It turns out Americans don’t really want to gamble on the Olympics after all.
Las Vegas gamblers, able to wager on the Summer Games for the first time in 16 years, have largely stayed away from the events in Rio de Janeiro. Outside of a few big bets on basketball and soccer, sports book operators say the total Olympics handle has been underwhelming.
“We probably have taken about as much in Olympic wagers as we would on a big baseball game, regular season,” Mirage bookmaker Jay Rood said in an email. (That’s not very much: Baseball is less popular with bettors than football or basketball.) The sports book is “getting action on the basketball and that’s about it.”
Vegas sports books haven’t taken Olympics wagers since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. Following a push by U.S. Sen. John McCain to ban betting on amateur sports, Nevada casinos compromised: They stopped taking bets on the Olympics, Little League and other little-wagered events but stayed open for college athletics.
The Nevada Gaming Commission last year re-opened gambling on the Olympics, approving a proposal brought by a group of the state’s casinos.
Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has offered odds on more than 65 Rio events so far, its largest Olympics betting menu ever. The U.S. men’s basketball team is the favorite there, too. Those games see action roughly equivalent to a low-end Major League baseball game, according to Vice President of Race & Sports Book Operations Jay Kornegay.
“There was minimal interest decades ago and so far that has held true this year with a couple of exceptions,” Kornegay said.
The Games end Aug. 21, and wagering will likely pick up as the U.S. basketball teams advance and soccer reaches the knockout stages. There’s also the chance that an intriguing storyline could emerge that drives wagers moving forward.
“Right now, it’s wait and see,” Kornegay said.