LAS VEGAS — The World Cup may be the globe’s biggest sporting event, yet in the United States in the fall, it competes with a full sports betting calendar.
Las Vegas sportsbook directors weren’t overly optimistic the betting would be higher than the 2018 World Cup, which was played in the more usual summer months in Russia. And, they were correct about the Qatar event.
Even in the U.S. in November and December, however, the World Cup still makes a notable impact, and it was larger than expected in Las Vegas, the hub of domestic sports betting.
Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports operations at Westgate Las Vegas, compared World Cup matches during a more typical time of the year being bet on the same level as NFL games. This year’s are more comparable to college basketball.
“We knew going into this World Cup and it taking place during the fall and sharing that main stage with football, basketball and hockey was going to take some of that limelight away from the World Cup,” Kornegay said. “Normally, it has the main stage all to itself in the summer. This year, it’s different and it’s definitely showing.”
Adam Pullen, Caesars Sportsbook assistant director of trading, said it’s difficult to know exactly what the difference is between 2018 and 2022 largely because many more states have legalized sports betting. Just on sheer numbers, the betting handle nationally could be up, but how that translates by percentage per market is unknown.
“It’s comparing apples to oranges, but at least we’ll see how it does compare and how drastic a difference it is,” Pullen said. “I’ve been pleased. I think soccer over the years keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
Kornegay and Pullen said they expected the betting to increase as the knockout stage reaches its conclusion, even though the U.S. was eliminated in the round of 16 and Mexico, another betting favorite, didn’t get out of the group stage.
“I don’t know if it will reach the height of past years, but we do anticipate the pickup in the next couple weeks,” Kornegay said.
As for why the World Cup has overperformed expectations, Kornegay said the heavy media coverage has played a major role in getting American bettors excited.
The U.S. team playing well enough to advance out of the group stage, Kornegay and Pullen said, was another factor.
“It brings the casual fan in, the patriotic fan,” Pullen said. “If they know the U.S. is playing, then they’re more likely to place a bet on another match. It’s always good for the U.S. to be involved, but you have people who are dedicated followers of the sport and they’re going to bet not only the World Cup, but after the World Cup is over they’ll be back betting the Premier League, the German and Italian leagues.”
Kornegay and Pullen said they haven’t seen any kind of unusual bets that would garner headlines, but it’s not like all bettors are limiting their wagers to $100, either.
One bettor, Pullen said, put six figures on Iran to cover the half goal it was getting against the U.S. The U.S. won that group-stage match 1-0.
“The business has changed so much,” Pullen said. “Years ago, a six-figure bet jumps off the page. Now, they’re just routine. We’ve taken a lot of six-figure bets on some of these matches, and it will only increase as we go along.”
The group stage was littered with notable upsets, which usually is good news for bookmakers because the betting public often puts its money on favorites. Professionals tend to seek bargains with underdogs.
But the bookmakers also take a big-picture look at the tournament and not so much the individual matches.
“You had some teams that were upset early, and that’s usually not good for the handle as some of the popular teams,” Kornegay said. “But those teams still advanced. Like Argentina, one of the more popular teams, despite their first-round loss in group play, they advanced and look very good at this point.”
Six of the eight quarterfinal teams have been decided. Spain plays Morocco and Portugal meets Switzerland on Tuesday to fill the other two slots. The final is Dec. 18.
Brazil is a +200 favorite to win the tournament, according to FanDuel, with France next at +490 and Argentina at +550.
“No one’s a bigger fan of the underdog than me, but when it comes down to it, Brazil’s going to drive betting handle not South Korea, or Spain’s going to drive handle, not necessarily Morocco,” Pullen said. “As the big teams progress and you get those mouth-watering quarterfinals, semifinals and the final matchup, that’s going to drive handle more so than the upstart teams.”