In most months a weekend where a horse has the potential to win the Triple Crown, the first such winner in nearly 25 years, bookmakers would be clamoring for attention and trying to get as much of the betting action on the race as they could.
But this is no ordinary weekend.
"This is clearly the biggest weekend for sport in England in the last 10 years, and maybe of all time."
- Mark Davies
Sports book operators aren't overlooking Saturday's Belmont Stakes, where War Emblem could become the first Triple Crown thoroughbred since Affirmed in 1978. But the race is just one of several sporting events this weekend capable of creating quite a buzz on their own. That they'll all happen in a span of 48 hours could make this weekend the biggest in sports betting history.
Sports fans and punters alike will have a bevy of action to choose from. The World Cup is entering its
second full week of action with numerous games to spark the interest of bettors. England's match with Argentina tops the list. Mix in one of the most anticipated Belmont's in recent memory, and bookmakers are licking their chops in anticipation of turnover.
Wait, there's more.
Add to the crowded sports schedule the French Open tennis finals, the most anticipated boxing heavyweight title fight in years (between England's Lennox Lewis and the United States' Mike Tyson), the continuation of the National Basketball League championship series between the LA Lakers and New Jersey Nets and the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup finals with the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes.
Mark Davies, the communications director for Betfair.com, England's biggest P2P betting site, said once you add the Vodafone Derby and Oaks races being held in England, there is no doubt how much betting potential there is on the horizon.
"This is clearly the biggest weekend for sport in England in the last 10 years, and maybe of all time," he said.
Another one of England's biggest independent bookmakers, Blue Square Interactive Development Limited, said events like the Belmont and French Open will get attention, but they all pale in comparison to what the World Cup will bring in for the weekend.
Ed Pownall, the press officer for Blue Square, said that the World Cup has garnered so much attention with the group's customers that no there's no action on the Belmont as of two days before the race.
"The (racing) industry is seeing those fringe and casual bettors get on board, and I think War Emblem has a lot to do with that."
While interest throughout England and the rest of Europe in the Belmont might pale in comparison to that of the World Cup, the same can't be said on the other side of the pond.
David Marshall, the CEO of interactive race wagering service provider Youbet.com, said his site has already been deluged with hits in the lead up to the Belmont.
He said no projections are being made for turnover or handle for the Belmont, per Youbet.com policy, but he indicated that early action was off the charts.
The call center and Web site were both experiencing record high hits in pre-race betting through Thursday, two days before the start of the race.
Marshall feels that having a horse like War Emblem going for the Triple Crown has helped fuel the excitement in America.
"There hasn't been a Triple Crown winner in a long time," he said. "Because of that the race is getting a lot of main-stream media coverage and hype. The industry is seeing those fringe and casual bettors get on board and I think War Emblem has a lot to do with that."
Youbet.com has managed to leverage its brand among that group thanks to special promotions and partnerships during the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, which included jockeys wearing Youbet.com baseball caps in post-race TV interviews. Marshall thinks the Belmont could be a bigger day in terms of turnover and handle than the Kentucky Derby.
"And that is saying something about the interest in this race, because the Derby is always the biggest horse race in the United States," he said.
Davies said U.K. bettors' interest in the Belmont may not be as high as it is the U.S. in light of all the other sporting events, but he added that War Emblem's chance of winning the Triple Crown will generate a certain amount of interest.
"Anytime you have a person or a horse that is capable of making history, and in this case doing something that a lot of people have never seen before in their lives, it is going to capture part of the betting public's attention," he said.
To accommodate the busy schedule, Davies said English tracks are including live broadcast of World Cup matches while the Derby and Oaks are being run. He said the gesture is nice, but many bettors will be unaffected.
"Most people who take the time to show up to the track and bet on the horses have little or no interest in soccer matches," he said. "But the tracks at least realize that there are other events going on that people are interested in. They might get a handful of soccer fans to come out and watch the horses because they know the match will be on at the same time and they won't miss any of that."
Pownall pointed out that the slough of major, international sporting events taking place this weekend isn't about operators making a lot of money in a short amount of time, but rather showing customers what they are capable of offering to them.
He said it is important to take a long-term approach to the weekend and prove to punters that the Internet and other distribution channels are easy ways for fans to place and follow their bets without having to go to a land-based facility.
If an Englishman, let's say, can go to his computer and bet on his country side to beat Argentina, decide which Williams sister he likes in the women's French Open Final, put money on Lewis to knockout the American, lay another £40 on Proud Citizen to prevent War Emblem's Triple Crown, and then maybe even bet another £10 or £20 on the Stanley Cup or NBA Finals, interactive bookmakers should be able to turn him into a full-time customer.
If the punter is pleased with the ease of the system, happy with the timeliness of his pay-out and confident in the security of the service, he might be willing to come back more and more, Davies said.
Only then will the true success of such a popular weekend in worldwide sports be known to the interactive sports betting industry.