TV Coverage Encourages Winter Olympics Betting

NBC, along with TV affiliates USA, MSNBC and CNBC, will devote 435 hours of original coverage to the Olympic Games in Vancouver, Feb. 12-28, but it remains an open question whether Winter Olympics betting will come anywhere near matching the peacock network's depth, intensity and dedication to the international sporting event.

Sportsbooks operators certainly are doing their part. In fact, a recent check around the global Internet market revealed hundreds of ways to bet on the 17-day competition. The problem for gamblers is that most of them don't know a luge from a loogie. Undeterred, and playing to a more diversified worldwide audience that embraces sports that may not be popular in North America, sportsbooks are offering odds on the Nordic combined, skeleton, ski jumping, giant slalom, two and four-person bobsled, curling and cross country skiing. What's more, there are 58 ways to bet the Biathlon, and that doesn't even include individual head-to-head match-ups.

Of course, managers of sportsbooks don't want to alienate bettors in the United States who are much more familiar with sports such as hockey and figure skating so those competitions also are on the wagering menu. The appeal of American athletes such as snowboarder Shaun "The Flying Tomato" White and alpine skier Lindsey Vonn also means there are odds on their events, as well.

One Winter Olympics betting proposition that transcends geography is predicting which country will win the most overall medals and which will take home the most Gold Medal neckwear at the Vancouver Games. Germany, which topped both lists at the 2006 Games in Turin, is favored to repeat in both medal future book categories.

Germany, which won 29 medals—four more than the runner-up USA did four years ago—opened as a solid 6/5 choice to again top that chart. The United States is second at odds of 9/2, closely followed by co-third choices Canada, the host nation, and Russia, each at 5/1. Canadian athletes were third with 24 medals in Turin while Russians took home 22 total medals.

Germany is a 5/4 favorite to capture the most Gold Medals. The Germans won 11 such medals in Turin, two more than the United States which is the third choice at odds of 7/2. Canada, which copped seven yellow medals four years ago, sits in between Germany and the USA at odds of 3/1. Russia, another contender, is 5/1 to win the most Gold Medals.

Ice hockey is another item on the Winter Olympics sports betting menu that knows few boundaries. The host Canadians, who claim hockey as their national game, opened as even money favorites to win their second Gold Medal in the last three Winter Olympic Games. Russia, which dominated the sport when the former Soviet Union took home the top prize in 1984 and 1988 but has not triumphed since, is the 5/2 second choice. Sweden, the defending champion, is 6/1 to win its third Olympic Gold Medal in the last five Winter Games. Team USA is 8/1 to repeat its 1980 "Miracle on Ice" win while the Czech Republic, which won Gold in 1998, and Finland, the only nation to win three medals in the last four Games, each are about 12/1.

On the women's side, look for Canada and the United States to battle it out for ice hockey Gold.

Thanks to ice darlings such as Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes, ladies figure skating long has appealed to American viewing audiences. But it wasn't until Tonya Harding had a bunch of thugs crack a pipe across the knee of Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 that women's figure skating also was taken seriously as a betting sport. This year, few expect American skaters Rachael Flatt or Mirai Nagasu to threaten Asia's big three, Japan's Mao Asada and Miki Ando, and South Korea's Kim Yuna, but hope, like the attractive odds on the US duo, should maintain interest.

You won't get long odds on White, the defending Olympic champion in the men's half-pipe, or Vonn, who has won five downhill races in as many starts this winter. White, who unveiled a new move in capturing the US Snowboarding Grand Prix in January, is an odds on choice to add to his gold neckwear collection.

Vonn, who injured herself during a practice run in Turin four years ago, has emerged as a dominant figure in women's downhill skiing. In fact, oddsmakers make Vonn a 2/3 favorite to capture Gold in Vancouver. But she'll have to beat defending Olympic champion Anja Paerson, of Sweden, the 7/1 second choice, and Germany's Maria Riesch, 10/1.

Some of the sports are unfamiliar, but an irresistible mix of opportunity and TV coverage should be enough to convince many otherwise reticent gamblers to join the Winter Olympics betting parade.