The World Cup doesn’t start until Sunday in Qatar and is already shrouded in controversy. The latest example is an unfounded rumor on social media about match-fixing involving the host country.
Between allegations of human rights abuses, beer serving in stadiums and paid actors posing as fans of the 32 teams to create excitement, this edition of the tournament got off to a rocky start.
And with several other factors working against the timing of the month-long event, it’s unclear just how much appetite bettors will have for the Worlds during a busy period on the sporting calendar.
“I think it’s inevitable that it will be handled less just because people are looking to spend big at this time of year,” said Jeff Sherman, vice president of risk management at Westgate SuperBook. “It’s during a holiday season, even if you’re looking outside of sports betting. But it also works against NFL, NBA, NHL. Usually it doesn’t have anything to do with all of those things.”
The World Cup traditionally takes place in the summer when there is a break in the schedule in most of the world’s top professional leagues. In order to escape the extreme summer heat in Qatar, the event was moved to autumn for the first time.
This puts it in competition with professional sports in the United States, as well as college football and college basketball.
However, all games are scheduled to start in Las Vegas in the morning – some as early as 2am – making for a full day of betting.
The United States also qualified this time, having missed out on 2018, and that should generate additional interest. The Americans open against Wales on Monday, but the most anticipated group game is against England on Friday.
Sportsbooks are expecting significant reach, and Sherman said the SuperBook will broadcast the USA-England game with audio over the day’s college football games.
“I really think the World Cup is such an international spectacle and it’s always been a huge betting event and we’re such an international city that regardless of when it is I still expect you to see great and great spectators will have grip and power on all of our books,” said Chuck Esposito, sportsbook director for Red Rock Resort.
“It’s a slightly different time of year, but I still think it’s going to be a big event for our industry.”
With neither team having home field advantage, Brazil are the consensus favorites to win the World Cup, sitting at +325 on the Westgate SuperBook.
Argentina, led by superstar Lionel Messi, is second pick at +450, followed by a handful of European powers including defending champions France 8-1. One team Sherman thinks can surprise is Denmark, 25-1.
USA is 100-1 to win the title at Westgate and Mexico is 150-1.
“We want America to go as far as we can, but unfortunately we don’t want them to win the World Cup because they’re our biggest loser on the book,” said Craig Mucklow, vice president of commerce at Caesars Sportsbook.
The US also represents one of the largest futures liabilities on the SuperBook, Sherman said.
Argentina and the US wrote the most tickets at Station Casinos, followed by England, Brazil and Germany, Esposito said.
There are several props in USA, the most popular being getting out of the group stage or winning the group. The SuperBook posted the Americans’ group stage points total of 3½ (above -135).
Esposito said Station will post props on every game during the tournament and will make in-play betting available on the mobile app.
“They will make a good decision, no question about it,” Esposito said. “The early grip is enormous. I can already tell that there is this added buzz and hype.”