If you bet Olympics, look offshore

Aug 5, 2008 7:50 PM

by Mark Mayer | It would be accurate to say the Summer Olympics rival World Cup Soccer as the biggest sporting event on the planet. With the world focusing on the Aug. 8-24 Summer Games in Beijing, China one might think the enormity would generate a lot of betting interest.

Not so.

"The Olympics is a watching sport, not a betting one," said John Avello, director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas. "We have had betting on the Olympics in the past and it was far more work for us than was worth it. It just didn’t make much money for us."

Las Vegas said no to Olympics wagering in part to get the state of Nevada to allow college football and basketball wagering on UNLV and University of Nevada games. "It was in the late 1990’s that we came to an agreement with State Attorney Gen. (Brian) Sandoval not to do the Olympics or amateur events such as the Little League World Series," Avello said. "The UNLV and Nevada college games were something we wanted to book and it got approved."

Offshore, there is wagering on the most gold and total medals by a nation along with odds for team sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer, field hockey, tennis, volleyball, softball, water polo, handball and archery. Interestingly, no lines were found on swimming or track and field. In swimming, American Michael Phelps has a chance to win eight gold medals and the USA men’s basketball team is the most high-profile group in the Games.

"Both Phelps and men’s basketball is a big attraction," Avello said. "The problem with betting on the Olympics is the times of the events. They are so out of sync here. You have to get up like 5 a.m. to see a lot of the events. Also, so many involve athletes that are virtually unknown here. At Wynn, we haven’t had a single inquiry about the Olympics."

Avello said the industry here is always looking at the Olympics as revenue in the future, but it would take an effort by Las Vegas to want it bad enough. "The one event I remember that received a lot of betting interest was in figure skating (1994 Winter Olympics in Norway) between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding," Avello said. "Otherwise, Vegas has a lot better fish to fry than the Olympics. We’d be more interested in booking a major poker tournament."