The strangest Olympics of the modern age has its opening ceremony on Friday.
In Tokyo, there will be thousands of the best athletes in the world parading into a multibillion-dollar facility that will have no fans because of COVID-19 precautions. In fact, the Japanese Olympic committee spent close to $8 billion on venues and stadiums to welcome no fans — local or from around the world — for these games.
The debate about whether these games should happen at all is warranted. Only 22% of Japan's 70-plus million citizens are fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times, with another 12% having received one shot.
Simply put, the games are a go because of the money involved — for the countries, the host and the international committees that split the billions NBC pays to peddle the patriotic stories and the feel-good fodder every four years.
But that endless spigot of money is not just flowing to the participating countries, athletes or organizers. Now that 28 states — including Tennessee — in the U.S. have legalized sports gambling, the extra betting opportunities in what is otherwise a very slow, pre-football part of the summer figures to provide an added lift in the days ahead.
Of the country's eight biggest sports betting markets, according to GamingToday.com, six will accept wagers on the Olympics. Tennessee is among that group, leaving legalized sports books eager for an unforeseen windfall.
"Traditionally, the betting action on the Olympics has been light," ESPN gambling writer David Purdum said Monday. "This year, however, will be the first Summer Olympics since the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed states outside of Nevada to begin offering legal sports betting. So, we'll at least get to get a better gauge of how much was bet on the Olympics when the monthly state revenue numbers are released later in the year."
Betting the games
Tennessee is one of the states with legalized sports betting that is offering sports wagering on the upcoming Olympic Games. Each of the sites have several promotions. Here are a couple of the more interesting ones:
> At FanDuel, if you wager at least $100 total on the Olympics, you will get $1 (up to $50) in site credit for each gold medal the U.S. wins;
> At DraftKings, the odds on the heavily favored U.S. Women’s soccer team have been reduced to even money, meaning if you bet $100 you win $100;
As for some of the more strange propositional bets available:
> Over/under number of U.S. Gold medals is 43.5;
> You can wager on the nation of a champion of any event, thus limiting the risk. Of course the odds are higher, especially when it comes to Nigerian distance runners;
> You can bet in sports or across multiple days whether world records will be broken as well.
Yes, the traditional sports will garner most of the attention of the networks, but it may not be the Dream Team or Simone Biles that generate the most action with the bettors.
"The time difference this year, from Tokyo to the U.S., is going to hurt the amount wagered. Some of the men's basketball games, for example, will tip-off at 8 a.m. or even 12:40 a.m. ET," Purdum said. "One event that may generate above average is table tennis. Believe it or not, $10.3 million was bet on table tennis in May just with Colorado sportsbooks. That's more than was bet on soccer, tennis, golf or MMA in the month. It will be interesting to see if the interest carries over to Olympic table tennis."
Globally, Olympic betting has been the rage for years. Betting in Australia for the 2012 Olympics in London — one of the prop bets was a 33-to-1 that Boris Johnson would set his hair on fire with the Olympic torch — reached close to $200 million. In case you were wondering, at the Rio games in 2016, you could get 1,000-to-1 odds that a UFO would land during the opening ceremonies.
Purdum's curiosity about the effect of legalized options on these Olympics provided here is echoed through the industry. Sam Panayotovich, sports betting analyst at FOX Sports, told reporters that these games "will be the biggest hold for the Olympics that we have ever seen," which means it will have more action than any other Olympics before.
In fact, the questions about the amounts bet with the increased presence of available gambling options — especially for a third heat of the women's 100-meter butterfly at 7:30 a.m. in Knoxville — will almost be matched by the unknowns about how much NBC will devote to gambling coverage in its traditional Olympic coverage.
"I expect point spreads and odds will be mentioned from time to time, which would've likely been taboo in past Olympics," Purdum said. "Overall, I don't expect anything more than the occasional reference to the odds."
Still, the extra avenues are welcomed for the online betting sites during a time that is filled with pretty much only baseball in the states and that is still weeks before meaningful football action.
Besides, what could be more patriotic than putting a couple of Ben Franklins on the good ol' U.S. of A against the world? That would have me chanting U-S-Pay! U-S-Pay! for the rest of the summer.
But the color for bettors is not red, white or blue. In fact, Purdum may have said it best, when asked about a bet he likes for these Olympics.
"I see the over/under on number of medals won by the U.S. is 111.5," he said. "Not to be unpatriotic, but I'm leaning toward the under. The number's got to be inflated at U.S. books, right?"
Contact Jay Greeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.