidently, Carolina's Dom Capers is the same way.

"We just felt that probably Carolina was going to be more prepared," said Roxborough.

For a second, he had me convinced I should fly to Vegas and put some money down on those unbeatable Panthers.

Then I remembered. I prefer to not eat nice dinners during the college basketball season.

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