The thrill of gambling can’t quite compensate for the lack of rooting interest in the World Cup.
With the United States failing to qualify for this year’s tournament, betting handle on the event may decrease locally for the first time in decades.
"Las Vegas is such an international city and the World Cup is such an international event that people are still going to be around to bet on it," Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said. "It's going to be a tremendous event for our sports books, but the U.S. not being there is definitely going to have some effect."
The total volume bet on the World Cup at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook had typically increased 15 to 20 percent every four years, according to manager Jeff Sherman. Internal expectations and the early pace indicate that won't happen this year.
That doesn’t mean the World Cup won’t be the focus at sports books as the 32 competing teams play their opening matches over the next six days in Russia. It’s still expected to carry betting action over the next month during an otherwise slow period.
Soccer fans will fill casinos and, in almost every game, wager on the favorite.
“The books are going to need some upsets at least against the point spread, especially during the group stage when the big clubs play the small clubs,” Sherman said. “This stuff coincides with how the NFL goes. It’s so heavily wagered upon the favorites that we know we’re going to be rooting for the underdogs throughout the whole tournament.”
Favorite money has compounded over the last four years, ever since the 2014 World Cup concluded. Back then, the Superbook opened defending champions Germany and constant power Brazil at the top of the future odds to win this year’s tournament at 5-to-1 and 8-to-1, respectively.
The two teams have only their strengthened their positions since then, with Brazil now on top at 7-to-2 followed by Germany at 4-to-1. The Superbook has taken the most money on Brazil to win the tournament, and printed the most tickets on Germany.
Brazil sits second in ticket count, just as Germany is second in money wagered.
“We actually have a small liability on each of those two teams, along with Mexico,” Sherman said. “Mexico is our largest liability, but we’re really in great shape with everyone else. (Brazil and Germany) are such small favorites now, and since we’ll have this betting up throughout this tournament, we’ll have plenty of time to work off of them.”
Brazil occupies the top spot in ticket count at Station Casinos with Germany also commanding plenty of attention, Esposito said. Reports are similar at William Hill sports books, which operates the most shops in Nevada.
Germany, which William Hill offers at plus-360 (risking $1 to win $3.60) sits at the top with 20 percent of the total money wagered and 11 percent of the tickets printed. Brazil, at plus-380, is in the top five of both categories.
The three other teams unanimously lower than 10-to-1 are France, Spain and Argentina.
"Argentina may possess a little value," Esposito advised. "There's been some droppage from where they opened, and looking at their group, there's not a lot in the way of competition there."
A different team caught Sherman's eye.
"I like France," he said. "They have a good mix of youth and veterans on that team. I think France can play with either (Brazil or Germany)."
Based on World Cup history, bettors should concentrate their action to win the event on the five teams at the top of the board.
It’s been at least 32 years since a club overcame a price higher than 10-to-1 to win the World Cup. The longest shot to win out of the last eight tournaments was 2006 Italy, which were only a 9-to-1 fourth choice.
“It’s always a chalk tournament,” Sherman said. “It’s set up that way, and it’s how it’s always been. We’re trying to attract other action, but I’m having to raise prices considerably just to get people to bet these long shots.”
In every other World Cup Sherman has booked, the host country attracted extra bets. That hasn’t been the case with Russia, which opened at 25-to-1 and ballooned as high as 100-to-1 before the Superbook could entice any money.
Count it as another oddity for this year’s World Cup, which won’t feel the same in sports books without fans dressed up in red, white and blue, and stars and stripes, betting with their national pride.
"We're still going to have a lot of people in the book," Esposito said. "If past indicators count for anything, we're still going to see people from all around the world showing up, and when we get to those quarterfinal, semifinal games, it can even feel like a March Madness game in there."
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