Olympics Betting And Odds Setting: NJ Books on the Hook in Unchartered Territory

Written By Dave Bontempo on July 8, 2021

Books and bettors join hands.

Their mutual mystery concerns the 2021 Olympics, which can be wagered upon for the first time on a large-scale basis.

The July 23-Aug 8 showcase in Tokyo launches a maiden voyage both for outfits like DraftKings Sportbook and the New Jersey online sports betting world.

How do gamblers and books handicap a festival of more than 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries competing in 339 events?

Carefully.

Over or Under on total US medals

Gambling choices fall into the major categories of medal counts and individual sports.

DraftKings made its first major stand, posting an over-under of 111.5 United States medals.

The over is -134. The under is -106.

There’s another prop for over 113.5 medals at +125 and under 133.5 as -177.

The number 112 may be the exact number oddsmakers forecast for the American team. A total of 112 pays -134. But 114, just two medals more, pays +125.

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More Sports, fewer medals projected for most countries

The Olympics feature five new sports, including surfing, sport climbing, skateboarding, basketball and karate.

While the Rio de Janeiro 2016 games saw 28 sports with 306 medal events, these games advance to 33 sports and 339 events.

Medal counts are projected to be lower than in 2016 for most teams, despite the addition of those sports. But they are expected to be much higher for one country: China.

The USA picked up 121 medals at the 2016 Olympics: 46 gold, 37 silver, and 38 bronzes. That was almost twice the haul of the second-closest nation, China, which secured 26 gold, 18 silver, and 26 bronzes for a total of 70.

But DraftKings has China’s over-under at 85.5 medals this time. That’s a substantial jump, bringing down the totals of many countries.

China medals total skews Olympics betting lines

This is an excellent wagering puzzle for New Jersey bettors. How good is the Chinese team? Is this number too high?

If the answer appears to be yes, the American medal total will seem like an excellent play.

And there are teams at the bottom, which still can pay off if the handicapping is accurate.

The Denmark over-under is 8.5.

Finland and Latvia, both 0.5, received the tongue-in-cheek sportsbook term “we’ve got them at half a medal.”

Hey, if you have a hunch, action is action.

NJ books on the hook in unchartered Olympics betting territory

The initial DraftKings board placed over-under medal counts on more than 20 countries. More bets will come.

This is some serious research. Books can only rely so much on past history, because it’s five years old, not one as it would be for professional sports.

Books are on the hook, forming betting lines from a difficult process.

“We know the United States will do well, but then it’s a matter of researching all the sports and trying to get a feeling for what you think the medal count will look like for all of them,” Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, told PlayNJ.

“Great Britain is always strong, Spain will win some medals and you know Australia will win a bunch. And then you wonder if Finland is ever going to win a medal,” he laughed.

“Is it difficult? Sure, it is. There are things we’ll have a tough time knowing, like handball. And in some of these sports, anybody who wants to take the time and research can come with an idea too, if they want to do the work.”

That’s a big if, of course. International competition is tough to handicap, unless participants have played each other before the Olympics.

Avello said the Olympics would benefit from a charismatic, trash-talking character, who would brag about breaking records. Whether one emerges remains to be seen.

More intangibles in the setting of Olympics betting lines

Olympic betting contains other intangibles too.

“Some of the betting interest could be tied to viewing,” Avello said.” When you can watch it, you can bet it with more confidence. If the event is on at 2 or 3 in the morning, you may not play. Some of the interest could also depend on whether the event is live or on tape.”

And oh, those brutal commercial breaks. As betting becomes more prominent, will the Olympics eventually “get it” and stop interrupting the flow with so many of them?

William Hill will entice a fair number of “slam bettors.” These players will lay big money on terrible betting odds for a result they consider impossible to miss. The net effect may be a small return on a big investment, but one with an overwhelming degree of certainty.

Here are the William Hill odds on the team to win the most medals:

  • United States -900
  • China +600
  • Russia +2500
  • Great Britain +3300
  • Japan +6600

Gamblers must wager $900 to win $100 on the United States. It ties up a lot of money that can be wagered elsewhere and invites substantial risk. Nonetheless, some big bettors will take this.

In the Gold Medal department, the United States is -700. Not as long, but still prohibitive.

Olympic basketball betting nuances

FanDuel features a new wrinkle in 3-on-3 (or 3 x 3) basketball wagering.

In 3×3, half-court games end after 10 minutes or once a team scores 21 in an outdoor venue. There’s a 12-second shot clock. Made shots count for one point, or two points if beyond the arc.

Olympic 3×3 is an eight-nation tournament for each gender. The U.S. men’s team did not qualify, the women’s team did.

The U.S. women’s team may have some of the top WNBA players who won’t be on the 12-woman team in traditional basketball.

Although the U.S. men’s team did not qualify for 3 by 3, it is a whopping -750 to earn the regular basketball gold medal.

The U.S. women’s team is a -700 chalk to capture the gold and a small favorite, +175, to seize the 3×3 honors. France follows at +200 and China is +300.

NJ bettors have full buffet of Olympics betting options

Amid this Olympic betting feast, smart gamblers will apply the same rules they use to make NFL picks from a menu of perhaps 500 choices on any game.

Be selective.

And enjoy the show.

This is gambling gravy.

Lead image credit: AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

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Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others. He writes significantly about the emerging world of legal New Jersey sports betting.

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