The World Cup may be the biggest sporting event in the world, but in the US at this time of year it competes in the sports betting market with an extensive calendar of events.
Las Vegas sports betting directors weren’t too optimistic that the stakes would be higher than the 2018 World Cup, which was played in mid-year Russia. And they were right about the event in Qatar.
Even in the US in November and December, though, the World Cup still packs a notable punch, and it made a bigger-than-expected impact in Las Vegas, the center of national sports betting.
Jay Kornegay, vice president of racing and sports operations at Westgate Las Vegas, compared World Cup matches during a more typical time of year being wagered at the same level as NFL games. This year’s matchups are more comparable to college basketball.
“We knew that going into this World Cup and that it would take place during the autumn and sharing the main stage with football, basketball and hockey would take some of the spotlight away from the World Cup,” said Kornegay. “Normally, she has the main stage to herself in the summer. This year, it’s different and it’s definitely showing.”
Adam Pullen, assistant director of trading at Caesars Sportsbook, said it’s hard to know exactly what the difference is between 2018 and 2022, especially since so many other states have legalized sports betting.
In absolute numbers alone, betting control nationally could increase, but how that translates to percentage per market is unknown. “I am satisfied. I think football over the years is getting bigger and bigger,” Pullen said.
Kornegay and Pullen said they expected the stakes to rise as the Cup progressed, although the United States were knocked out in the round of 16 and Mexico, another betting favorite, did not make it past the group stage. “I don’t know if it will reach the peak of previous years, but we anticipate a resumption in the coming weeks,” said Kornegay.
As for why the World Cup exceeded expectations, Kornegay said the strong media coverage played a big part in the enthusiasm of American bettors. The US team playing well enough to make it through the group stage, Kornegay and Pullen pointed out, was another factor.
“That brings in the casual fan, the patriotic fan,” Pullen said. “If they know the United States is playing, they are more likely to place a bet on another match. It’s always good for the United States to be involved, but you have people who are dedicated fans of the sport and they will bet not only on the World Cup, but after the World Cup is over they will go back to betting on the Premier League, the German leagues and Italian.”
Kornegay and Pullen said they haven’t seen any unusual types of bets that make headlines, but it’s also not like all bettors are capping their bets at $100. “The business has changed a lot,” Pullen said. “Years ago, a six-figure bet would jump off the page. Now they are just routine. We’ve made a lot of six-figure bets on some of these matches, and that’s only going to increase as we go forward.”
Decisive stages should raise bets on the World Cup
The group stage was full of notable surprises, which is usually good news for bookmakers because the betting public is used to betting on the favourites. Professionals tend to seek bargains with the underprivileged. But bookmakers also take a look at the tournament overall and not so much at individual matches.
“Some teams fell by the wayside, and that’s usually not a good thing when it comes to some popular teams,” said Kornegay. “But some teams still advanced. Just like Argentina, one of the more popular teams, despite their first-round defeat in the group stage, they have advanced and are looking pretty good at the moment.”
“As the big teams progress and the Cup reaches the quarterfinals, semifinals and the final match, this will drive the market more than the entry level teams.”, said Pullen.