For the vast majority of viewers, the beginning of the 2014 World Cup has been an absolute joy. There have been goals galore, a very high-profile failure from defending champion Spain and a growing sense that an overwhelming favorite has yet to emerge. If you like wide-open soccer and a wide-open field, then it's hard to ask for more.
Unless, of course, you work at a Las Vegas sports book. For oddsmakers, a tournament full of high-scoring matches with very few draws and a big victory by the United States actually creates major problems. As reported by Micah Roberts of The Linemakers, bookmakers are counting on some changes soon to get up to their expected profits (via For The Win):
Through the first five days of the World Cup, bettors have been rolling in the dough while the sports books have taken a beating, as favorites have gone 9-5 on the goal line and the OVER has cashed in 12 of the 14 games.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said LVH SuperBook assistant manager Jeff Sherman. “The kids [parlay bettors] are having a blast, and there really has been no need for handicapping the games – just blindly take the favorite and OVER.”
Interestingly enough, the United States' dramatic win over Ghana on Monday has created major problems for domestic sports books and given them hope their fortunes will improve soon:
The favorite’s 9-5 mark through Monday’s games doesn’t tell the entire story because one of the underdogs that covered was USA at pick ‘em (+110), which everyone seemed [to] have along with the parlay tied in to OVER 2 goals. The South Point’s Jimmy Vaccaro wasn’t too shook up about the losses his book incurred with USA beating Ghana, 2-1, though. In fact, from a long-term perspective, it’s a positive since it builds business and buzz.
“We’re hoping the USA builds up some momentum and makes it out of the group stage," said Vaccaro, “because it will just heighten the awareness of the tournament throughout the city that will not only increase handle on their future games, but also on the other games as people start familiarizing themselves with potential opponents down the road."
Should the USA have a good run, it’ll attract action from many who aren’t necessarily soccer fans, but can’t help but to get caught up in the patriotism in such a huge international event. Every book is willing to trade off some early losses for future gains down the road – they just don’t want to see the U.S. team get too far.
“Our biggest loss by far in our future odds is the USA,” said Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller, who is in the same boat with every other book in town. The LVH had USA 100-to-1 prior to the match with Ghana, and it doesn’t take too many $5 wagers to make that a giant liability.
In other words, sports books want the U.S. to advance far enough that those people who don't make a habit of betting go with their hearts and place minor wagers on the home team pulling off a feat even their own manager says they can't achieve. The goal is to get people to believe the impossible is possible without actually seeing a reality in which the impossible comes to fruition. At the same time, those same bookmakers are risking a large (yet comparably minor) payout for the much more likely scenario that the United States advance to the Round of 16. At the beginning of the tournament, the squad was 9/1 to win the group and 5/2 to advance.
[Related: The unsung heroes of the U.S. win over Ghana]
For that matter, the U.S. doesn't have to advance to the final for Vegas to pay out a great deal of money. Anyone who has ever filled out an NCAA tournament bracket knows the joy of predicting an underdog alma mater to win for at least a few rounds until they run into a powerhouse. The World Cup could work the same way — if the United States advances far enough to drive up interest but also runs into a traditionally dominant soccer nation, it's possible the head will win out over the heart even with merely moderate sums of money at play.
We're getting ahead of ourselves, obviously, because the United States still has a lot of work to do to advance from Group G. Yet, through all these scenarios, it's important to remember that the house usually finds a way to win. Cliches often become conventional wisdom for good reason.
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