Battle to bring Olympic betting to Vegas an uphill event

Jun 9, 2012 |
Battle to bring Olympic betting to Vegas an uphill event
Olympic basketball would be the biggest draw for Nevada sportsbooks.
Olympic basketball would be the biggest draw for Nevada sportsbooks.
Nearly every television in the world will be tuned to the 2012 Summer Olympics, which open July 27. But not those in Nevada sportsbooks.

The battle to bring Olympic betting to Las Vegas is an uphill one, and a fight that may not be won in time for this year’s summer games.

A handful of sportsbooks are looking to book odds on the London Olympics, but have been met by strict guidelines from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which sees the Olympic games as an amateur event and therefore off limits to wagering in the state.

“We’ve received a couple applications for the games, but they’ll need to provide more information from either the International or American Olympic Committees on whether or not it’s an amateur or professional event,” Jerry Markling, chief of enforcement for the NGCB, told Covers. “We believe that is still the spirit of the games, even though there are some professionals that take part.”

The debate on whether or not the Olympics are still a celebration of the best amateur athletes around the world is painted in various shades of gray. Ever since the 1992 summer games – when the famed U.S.A. basketball Dream Team stole the spotlight in Barcelona – the International Olympic Committee has welcomed professional athletes.

Andrew Patterson, senior oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, says the best evidence that the Olympics – or at least those events at issue – aren’t for just amateurs is the tennis, which pulls from the Top 56 players in the ATP and WTA professional tennis tours.
“We thought it was going to be an easy process, but we’ve had to apply a couple times,” Patterson told Covers. “We’ll continue to push forward until we get a letter that says ‘No matter what you do, we aren’t approving it’. We’ll work with them (NGCB) and find a place where we both agree.”

Sportsbooks aren’t looking to book odds on all the events, but are setting their sights on the more popular competitions like basketball, tennis and soccer, which would garner the most action from bettors.

Perhaps one thing holding Olympic betting back is that not all sportsbooks are willing to put in the time to work with the Nevada Gaming Control Board to approve wagering. Outside of the more popular sports, the rest of the games just won’t draw that big of a handle, according to many Nevada shops. However, once one is approved, all books can offer odds.

“The only thing that would draw good action would be the basketball,” Jimmy Vaccaro, an oddsmaker for Lucky’s Sportsbooks, told Covers. “If someone puts in the effort and gets that put through, God bless them.”

John Avello, sportsbook director at the Wynn Las Vegas, told Covers he hasn’t applied for the 2012 Olympics but believes he will. Avello is well known for setting odds on events outside of the regular betting menu and was one of the key figures in getting the World Series of Poker available for wagering in Nevada.

“One event we missed out on in the last Olympics (Winter 2010) was the hockey,” Avello says. “For this, the basketball would do OK. But right now it says ‘no’ the Olympics are not part of the gambling menu. I don’t think they’re (NGCB) against it, but we just need to show them that these are pros and we can regulate and offer odds on it.”

For the time being, the only places sports bettors will be able to bet on the 2012 Summer Olympics are at the various offshore books.

Most online markets have at least some form of Olympic prop betting available, including, which calls the host country of the 2012 Olympics home. It currently has handful of prop odds up but will book odds for every event going once teams and rosters become official.

“Olympics for us has always been very busy,” Aron Wattleworth of told Covers. “With it being in London, much like the Euro 2012 tourney, it’s a great time zone for pretty much all of our global demographic and will be very popular again. It’s expected to be much busier than last Olympics in Beijing, which was very busy trade itself.”

The 2012 London Summer Games begin July 27, leaving about a month and a half for Nevada books to convince the Gaming Control Board that the Olympics no longer fall under the amateur sports category.

The clock may be ticking down for 2012, but those challenging the rule are paving the road for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as well as other events which may blur the lines between pros and amateurs.

“It’s not worth giving up on,” says Patterson. “The ends may not justify the means right now, but it will down the road.”

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