World Cup a billion dollar-plus betting extravaganza for punters
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Betting turnover on the World Cup will be in the billions of dollars -- and bookmakers fear a big payout if Gareth Southgate's England side finally win the trophy after a 56-year wait.
The World Cup generates huge interest from punters, in stark contrast to the other quadrennial global sporting showpiece, the Olympics, which "barely causes a ripple", a leading English bookmaker told AFP.
Punters will cast their eyes over Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe on football's greatest stage in Qatar from Sunday and beat a path to the doors of bookmakers round the world or bet online.
The Olympics may attract a global television audience to compare to the World Cup but with 32 different sports it does not whet the appetite of the betting public.
"The World Cup is by far the biggest betting event we see, with no comparison to the Olympics, which barely causes a ripple amongst punters," David Stevens, head of public relations at Coral bookmakers, told AFP.
"Estimates for global turnover on this World Cup vary wildly.
"While we'll never know the exact figure, it's fair to say it will be in the billions of dollars around the world, given the far-reaching appeal of the World Cup, from America to Asia and all points in between."
William Woodhams, CEO of the world's oldest bookmakers Fitzdares, said the Beautiful Game appeals to all.
"Football is a mature betting market, the biggest in Europe and the World Cup is popular with the casual punter through to the seasoned professional or high-staking punter."
Woodhams and Stevens say the timing of the kick-offs, with Qatar three hours ahead of Britain and two hours ahead of Western Europe, is also a godsend for European punters and bookmakers alike.
This time-friendly scenario will also lend itself Woodhams believes to a significant rise in the amount of live betting during a game.
"This will probably be the first World Cup where the in-play market is at least one third of total bets," he said.
"It's the way the sport is going and it makes the 90 minutes a more exciting experience."
- 'Can't complain' -
For Stevens the greatest fear on a business side is an England win and also if Wales -- in their first World Cup finals since 1958 -- go far into the tournament.
"A win for Gareth Southgate's men is a real possibility, and with it a multi-million pound payout to patriotic punters," said Stevens.
"In our favour, we have the likes of Brazil and Argentina running for us, these teams will have their backers, but not to the extent England will.
"That said, we've avoided an England World Cup win since 1966, so we can't really complain if it finally happens this year!"
Stevens sets aside his patriotic cap for his dream scenario -- that the final goes to penalties, as most punters bet on an overall winner after 90 minutes.
"It's going to be a massive few weeks, now all we need is England v Brazil in the final, and yes, you’ve guessed it, Brazil to win on penalties after a 0-0 draw!"
Punters, though, are nothing but imaginative with the chances they see of making money as Woodhams discovered with one of their account holders.
"Someone wanted a bet on the first player to be expelled from Qatar," he said.
"It wasn't an actual person, just that a player would be expelled within the first five days of the tournament.
"We didn't take the bet as we couldn't agree with them on a price! They wanted 50/1."
Woodhams says there is still traditionally more money placed ahead of a match on the result or who will score first -- and it is not just on the matches featuring the tournament favourites.
He said games with what he called a "strong narrative", or interest beyond football, would attract bets.
For example, "I can see Americans popping a patriotic Franklin ($100) on their team against Iran."