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World Cup has to fight NFL, other sports for bettors’ interest

The World Cup doesn’t start until Sunday in Qatar and already is shrouded in controversy, the latest example being an unfounded rumor on social media of match fixing involving the host country.

Between alleged human rights violations, no beer being served at the stadiums and paid actors posing as fans of the 32 teams in an effort to manufacture excitement, this edition of the tournament is off to a rocky start.

And with several other factors conspiring against the timing of the monthlong event, it’s unclear how much appetite bettors will have for the World Cup during a busy time in the sports calendar.

“I think it’s inevitable that it will be less handle just because of the concentration of the dollars that people are looking to spend at this time of year,” said Jeff Sherman, vice president of risk management at Westgate SuperBook. “It’s during a holiday season, even if you look outside of sports betting. But it’s also going up against NFL, NBA, NHL. Usually it’s not up against all these things.”

The World Cup traditionally is held in the summer when there is a break in the schedule for most of the world’s top professional leagues. To avoid the extreme summer heat in Qatar, the event was moved to the fall for the first time.

That puts it in competition with pro sports in the U.S., along with college football and college basketball.

However, all the games are scheduled to start in the morning in Las Vegas — some as early as 2 a.m. — which makes for a full day of betting.

The United States also qualified this time after missing out in 2018, and that should generate extra interest. The Americans open Monday against Wales, but the most anticipated match of group play is Friday against England.

Sportsbooks expect a sizable handle, and Sherman said the SuperBook will show the U.S.-England match with sound over the day’s college football games.

“I really think World Cup is such an international spectacle, and it’s always been a huge betting event, and we’re such an international city, that regardless of when it is, I still expect you’re going to have terrific crowds and tremendous handle and electricity in all of our books,” Red Rock Resort sportsbook director Chuck Esposito said.

“It is a little bit different time of year, but I still think it’s going to be a huge event for our industry.”

With no team holding a home-field advantage, Brazil is the consensus favorite to win the World Cup and is +325 at the Westgate SuperBook.

Argentina, led by superstar Lionel Messi, is the second choice at +450, followed by a handful of European powers, including defending champion France at 8-1. One team Sherman thinks can surprise is Denmark at 25-1.

The U.S. is 100-1 to win the title at the Westgate, and Mexico is 150-1.

“We want America to advance as far as possible, but we don’t want them to win the World Cup, unfortunately, because they’re our biggest loser in the book,” said Craig Mucklow, vice president of trading for Caesars Sportsbook.

The U.S. also represents one of the largest futures liabilities at the SuperBook, Sherman said.

Argentina and the U.S. have seen the most tickets written at Station Casinos, followed by England, Brazil and Germany, Esposito said.

There are several props on the U.S., the most popular being to advance out of the group stage or win the group. The SuperBook posted the Americans’ group stage points with the total at 3½ (over -135).

Esposito said Station will post props on every match during the tournament and will have in-play wagering available on the mobile app.

“You’ll have some good-sized decision on it, no question at all,” Esposito said. “The early handle is tremendous on it. I can tell already there’s that added buzz and hype.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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