A Wagering Perspective on the Sydney Games

3 October 2000
A world joined together for a brief moment of peace and glory is how many people see the Olympics. Historically, the start of the Olympic games signaled a brief respite from war while athletes competed in a different kind of battle. Olympic athletes were honored and respected, and the games became a source of unification and national pride. While the Olympic ideal has been battered and bruised over the years, one thing has remained steadfast: The Olympics have always been a hot ticket for punters.

As the Games were beginning, William Hill's spokesman Graham Sharpe foresaw huge betting. "For the first time, punters worldwide have access to Olympic betting via the Internet, and we anticipate that there will be a record turnover as a result," Sharpe said. The company reported that new customers from 159 nations opened betting accounts in time for the Games.

Betinternet's Mark McGuiness was also enthusiastic as the Games began. "Currently we are taking several five-figure wagers (on the special bets) so the prices won't be available that long," he said. He foresaw a seven-figure turnover from Olympics betting.

Betting hasn't been quite as big as it was for Euro 2000, but it's a lot more profitable, according to Ed Dale, chief operating officer for IQ Corporation. "All in all, a lot more smiles than after Euro 2000," he said.

After the Games and the betting were done, Centrebet spoksperson Gerard Daffy reported that the Australian online bookmaker received nearly $8 million turnover for the Olympics, with some punters dropping $20 to $30 thousand on a bet. "We didn't know what to expect," Daffy said. "We thought maybe $15 million (in turnover), but we took three times as many bets in the total held, so most (punters) treated betting as a fun and recreational type of thing, which suited us fine." The company opened up thousands of new accounts, he added, the busiest month Centrebet has ever experienced.

Daffy also said they took bets from 113 different nations. "Who bet? Eveybody," he explained. "Of course, Aussies did, but Asians and particularly Scandinavians were where most of the business came from."

For some bookmakers, Olympics betting weren't a huge factor. Robin at Etherbet, a WAP betting site, found that punters weren't very excited about the Games. "It seems we have had a fair few new players who are just placing bets on the Olympics," Robin admitted, "but currently we aren't seeing anything like the excitement generated during Euro 2000."

While bookmakers were happy to take bets from punters, there were some concerns that athletes would throw a game for the sake of a bet. Already this year, news that soccer and cricket stars were betting on their own games had rocked the two sports. Would Olympic athletes be lured from their Olympic quest in return for money? Such a possibility filled Olympic officials with dread.

The Australian Olympic Committee finally spoke out, saying that although nothing could be done about the current games, plans were being drafted to prevent Olympics athlete from betting on future games. "The problem is, without any reflection at all on our current competitors, there is the possibility that in some point of time that some very big money might. . . or the people behind it might try to influence a result," a concerned AOC assistant mission chief Michael Wenden told the AP. "And I think purely for that hypothetical position, it's really something that should be discouraged and made illegal if possible."

McGuiness, for one, had few concerns that his customers might include the athletes. "We will do our utmost to screen for this type of insider dealing by monitoring the wagers and liabilities of any of the prices offered. "

The Games are over, the Olympic flame is gone and the betting fever has shifted back to the American football. In 494 days, the Winter Games in Salt Lake City will have bookmakers hoping for yet another betting bounty.

Vicky Nolan joined the IGN staff in October 1999. She's best known for inventing fire, the wheel and swiss cheese. She can be reached at vicky@igamingnews.com.