LAS VEGAS (AP) No one loves football season more than the bookies in this city's legal gambling houses.
Last year they took in a staggering $1.8 billion in bets on NFL and college games, keeping $114 million of it as profit. Bettors jammed sports books in Nevada, breaking records for money wagered and money lost on America's favorite sport.
The bookies will always have the edge, but that doesn't mean the average bettor can't make a score. Those who know a bit about how to bet even have a chance to come out ahead.
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With that in mind, here's a quick primer for those who like to have a little action on the games:
BET WITH YOUR MIND, NOT YOUR HEART: Sure, you love the Cowboys, almost as much as life itself. But blindly betting your favorite team is a recipe for disaster, at least when it comes to the size of your bankroll. Look for odds you favor instead of teams you favor, and the odds are you'll do much better at the sports book window.
''I'm a die hard 100 percent Cubs fan who lives and dies with their games,'' said Raphael Esparza, who has worked both sides of the window as a sports book director and now as a handicapper. ''But if I bet with my heart I would be working three jobs and be divorced three times by now.''
PAY ATTENTION TO THE NUMBERS: A half-point here or a point there usually doesn't matter much to the average bettor, one reason they almost always lose more than they win. But it means a lot to the so-called wise guys, who can make a living by chasing just the right number.
Jimmy Vaccaro, who has run sports books in Las Vegas for four decades, explains:
''Let's say it's 20 minutes from game time and you're in line at the sports book wanting to bet the Dallas Cowboys minus 3,'' Vaccaro said. ''You're telling everyone what a good bet it is but by the time you get to the window its minus 3.5. The smart guy is going to get out of line at that point, but the guy with a Corona in his hand will bet it at minus 6 if that's the number he sees. And more often than not he will lose.''
PARLAYS ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND: Parlay bets are enticing, mostly because the wins can be big. Hit a three-teamer and it pays 6-1 at most Las Vegas books, but put together eight winners on one card and you can make $150 for every dollar you wager.
Nevada gaming statistics show how the temptation of parlay cards pays off for the house. While in recent years sports books won an average of about 5 percent of the money wagered on football, they win 30 percent of the money bet on parlays.
''I used to pull customers aside and tell them that parlay cards pay my salary and for the lights in the casino,'' Esparza said. ''If you're going to live and die on betting parlays the whole season, I'll mortgage my house against your house.''
Esparza recommends playing parlays sparingly, and limiting them to two teams most of the time.
KNOW HOW TO TAKE LOSSES AS WELL AS WINS: Everyone who has ever laid down a bet has some kind of a story about a bad beat. A late score that is meaningless in a football game might mean the difference between a win and a loss when it comes to the point spread.
The best bettors - or at least those with the fewest ulcers - know that they will have nights where nothing makes sense and nothing goes right, just as they will have nights when everything comes up a winner.
''My wife tells people she doesn't know if I win or lose,'' said Esparza, who now offers handicapping advice on the Doc's Sport Service website. ''I don't stress out on losses or celebrate wins. A lot of people go through agony because they don't know how to lose.''
UNDERSTAND WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN: All things are not created equal in sports betting, starting with the 10 percent ''vig'' charged on most bets in a sports book. With the house taking its cut, bettors need to win 52.38 percent of their wagers to break even.
Sounds easy enough, but a lot of people have gone broke testing that theory. The best sports bettors might win only 55 percent of the time, something to think about when the online touts offer ''guaranteed'' wins for a price.
Beating the point spread, of course, has been the goal of bettors everywhere ever since Charles K. McNeil, a bank analyst in Chicago, was credited with coming up with the concept of giving or taking points in the 1940s.
''A remarkable man from everything I have found out about him,'' Vaccaro said. ''An absolute genius.''