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Kevin Smith

World Cup: Everyone's a Winner

9 July 2002

Two weeks after the dust has settled from the Samba's celebration of winning an unprecedented fifth World Cup, it is clear that the Brazilians aren't the only winners of the world's biggest sporting event.

Internet bookmakers joined their land-based counterparts in reaping the rewards from the most lucrative sporting event in the history of bookmaking.

Prior to the tournament, which started May 31, the major U.K.-based bookmakers were predicting it would generate £200 million in handle. High Street officials now say that goal wasn't only reached--it was eclipsed. And Internet gambling played a big part in that action.

"June 2002 may go down as the most successful month in the history of bookmaking."
- Graham Sharpe

Graham Sharpe, a spokesman for William Hill, said the leading U.K. bookmaker brought in £250 million in turnover from World Cup bets. Ten percent of that action, he said, was generated through William Hill's Internet betting operations.

"That is a higher percentage compared to normal betting events," he said. "The penetration of the Internet isn't all that high, but the amount of activity that was generated on the Web site with the World Cup gives a good indication that it is catching on and more and more punters are turning to the Internet to place their bets."

Sharpe also said that since some games had starting times in the morning and afternoon in England, when many betting shops are closed, people turned to the Internet to place their bets.

William Hill wasn't alone in generating a lot of handle through its Web site.

Many Internet-only bookmakers had huge pay days thanks to favorites like Italy, Portugal and France not making it deep into the tournament and teams like the United States, South Korea and Senegal advancing far.

But the success didn't end with large turnover. Operators are confident that once consumers see how easy it is to use the Internet for betting, and they are paid out their winnings, more and more will get turned on to the idea.

Blue Square, a leading provider of interactive betting through TV and the Internet, achieved £25 million in turnover during the World Cup, according to press spokesman Ed Pownall. The key, he said, isn't in the turnover, but in the new and repeat customers whom Blue Square hopes to harvest into regular users.

"I'd be pretty confident of keeping punters simply because if you are betting on football then you will inevitably support a team and therefore carry on into the domestic season," he said. "The punters you don't keep for long are the ones that come on to bet on Big Brother because they tend not to be sports fans and therefore will not be following anything closely enough to continue betting."

Another major Internet-only bookmaker in the United Kingdom,, is taking the same approach in the wake of the World Cup.

Sportingbet won 11,000 new customers thanks to the tournament and now has more than 550,000 registered users worldwide. Company officials said a large percentage of the new users are Asian-based punters, proving marketing agreements fruitful in the host nations of South Korea and Japan.

For the first time in the sport's history, Sportingbet saw a great deal of interest from punters based in the United States, a country that has long been impartial to soccer. U.S. punters, though, represent 55 percent of Sportingbet's near £1 billion turnover. The company itself was up £1 million as the favorites were eliminated until the Germany-South Korea semi-final, when 97 percent of bets were on Germany.

As expected, another clear winner in the betting sector was the person-to-person market. P2P betting site, which dominates the market with more than 90 percent of all P2P bets, matched up £70 million in bets and generated £1.5 million on the championship match alone.

More than 600,000 bets were processed in total on The biggest winner for a punter backing an outcome was £32,017 backing Ecuador against Mexico.

The biggest single bet was £30,000 to back Spain at 1.7 to beat Ireland inside 90 minutes.

Mark Davies, spokesman for the site, feels the World Cup was a huge success, and like Sportingbet, will use it to open doors into the Asian market.

"We already had a great deal of interest in the marketplace," he said. "We weren't able to get some partnerships lined up until the final weekend of the tournament, but even without those, we were able to effectively target that market are become a truly global betting exchange."

Although no operator was complaining about the record-setting month, all agreed that had the final not pitted traditional soccer powers Germany and Brazil together, turnover could have reached the $400 million mark.

"But I don't think anyone is going to get into a fit about it," Sharpe said. "June 2002 may go down as the most successful month in the history of bookmaking."

World Cup: Everyone's a Winner is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith