Looking for a surefire bet on the Tokyo Olympics? Here’s one, courtesy of Sam Panayotovich, sports betting analyst for FOX Sports:
“It’ll be the largest handle for the Olympics we’ve ever seen.”
That’s because, for the first time, bettors will be able to place wagers on the Games outside of the state of Nevada, thanks to the 2018 repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) by the U.S. Supreme Court.
But let’s not get carried away here: The Summer Games are no Super Bowl, not from a sports betting standpoint.
“Going back, Olympic betting was more of a watching event than a wagering event,” said Jay Kornegay, executive vice president of the Westgate SuperBook. “[American bettors] don’t really know the athletes that well. The team sports will get some attention, but it’s still very light when you compare it to our regular games — hockey, basketball, our major sports that we take wagers on.”
Even Nevada had its hands tied during the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, when the state gaming commission prohibited wagers on the Games in response to legislation championed by the late Arizona Sen. John McCain.
“I think it was kind of a compromise because there was a movement toward eliminating betting on college sports,” explained Kornegay. “One of the concessions that we made at that time was to take off Olympic bets.”
‘A lot of uneducated bets’
Olympic wagering was reinstated in Nevada for the 2016 Rio Summer Games, with the action mostly based on patriotic allegiance. Now that legal sports betting is up and running in 21 states and Washington, D.C., Kornegay said he expects Olympic wagering “to pick up a little bit, but I’m not too confident that it’s going to move the needle.”
While Panayotovich is more bullish, he encourages eager bettors to slow their roll because … quick, name one member of the U.S. Canoe Slalom Team!
“We see a lot of books offer medal counts and how many medals a country will get,” he said, referring to some common Olympic prop bets. “The books have seen that the more candy in the candy store, the more willing the customer. The more I have to bet on, the more I’m going to bet as a consumer.”
That being said, he cautioned, “There are gonna be a lot of uneducated bets. I think the problem on a lot of Olympic betting is people don’t do a lot of homework. You can draw a correlation between the handle for the Euro Cup. You ask the average Euro Cup bettor to name three people on a [country’s team] and they can’t do it. It’s more about having something they can bet on than something they can win on. My advice to a bettor is to please do your homework, because you can slide down a really slippery slope with these bets.”
Tokyo time difference ‘not the most favorable’
Also putting a potential damper on things is the 13-hour time difference between New York and Tokyo.
“The fact that it’s in Tokyo, it turns the day completely upside down” for U.S. bettors, said Robert Kowalski, sportsbook operator at Baldini’s in northern Nevada.
“I think it’s obvious to say it can [hurt],” said Bill Knauf, vice president of operations at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. He then hedged a bit, adding, “I think this is one of those events where, if you want some action or entertainment, you’re probably gonna place the bet well before it goes on. I don’t think it’s the type of wagering you wait until the last minute to place.”
Jay Croucher, head of U.S. trading for PointsBet, conceded that while the time difference isn’t ideal, he thinks it’s far from a dealbreaker for many interested observers.
“Even though the time zone isn’t the most favorable for the U.S., you can still wager,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to wake up at 4 a.m.”
Knauf thinks that swimming and track and field will draw a lot of interest from bettors, due in part to the volume of events offered within each sport. Croucher concurs. He thinks track and field sprints and swimming will each be “huge,” with the latter sport bolstered by “Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel and the interest around them.”
And, he added, “USA Men’s Basketball will naturally be gigantic.”
Naturally. But coming off a pair of exhibition losses to Nigeria and Australia, respectively, is Team USA the absolute lock for gold that it’s typically been on Olympic hardwood?
Could this year’s Dream Team be a nightmare?
Nigeria’s 90-87 win over the U.S. was absolutely shocking, even when you consider that three key Team USA players — Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton — have yet to join the squad on account of their participation int the ongoing NBA Finals. After all, the U.S. defeated Nigeria by an incomprehensibly devastating score of 156-73 at the 2012 Games in London.
Less stunning was the Americans’ subsequent loss to Australia, a seasoned team expected to contend for a medal in Tokyo. But still, the defeats marked the first time that the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team had dropped back-to-back exhibition games since professional Dream Teamers took over for collegiate players in 1992.
The U.S. men's basketball team suffered its 2nd loss in 3 days, falling to Australia in Las Vegas tonight, 91-83.
It is the 1st time Team USA has lost back-to-back exhibition games since professionals started playing in 1992 (were 54-2 in exhibitions in this span prior to this). pic.twitter.com/8TAZG0XyBd
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 13, 2021
After the loss to Australia, PointsBet still had the U.S. as -625 favorites after opening at -1000, while FanDuel had them at -370 to win gold.
Mike Korn, a trading content analyst for PointsBet, said early Tuesday that, in the unlikely event that the U.S. dropped a third consecutive exhibition game against Argentina, “that might be a real wakeup call for us and we would have to make a huge adjustment.” (Team USA wound up righting the ship Tuesday night, blowing out the Argentines by a score of 108-80.) That aside, he said, “We don’t want to overreact. These are exhibition games they’re playing. Coming off these two losses, it’s more that other teams might be able to make a run. We opened Nigeria at +15000 [to win gold]. Now they’re +4000.”
As for the Americans, Korn predicted, “Once they get the team fully assembled, once we have the full depth there, I think that they’ll return to that team that was -1000 going into it. We’re not too worried here about Team USA. We still pretty much think they have it locked up.”
State-by-state props and the Boss’ daughter
Which Olympic events and athletes can be wagered on vary from state to state. Among jurisdictions where sports betting is already a going concern, Delaware and North Carolina aren’t accepting Olympic wagers, according to the American Gaming Association. Conversely, Kornegay said he hadn’t heard of any restrictions whatsoever in Colorado or Nevada.
Many states only offer action on a limited array of Olympic events (check out the difference between the Olympic bet offerings at Rivers Pittsburgh and Rivers Schenectady in New York, for instance), while others either prohibit or restrict wagering on athletes under the age of 18. In Illinois, for example, there are no in-play bets allowed on minors competing in the Olympics. So while you wouldn’t be allowed to bet on whether a 17-year-old gymnast fell during her floor exercise, you would be able to wager on the outcome of her performance. Making matters even more complicated, if the majority of participants in a given Olympic event are under 18, then there is no wagering allowed on that event in the Land of Lincoln.
As Panayotovich indicated, the most common Olympic prop bets involve how many medals a given country is going to win throughout the course of the Games. But states like Oregon and Colorado (especially) have already given the green light for a dizzying array of props.
In Oregon, where bettors have access to a single lottery-controlled mobile sportsbook, the operator is still in the process of finalizing its menu. Bettors will likely be able to wager on who carries the flag for a given country during the Opening Ceremonies and who will light the Olympic Torch. Meanwhile, in Colorado, about the only thing you can’t bet on is whether Jessica Springsteen — Bruce’s daughter and a member of the U.S. show jumping team — is likelier to sing “Born in the USA” or “Born to Run” after she and her horse, Don Juan van de Donkhoeve, complete their first routine.
🏇 @TeamUSA's Equestrian squad has a new "Boss".
Jessica Springsteen, daughter of Bruce Springsteen, and horse Don Juan van de Donkhoeve have made the roster for #Tokyo2020 🐎
Find out more about their selection here ⬇️https://t.co/xLSRcTvAme
— Olympics (@Olympics) July 12, 2021
To that end, will the mere presence of the Boss’ daughter send Garden State gamblers into a wagering tizzy?
“It certainly can’t hurt with her name recognition, and bettors always like to back a local favorite,” said Knauf. “But as it relates to all Olympic wagering, I wouldn’t anticipate that much of an increase.”
All in all, Croucher said PointsBet’s Olympic-based marketing will “focus on the marquee American athletes,” adding that the ability to wager on the Games in so many states will “absolutely” increase overall viewership and social-media engagement.
“We’ve seen how popular table tennis has become as a betting sport,” he said. “When the pandemic started, it was over 50% of our betting handle and it’s still very heavily bet on. Having a bit more of a connection to more obscure events through having a wager on it will have an effect.”