World Cup sure bet not to replace football

Jul 2, 2002 8:00 AM

Brazil’s 2-0 soccer win over Germany was a fitting end to the World Cup, an event that’s embraced with nationalistic passion everywhere but here.

We basically slept through most of the games since they were held in both South Korea and Japan during the early AM hours. Although soccer interest is on the rise in the U.S. from a competitive standpoint, NFL and college football will always be king.

"It’s a quarter to five and the game is on, and I decide to watch it cause I can’t sleep," quipped Jay Kornegay, Imperial Palace race and sports director. "I know that’s sick, but I don’t care. My wife thought I was nuts cause I didn’t tape it. I’m a closet fan, I guess."

And, the closet is just where soccer returns. It was nice, a pleasant diversion for a month, but no way this sport ever threatens American football.

Thank goodness.

"It’s true, Americans don’t recognize and appreciate the sport the way foreigners do," Kornegay said. "We had steady betting throughout the month, but now it’s over and forgotten for another four years."

While English books such as Ladbrokes were killed by the Germany loss, there was plenty of two-way action in Las Vegas and none of the books felt a thing.

"The World Cup went well as far as wagering," said Eddie Ricca, race and sports director at the Suncoast. "This town has a lot of swing-shift individuals looking to find a way to wager and view the games. The Cup stood its ground with prop betting compared to golf and tennis. The handle and traffic was a pleasant surprise."

The Brazil-Germany soccer final actually overshadowed the Klitchko-Mercer mismatch held last Saturday in Atlantic City. Both Suncoast and Imperial Palace had the impressive Russian as a whopping —650 favorite and he easily delivered a sixth-round TKO.

"It was definitely hard to stimulate any interest for that fight, or Wimbledon or the Memphis golf," Kornegay said. "Actually there is a building starting for the British Open (July 18-21). Of course, that’s because of Tiger and the Grand Slam."

Kornegay and Ricca said they would probably take action for the semifinals and finals at Wimbledon, where no American made the final 16 in men’s singles for the first time since the Open era began in pro tennis in 1968.

"It’s tough to stimulate any wagering for Wimbledon, but we’ll do something," Kornegay said.

Like the World Cup, the major story line (England with two players in Round of 16 of an event no Brit has won since Fred Perry in the 1930s) is compelling but totally without interest in the U.S.

"Yeah, who has even heard of Tim Henman?" Kornegay said. "The women are more exciting, but not much betting interest there either."

So, while we wait for the British Open in two weeks and the pending race seasons at Saratoga and Del Mar, baseball will have to pick up the slack.

"Hey, it’s something, but we’re waiting for real football," Kornegay said. "And, I don’t mean soccer."

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