Tennis legend Billie Jean King loves Las Vegas.
Sitting center court at Orleans Arena, watching the championship match of the 44th season of World TeamTennis - the league she founded in 1974 - the 75-year-old Hall of Famer said during an exclusive interview with Gaming Today she’s been coming back to the gaming capital of the world ever since her first appearance in the 1969 Alan King Classic.
“Vegas is absolutely perfect for World TeamTennis,” King said. “Vegas should be the best because of the music and the entertainment they have here every day of the year.
“And they have the best people, so it’s just amazing. It’s exactly what we want World TeamTennis to be. It’s amazing when you look at Vegas and how it’s developed over the years.”
King also said she believes sports betting belongs in the sport of tennis.
“It’s very good (for tennis),” she said. “As long as we have integrity, yes it’s very good, because it’s a revenue stream and it keeps people connected and engaged to the sport.”
King, who said she’d long thought about bringing WTT to Las Vegas, was pleased to hear the success the first-year Rollers had in terms of fan support. She also wasn’t surprised to hear at least one sports book took action on the matches once Vegas joined the league.
“I don’t want people losing their family money and all that, but that’s a personal choice,” King said. “But I’m very big on revenue streams, people having a good time, as long as it’s regulated and do it right, I think it’s great.
“When I played Bobby Riggs back in ‘73, Vegas was hopping with the betting. They loved it. I can’t remember the odds, but he was supposed to beat me.”
King defeated Riggs on Sept. 20, 1973 in front of 30,000 fans inside the Houston Astrodome, and the victory didn’t come without controversy. There were rumors Riggs purposely threw the match so he could pay off gambling debts. The rumors were never proven, and Riggs later denied the accusation.
More recently, Spanish police broke up a tennis match-fixing ring that was alleged to involve nearly 30 professional players, including one who played in last year’s U.S. Open. Authorities said in January that 83 people were implicated in the racket, among them 28 players in the ITF Futures and Challenger categories.
As the 2019 U.S. Open approaches, and futures on who will win the event have been posted since the end of Wimbledon early last month, King doesn’t believe tennis in the United States has been infiltrated and trusts it’s better regulated — especially in Nevada.
“I’ve heard several times that it is better regulated here,” King said. “As long as we keep it with integrity, I think it’s great.”
The U.S. Open runs from Aug. 26 through Sept. 8, and at the Westgate SuperBook, Novak Djokovic is favored at even-money, with Rafael Nadal the second choice at 9-1 in men’s singles. Fan favorite Serena Williams is a 4-1 favorite to win the women’s singles, with Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep currently at 7-1.
Jeff Sherman, VP of Risk Management at the Westgate’s SuperBook said his book has seen minimal action, but that it should pick up the week leading up to the tournament.
“On the early stages, we get parlays from the general public on the popular matches,” Sherman said. “Larger straight bets will show up and the general public will get involved when they see two familiar names playing each other.”
Sherman, and MGM Race and Sports Book Manager Jeff Stoneback both said their numbers are based on what the worldwide market dictates, as they both respect what they see on air.
Sherman said during an entire grand slam event his book will handle about one-quarter what an NFL Sunday brings in.
Stoneback’s sentiments were similar, as he said while there are bettors who get excited about tennis, but it still lags compared to the other sports. He said action during Wimbledon — which consisted of futures and the latter rounds beginning with the quarterfinals, the MGM wrote roughly the same amount it booked for WNBA games in the month of July.
“A lot of the tournaments are overseas so they’re not at an opportune time to book on the west coast,” Stoneback said. “With live wagering becoming more popular, tennis is an event that can grow. People can turn a match on TV and watch with the live wagering.”