There’s almost nothing about the 2022 FIFA World Cup that seems like business as usual, including World Cup betting.
From the timing to the location to the shifting rules about everything from media coverage to alcohol sales, this iteration of the world’s biggest and most cherished soccer tournament (or football, if you prefer) feels like a radical departure from what fans have come to expect.
But the most important change, at least for U.S. sportsbooks? It’s the first World Cup since online sports wagering became legal and widespread in most of the country. But in a nation that’s not exactly known for its rabid soccer fandom, and with a tournament that’s going up against a crowded sports slate, the big question is how the betting action will shape up as this unusual World Cup rolls into its opening week of matches.
- TheLines.com Free 2022 World Cup Betting Guide
A big betting opportunity for sportsbooks
Expectations among many of the major U.S. sportsbooks are high. According to a survey by the American Gaming Association, 20.5 million Americans are planning to spend a total of $1.8 billion on 2022 World Cup betting. Almost half of those bettors – 48%, or 9.8 million people – are expected to place their bets online. That means big business for the major online sportsbooks like DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and others.
“I think it’s going to be bet pretty heavily,” said Johnny Avello, director of race and sportsbook operations at DraftKings. “The World Cup is such a big event, with big money. I’d say the average ticket price will probably go up. Not everyone bets it, but the ones that do, there will be people betting six figures on these games.”
But according to Avello, there are a number of variables that could play a role in the betting action. One is timing, both on the sports calendar and in the daily broadcast schedule.
Typically, the World Cup kicks off in early summer, which gives it more of a monopoly on the attention of the broader sports world. Baseball is in its midseason doldrums then. NFL and college football haven’t even ramped up training camps yet. Hockey and basketball are both usually ready to put their seasons to bed. It’s a good time to launch a major international sports event, in other words.
But this year the tournament is being held in Qatar, a controversial choice for multiple reasons, including the soaring summertime temperatures of the tiny Middle Eastern nation. Playing the tournament there in summer, when it’s regularly well over 100 degrees in the capital city of Doha, was out of the question. Instead, this tournament is to be mostly a winter affair, which means it has to go up against midseason NFL and college football here in the U.S., not to mention the early days of the NHL and NBA seasons.
That might be less than ideal for sportsbooks trying to direct bettors’ attention to this new option. But according to Mike Palm, vice president of operations for Circa Sports, the location of the tournament offers a potentially appealing tradeoff due to the time difference between Qatar and the U.S.
“The time of day, being in the Middle East, will help with the handle and the interest,” said Palm. “Here in the Pacific Time Zone, you’re talking about games at 2 a.m., 5 a.m., 8 a.m., and 11 a.m. That’s a void where there’s really nothing going on, and here this is truly the biggest event in the world which only happens every four years.”
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Could the USMNT make a run?
The World Cup is also unlike many other pro sports offerings in that it includes a strong element of national pride. While game-by-game betting, beginning with the group stage of the tournament, is still popular with many avid sports bettors, there’s also a chance for sportsbooks to attract the business of new customers who simply want to place a bet on their home country to win it all.
“That will be a major driver of the casual money,” said Palm. “The guy that’s coming in and betting $20, $50, $100 on the USA, that’ll be the major driver in terms of that over-the-counter recreational money. Don’t underestimate Mexico, though too. … If you could get both the USA and Mexico out of the group stage and into the knockout round, that will really drive interest into the third week of the tournament.”
Of course, there are also potential downsides for sportsbooks if the U.S. men’s national team does make an improbable run deep into the tournament, according to DraftKings’ Avello. If the casual money comes in heavy on the American national team, as expected, and with the odds typically against them when they face the world’s best in the world’s game, that could mean a lot of unexpected payouts to bettors who are wagering more with their hearts than their heads.
“It might get a little scary for us, depending on how far they go,” said Avello. “We’ve noticed that they bet the U.S. quite heavily in the future books. That’s not unusual, because they’re getting a high price and they want to root for the U.S. to go far. But I’m fine with it. I’d like to see the U.S. go as far as they possibly can, and the longer they stay in it the better it will be for betting.”
As of now, oddsmakers don’t seem terribly concerned about a deep U.S. team run. The squad is currently to win it all, with favorites including Brazil (), Argentina (), France (), and Spain () rounding out the top of the list.
As for the tournament’s biggest underdogs?
That’s between Costa Rica () and Saudi Arabia (), for any of their fans who might be feeling very, very lucky.