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Betting on World Cup Soccer

5 June 2002

In the last column, we discussed runlines and moneylines for betting baseball, America's pastime. Now lets talk a little about soccer, the pastime for the rest of the planet.

If you have never lived in Europe or Latin America, it will be impossible for me to explain to you how incredibly popular soccer is in these parts of the world. The word "passion" just isn't strong enough. There is simply nothing in American sports, or American culture for that matter, that draws the same amount of interest as a major soccer game in these places. Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series, Olympics, Academy Awards, and presidential elections are all major events and draw millions of viewers in the US of A, but rarely do these events mean that roads will be deserted, that schools and business will be closed, or that a favorable result will become a spontaneous day of jubilation for the entire country.

Why doesn't the US have any sporting event that reaches the masses on such a scale? It is simple - the US is so good at so many sports. When you think of sports in Canada, you think of hockey. When you think of sports in the Dominican Republic you think of baseball. When you think of sports in England you think soccer. But when you think of sports in the US: football, baseball and basketball leap to mind. America produces the best teams and the best players in these sports, and the best players from around the world come here to play in US-based leagues. But in countries like Costa Rica, soccer is the only major sport where they can compete on a World level. The collective national pride rests on the shoulders of every player who takes to the pitch representing their nation. Nobody wants to miss the euphoria that comes when their team, and thus their country, pulls together and wins.

Enough background, lets talk about betting on the sport. Betting on soccer is a little different than betting on football or basketball as a result of typically low scores (not typical are games like Germany's 8-0 win over Saudi Arabia this weekend in Group E play, or Australia's 22-0 and 31-0 wins over Tonga and American Samoa on consecutive days in qualifying last April). This means soccer betting is more like wagering on hockey or baseball, in that spreads and totals are not moved to balance action. Instead, the House moves the attached moneyline to create value and attract betting dollars where desired. However, there is a major difference between soccer and baseball/hockey - the likelihood of the game ending in a tie. Baseball can never end in a tie (although you should never say never, because the Yankees and Orioles played to a 1-1 tie last September), and neither can playoff hockey. Soccer, on the other hand, ends in a tie very often. With few games and frequent ties, European betting shops simply added the "Draw" as a wagerable option to increase earnings, and three-way betting was formed.

So when you see a line like:

Portugal -250

USA +550

Draw +280

A bet on Portugal is a loss, not a push, if the game ends in a tie. The same goes for a wager on the USA. A bet on the Draw is a winner only if the game ends in a tie, so if either team wins, the Draw wager is a loss.

Some North American books (including BoDog) have added a more traditional spread for the World Cup to make it easier for their clients to play. At these books, you may see a line like: Portugal -1/2 (-250) USA +1/2 (+210)

Please note that the attached moneyline of the Portugal spread is the same as the line in three-way betting at -250. This is because the bets are the same thing. Portugal -1/2 means they must win the game, and that a loss or a draw results in the wager being a loser. Sometimes, the spread will be -1.5 (like baseball and playoff hockey), but regardless, when betting favorites in soccer, you should always check both the spread and the three-way moneyline to find the best value.

The converse is not true, though, as a wager on USA +1/2 essentially represents both USA +550 and the Draw +280 in a single pick. You can use this to your advantage to get a higher return on your bankroll in certain situations. If you like the US to win, why settle for a return of +210 on the spread when an upset can pay +550? If you like the draw at +280, perhaps you may want to include the possibility of a US win, and only give up 70 cents. There are many opportunities here, and it is worth spending some time with a pen and paper working through different scenarios to see where you can benefit.

Some soccer games (World Cup games after the first round for example) require a winner, but to keep betting options the same, books traditionally only accept wagers for regulation time. This means that golden goals (overtime winners) and penalty kicks (the shoot-out after scoreless overtime) have no effect on wagering. Always make sure you are aware of exactly what outcome you are betting on in soccer.

Two other typical soccer bets are the Exact Score and Double Result. The Exact Score bet is pretty clear - predict the final score. This type of bet doesn't work very well in other sports because of the higher scores, but is very popular for soccer. Double Result wagering requires you to pick the outcome of the first half and the game. For example, Portugal-Draw would require that Portugal be leading after the first half and that the score be tied at the end of the game for the bet to be a winner. This is possible for football and basketball, but hasn't caught on in North America yet, although we had lots of action on this very bet for this year's Super Bowl.

As always, I talked to Kent (BoDog's top bookmaker) about the House's recent success. "The last couple of rounds of the playoffs have been a tough grind for us. The road teams are having big success, and some players are cashing in by taking the points. It's very different from recent years, where the favorites get all the action. Baseball is up-and-down, although losses by the Yankees and Red Sox yesterday with Clemens and Pedro starting resulted in a very big day for us. The World Cup has been good, with Senegal's upset of France to open the tournament getting us off to a very profitable start."

I'll be back in a couple of weeks with a further look at the World Cup, and a recap of the NBA season from the House's point-of-view.

Rob Gillespie is Operations Manager for BoDog Sportsbook & Casino

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