Offseason? What offseason?
With the draft, free agency and minicamps, the NFL has become the sports league that never sleeps. And eager to take advantage of the apparent nonstop interest in pro football is the 24/7 city - Las Vegas.
The Plaza Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas has already posted point spreads on all 256 NFL regular-season games. And, of course, there are odds for every team's chances of winning its division, conference and the Super Bowl.
While so-called futures bets on NFL postseason games have been around for years in Nevada's legal sports books, the notion of taking wagers in June on, say, a Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game in November is novel. The Plaza, which is doing it for the second year, is the only major casino in Las Vegas offering a full menu of NFL wagers this soon.
"We started it as a marketing tool, and we did really well with it last year," said Lou D'Amico, director of the Plaza's race and sports book. "People might come here just once or twice a year on vacation, but they can still get all their bets in. I had one guy from Atlanta come in last year with $500, and he bet all the Falcons games."
If D'Amico and his oddsmakers are right, the Ravens will have a successful season. They are listed as favorites in 12 of their 16 regular-season games, including three-point favorites in the aforementioned Nov. 20 meeting with Pittsburgh at M&T; Bank Stadium.
"I have very good people who specialize in each conference and they do a lot of research," D'Amico said. "They'll give me their numbers [for point spreads] and I'll give them my numbers and then we come up with a figure that we hope will get two-way action. Then, we adjust it as money comes in."
Already, some Ravens point spreads have moved. The Ravens initially were listed as two-point favorites over the Tennessee Titans in Week 2 but that has been hiked to 3 1/2 points.
"Strangely enough, we've already had some $1,000 bets, which is remarkable," D'Amico said.
While the NFL has always kept a healthy distance from the gaming industry - team owners cannot have ownership interests in casinos, gambling advertisements are unwelcome, and talk of point spreads during game broadcasts is forbidden - the game remains Las Vegas' most popular sports bet.
Wagers on football (Nevada gaming officials lump pro and college betting together) made up 46.5 percent, or $968.8 million, of all sports wagers in 2004, according to the state's Gaming Control Board. And nearly $91 million was bet in Nevada on February's Super Bowl.
Las Vegas Sports Consultants - a firm that provides betting lines to many of the town's sports books - helped the Plaza last year establish its preseason point spreads for all the NFL games. This year, D'Amico used his own personnel, and the consulting group plans to put out its own full-season pro football spreads in a few weeks.
"We start with the power rating for a team that we'd use in the first week and then apply a computer program to the whole season, adjusting for things such as travel and situational games," said Kenny White, the company's chief operating officer. "For instance, if Chicago were playing [divisional rival] Green Bay one week and then Houston the next, we might figure they're not going to be quite as up for the Texans."
D'Amico and White said the local "wise guys," a Las Vegas expression for sophisticated professional sports gamblers, haven't bet a great deal into the early line because they count so heavily on having the latest information about players and teams.
"Plus the wise guys always want a second or third line to look at because they're always afraid of getting the bad end of a [point spread] number," White said.
With the Plaza's early line, there has been no comparative point spread. Meanwhile, surprises, such as key injuries, will average out to the advantage or disadvantage of both sides in a betting situation, he added.
"We've been basically taking bets from unsophisticated players," D'Amico said, "which is OK. ... That's the objective."
Jay Kornegay, who runs the race and sports book at the Las Vegas Hilton, helped pioneer early point spreads more than 10 years ago when he set preseason odds on marquee college games at the Imperial Palace casino. Now, he sets preseason spreads on about 170 pro and college football games - perhaps second only to the Plaza.
"I think the Plaza came up with a great idea," White said. "And I think down the road other people will follow. After all, the NFL is our game."
Early Ravens lines
The Ravens are favored in 12 of their 16 regular-season games. The early point spreads:
9/11 Ind. (-3) at Ravens
9/18 Ravens (-3 1/2 ) at Tenn.
10/2 N.Y. Jets at Ravens (-3)
10/9 Ravens (-1 1/2 ) at Detroit
10/16 Clev. at Ravens (-10 1/2 )
10/23 Ravens (-3) at Chicago
10/31 Ravens at Pittsburgh (-3)
11/6 Cincinnati at Ravens (-6)
11/13 Ravens at Jack. (-2)
11/20 Pittsburgh at Ravens (-3)
11/27 Ravens (-1) at Cincinnati
12/4 Houston at Ravens (-7)
12/11 Ravens at Denver (-2)
12/19 G. Bay at Ravens (-5)
12/25 Minnesota at Ravens (-4)
1/2 Ravens (-5) at Cleveland
Source: Plaza Hotel and Casino