Embracing the Olympic spirit of sports betting

LONDON – What kind of a degenerate wakes up early on a Monday morning to knock on the door of a British betting parlor at the moment it's supposed to open so

Fans like them might have money on the Olympics. (AP)
Fans like them might have money on the Olympics. (AP)

they can begin the day dropping money on obscure Olympic sports?

Well, this kind of degenerate.

The rest of London appeared to be moving about briskly toward purposeful destinations. Men and women were spiffed up as they raced to the Underground and to an office somewhere. Others delivered fruit and bread to stores and restaurants.

Still more grabbed a coffee in advance of a day watching the Games or taking in various historical landmarks or maybe just using the time to recap last night's theatre.

Not me. Not here.

There's nothing quite like the rush of the sun just peaking through the buildings and knowing you've already got five pounds on Korea's Bo Bae Ki to win gold in the women's archery competition that day. (Odds: 5 to 2.)

(I planned on watching the competition later to root her on. "Shoot it straight!" appears to be the only proper cheer in archery by the way.)

Great Britain has fully embraced sports gambling. The United States still wrestles with inconsistent and corrupt laws designed to protect any number of special interests. Nevada is the only place where wagering is fully legal and offers diverse bets, although New Jersey governor Chris Christie has vowed to challenge a federal law on that this fall.

If anything, this is a glimpse at the future for America. One day this will be reality because there's only so long governments can watch billions in wagering go tax-free to organized crime and offshore operations.

[ Photos: The Dutch field hockey team looks good ]

In London, the government both wants its cut and wants to keep it in the open. As such, there are betting parlors everywhere here, one corner or the next. I opened the day at Coral by the Warren Street Underground station because it was the first one near my hotel to open – at 8 a.m.

I could've just as easily walked to a William Hill or Ladbrokes or just about anywhere else.

I was the only person in Coral at that time of day. While that was a slightly depressing reality check for me, I found it to be a win for humanity overall. So there's that.

Soccer and horse racing still attract the most action but here during the Games the bookies have tried to embrace the Olympic spirit. You could even bet on who would light the torch – Sir Roger Bannister was the 1/1 favorite but since no one offered the proper answer of seven children, that was a big win for the house.

"Most of the betting is on the men's 100 meter in athletics," said the woman working the counter at Coral. "I guess because of Bolt."

Usain Bolt, that is, and he is an 8/11 favorite to win next week. His Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake is 6/4 followed by Americans Tyson Gay (14/1) and Justin Gatlin (20/1) are next.

Like the chances of a 1-2 Jamaican finish? Yes, will pay 2/5. No is 7/4.

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The Olympics change the scale of all gambling because the sheer possibilities are intense. So many games, so many competitors, so many variables.

Who could resist 7/4 odds on Wang Hao of China to pull a mild upset in men's table tennis? Not me.

And don't get all moral and righteous there until you know the thrill of having Hungary's Vid Hidvegi at 8/1 to win gold in the pommel horse.

In London, the sports parlors aren't much. They're usually small places with a bunch of linoleum tables, a wall of old televisions and some slot-style machines, and they're about the size of a small newsstand and lack any kind of neon or flash or big signage. The Coral logo looks like a bank.

So Caesar's Palace it is not. In gambling genre, it's more like a cross between a small OTB and that poker room in "Goodfellas" that Joe Pesci shot Spider. Only there isn't any 1800 tequila to hawk.

I was definitely sucked into some nationalistic bets even if there was little payout value. USA men’s gymnastics for team gold? Absolutely at 6/4. Michael Phelps in the 200-meter butterfly? While 2/5 isn't going to do much for me, what do you think, that I'm a commie?

I even tossed three pounds on our men's synchronized diving team (10-meter platform) and got 14/1 on that.

Sure, my diving knowledge begins and ends with Thornton Melon and, yes, I wagered real money (well, about five bucks) on whether we have guys who can do flips at the same time better than any other country has guys who can do flips at the same time, but if a couple of these pay off I'm on my way to owning a British country manor.

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Don't judge me. It made sense at the time.

Eventually money overcame nationalism. The U.S. women's basketball team was paying out 1/200 against Angola. A one-pound bet would net a half penny. So forget it, I went with the Angolans at 13/1 even though with Diana Taurasi still an American citizen I might as well have thrown the money into the Thames.

By this point, I needed to get out because I was trying to break down the sailing odds and the place was still empty as apparently there wasn't anyone as desperate in the neighborhood. Also, I needed some coffee.

It was Monday morning in London, clear and bright. So shoot it straight Bo Bae Ki, shoot it straight.

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