THE NFL swiped a page out of Plaxico Burress' playbook. Pow, shot itself in the foot. Dragged the state of Delaware into Federal Court of Appeals to derail the start of single-game sports betting and, shazam, wound up with a unanimous verdict that the plans violated a federal law.

Never mind that the little-bitty state had spent millions on advertising, marketing, renovations at three race track-casinos. Never mind that some of the revenue from sports betting was earmarked for paying teachers and cops. Never mind that sports betting would have lured thousands of gamblers from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, the best-case scenario, taxing out-of-staters to pay for social programs in the little-bitty cash-strapped state of Delaware.

Talk about counterintuitive. Americans are illegally betting millions of dollars on any given Sunday. Squelch a legislated, regulated, taxed betting scheme and you promote illegal betting with unlicensed bookmakers. Or you send gamblers scurrying to offshore Internet sites, some of them flimsier than a grass shack in a tropical storm.

The NFL says it's worried about the integrity of the game, fans grumbling about botched plays late in a ballgame that get people to look at players suspiciously. Hogwash.

Why does the NFL publish an injury report on Thursdays? To give the average guy the same information the wiseguys have before making their bets. Why give weather reports during the pregame show unless you're trying to help the bettor on his over/under wagers? Why does Al Michaels say "this game is far from over" when a Sunday-night 12 1/2-point favorite is leading by 14 with 4 minutes left?

When Brett Favre was throwing all those passes to guys in the other color uniform last year, did people think he was dumping, or did they just see an old, candy-armed guy throwing interceptions?

It's been explained many times, that legal betting in Nevada acts as a watchdog for the league. The guy running the sports book has the league office on speed-dial and doesn't hesitate to call when he's hit with a suspicious flood of money on one team.

Let's face it, Delaware gambled and apparently lost. The little-bitty state had a cockamamie scheme in 1976 - the state offered parlay betting on NFL games - that produced so little revenue it was scrapped before the season ended. It failed, but it made Delaware one of four states grandfathered under a federal law designed to stop the proliferation of sports gambling.

They didn't have single-game bets then, so the appeals court judges ruled that they couldn't have single-game bets now. Serious players want to bet one game at a time. They know they have to win 56 percent of their bets to show a profit because they have to bet $110 to win $100 no matter which side they choose.

Timeout to remind folks that the Detroit Lions won seven games last year. That's right. The stumbling, fumbling, bumbling Detroit Lions won seven games - ATS. Against The Spread!

If you bet them against Houston, plus 11, Houston won the game 28-20, but you won your bet. Why else would you even watch for 45 seconds unless you had a bet on the dreadful matchup? The NFL knows that, which is one of the main reasons we have Monday Night Football and Sunday Night Football, a chance for the gambler to get even after a bleak day betting Sunday afternoon games.

Delaware put sports betting under the Lottery umbrella, where it could walk like a lottery, talk like a lottery, but the judges recognized a duck when they saw one.

So it will have to be some form of parlay betting, which is not totally a terrible thing. But it has to be at fixed odds, none of that parimutuel nonsense, where if a bunch of favorites win and a whole bunch of bettors bet those favorites, you might show a skimpy $2 profit on a $10 three-team parlay wager.

Nope, it has to pay 11-to-2 on a three-team parlay, 10-to-1 on a four-team bet, 20-to-1 on a five-teamer. You know how tough it is to pick five teams against the point spread on any given Sunday? Just ask Vegas Vic or Brandon Lang.

So far, it doesn't sound like enough to lure thousands of gamblers from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. How about if you sweeten the pot?

How about if you borrow a scheme from the Internet folks, lower the odds on hitting a four-team parlay from 10-to-1 to 6-to-1, but pay off at 1.5-to-1 if the player hits three out of four. Guy hits three of four he wins $15 on a $10 bet.

Encourage the pie-in-the-sky players by paying off on six or seven winners on an eight-team parlay. Don't forget that ties lose on parlay cards so the "house" has something going for it.

One advantage to betting parlay cards is that the point spread stays fixed, once it's posted. Starting halfback gets pulled over on DUI charges on Friday, the line doesn't change, but your selection might.

There's another timid way to approach parlay cards, provided the odds on picking three teams are, indeed, 11-to-2. You pick your key game, let's say the Eagles plus 1 1/2 against Carolina. Then you juggle the four combinations on two other games, Atlanta with Baltimore and Kansas City; Miami with Baltimore and Kansas City.

You invest $20 on each wager, that's $80. If the Eagles win, one of your four bets is a winner and you get $130 back, for a $50 profit. Not as much as if you had bet $88 to win $80 with a single bet on the Eagles, but a profit just the same.

If the parlay bets are parimutuel, where you're betting against other gamblers, fuhgeddaboutit. Gas is too expensive and the risk isn't worth the reward, unless you want to take a peek at a pretty race track and bet the ponies running at other race tracks in this wonderful country of ours. *

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