Sportsbooks Eye Surge in Olympics Betting

The Olympics is the biggest athletic event in the world and, if operators of sportsbooks have anything to say about it, the Summer Games, which begin with opening ceremonies in London, July 27, also will be one of the largest sports betting attractions on the planet. More than 10,000 athletes, representing over 200 countries will compete in 300 plus events in 30 sports, providing Olympic betting fans with a betting canvas that is as varied as it is vast.

Sportsbooks are posting betting odds on individual and team competition in archery, athletics (track and field), badminton, basketball, beach volleyball, boxing, canoe and kayak, cycling, diving, equestrian, fencing, gymnastics, handball, field hockey, judo, modern pentathlon, rowing, sailing, shooting, soccer, swimming, synchronized swimming, table tennis, Taekwondo, tennis, triathlon, volleyball, water polo, weightlifting and wrestling. And some of these sports, such as athletics, gymnastics and swimming, have dozens of men's and women's, individual and team events. It's a virtual five-ring circus for sports betting fans.

Interestingly, gamblers can get some action before the first athletic event is even contested. British sportsbooks, which remain among the most innovative in the world, have posted odds on what color hat Queen Elizabeth II will wear during the opening ceremonies. Fashionistas can take 2/1 on favored peach or orange, 5/1 on light blue, 11/2 on red, and so on. There are 15 color choices with tweed, despite its English heritage, at 33/1, the chapeau longshot.

There's great speculation and secrecy—and more importantly, betting—on who will light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremonies. Steve Redgrave, who captured Olympic Gold Medals for Great Britain at five consecutive Summer Games (1984-2000), is the 4/7 favorite to have the honor. Daley Thompson, who won the decathlon for England in 1980 and 1984, is the 3/2 second choice with Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile under four minutes (3:59.4 in 1954) listed at odds of 12/1. David Beckham, who was helpful in securing the Games for London but was left off the national soccer team, is offered as a 66/1 longshot.

More seriously, nationalism plays a huge role in the Olympic Games and gamblers can match pounds and pence to patriotism by betting on which country wins the most total medals. The USA is 2/7, China is 5/2 and everyone else is at least 50/1. There's also a proposition on which nation wins the most Gold Medals. Here again, the United States, at 8/13, is favored over China, 6/5. There also are over/under props for a number of medal and Gold Medal props for a series of separate countries.

If history is any guide, most Olympic betting will be concentrated on a handful of high profile team sports and individual events. Soccer will be one of those sports. On the men's side, Brazil opened as a slight 2/1 favorite over Spain, the 5/2 second choice, with host Britain offered at odds of 9/1. The USA women are 5/2 to earn Olympic gold with Brazil, 4/1, and Japan, 5/1, in the hunt. Sportsbooks also have posted odds on group winners and top goal scorers.

Basketball has grown in international appeal but the United States men and women teams are still the ones to beat. The American men are 1/5 to win their 14th Gold Medals in 17 Olympic events while the USA women are an even shorter price, 1/7, to come in first. Like soccer, there are also are prices on various group winners and top scorers.

Americans are expected to dominate in the water and, in addition to betting odds on dozens of individual and team swimming events, there's also a proposition on how many Gold Medal discs Michael Phelps will win. Phelps, who took home a record eight Gold Medals at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, is entered in "only" seven events in London and can expect fierce competition from teammate Ryan Lochte, who is favored over Phelps in both the 200 meter and 400 meter individual medleys. Here's how sportsbooks view Phelps' chances for gold: One, 25/1; two, 6/1; three, 3/1; four, 7/4; five, 11/4; six, 5/1; seven, 16/1, none, 50/1.

There'll also be great betting interest on the men's 100 meter dash, the even that crowns "The World's Fastest Human." Defending Olympic champion and world record holder Usain Bolt seemed like an obvious choice until teammate Yohan Blake beat Bolt in the Jamaica Olympic trials in both the 100 and 200 meters in late June. At 4/5, Bolt is still the favorite but Blake is right there at 11/8. American Tyson Gay, 10/1, who has run the 100M dash in 9.69, second only to Bolt's 9.58, could surprise if the Jamaicans stumble.

The 2012 Olympics may not have even started but British sportsbooks already are looking ahead. With the 2016 Summer Games have been awarded to Rio de Janeiro, odds are up for which city will host the 2020 Olympics. Tokyo is the early 6/5 favorite with Madrid quoted at odds of 7/4 and Istanbul listed at 5/2. "Any other city" gets you 13/2.

Clearly, Olympics betting, for these games and for the future, is underway.