Basketball to draw viewers, not wagers

It has the potential to be the most-watched game in sports history, featuring Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the U.S. basketball team.

More than a billion viewers are expected when the Americans play China on Sunday morning in Beijing. But there will be no wagering on the game at Las Vegas sports books, where Olympic betting is banned.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board has prohibited wagers on any amateur noncollegiate sport, including the Olympics, since 2000.

Wynn Las Vegas sports book director John Avello said he’s not disappointed in the restriction because there is little demand for Olympic wagering.

“The Olympics is more of a watching event than a wagering event,” Avello said. “If you’re wagering on something, you want to watch it live. But with the time difference, it’s not something that appeals to a bettor.”

No such ban exists with offshore books. For example, The Greek Sports Book (, located in Montego Bay, Jamaica, has posted odds on several Olympic events.

The Greek lists the United States as a 33-point favorite over China on Sunday. The Chinese team has two NBA players, Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian.

The U.S. also is an 8-1 favorite (minus-800) to win the gold medal in men’s basketball.

Avello said there was occasional interest in Olympic wagering before the ban eight years ago. The highlight, he said, was the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, when Nancy Kerrigan won silver in figure skating and Tonya Harding failed to medal.

“There were some events that were popular,” Avello said. “When Harding and Kerrigan had that rivalry going in ice skating, that’s probably some of the most wagering we ever took on an Olympic event.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal or 702-387-2907.

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