Thompson had no plans to attend any events but figured this was his way to take part in the Summer Games being played out in his backyard, a city as aristocratic as it is gritty, where betting parlors outnumber the convenience stores in some neighborhoods.
While gambling on the Olympics is prohibited in the United States, it’s big business for the host nation of the Summer Games. The industry expects to handle anywhere from $75 million to $150 million worth of bets during the Olympics, which would more than double the action from the Beijing Games.
“There’s a phrase we use in England: It matters more when there’s money on it,” said Mark Griffiths, a professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University. “When there’s a side bet on the event, it makes that activity more exciting. That’s how many people will choose to enjoy these Olympics.”
While several betting parlors around London reported low interest in Olympic betting during the opening weekend, Britain’s top gambling outfits still expect these Games to provide a big boon.
“Team GB hasn’t really gotten off to a flyer here,” Rupert Adams, a spokesman for the mega-bookmaker William Hill, said of the gold-less British team, “which I think is holding people back a little bit.”
Studies predict 1 in 8 Brits will place a bet during the Olympics — about 6 million people in all — which is why all of the British gambling outfits are taking bets on virtually every competition in every sport at these Summer Games.
“It’s never going to be as big as a World Cup final or the European Championship because football is a global sport and people don’t know Greco-Roman wrestling or taekwondo quite as well,” said Jessica Bridge, a spokesperson for Ladbrokes, which operates more than 2,400 betting parlors across the United Kingdom. “But to be honest, the first weekend surpassed our expectations. We’re seeing a lot of patriotic money out there.”
Bookmakers are making sure bettors have plenty of options from which to choose. In addition to simply selecting winners, oddsmakers have created a long list of quirky propositions: Would a nude streaker disrupt the opening ceremony? Will it rain during the men’s 100-meter race? Will the Olympic Village run out of condoms? Would a flying saucer appear over the Olympic Stadium (1,000 to 1 odds)? What outfit would Queen Elizabeth II chose for the opening ceremony?
“We took a killing on that one,” Chris Middlemiss said, “because word got out beforehand what she’d wear.”
Middlemiss is the director of sports betting for Coral, which operates more than 1,700 betting parlors. Earlier this year, he created a spreadsheet of the 36 Olympic sports and told his team of a dozen oddsmakers to become experts as quickly as possible. There’s now more than 10,000 Olympic-related bets that are offered. Think LeBron James and the U.S. men’s basketball team is a can’t-miss winner? A bettor would have to lay down $8 to win $1. Odds on individual games can be even more extreme. Angola’s basketball team was a 200-to-1 underdog to upset the American women Monday.