As predictable as a Gary Lineker tweet, an Alan Hansen denouncement of anyone who "writes off the Germans" and a limp quarter-final exit in a major football tournament by England, is the collective media clairvoyance predicting an imminent billion-pound betting bonanza at the World Cup in Brazil.
Brazil 2014 kicks off on June 12 in Sao Paolo as 31 of the best teams in the world—and England—battle it out amid the heat, unfinished stadia and street crime to lift the coveted trophy.
And sports-betting fans across the world will have their laptops, tablets and PCs at the ready.
When the last World Cup in South Africa had finished—won by bookies’ favourites Spain—hundreds of millions of pounds had changed hands, with major player William Hill recording a £135 million profit for the first half of 2010.
For once, the red-tops’ £1 billion predictions may be—to borrow a betting term—bang on the money.
As long as the event actually goes ahead (preparations have been far from ideal, with protests about the cost of the thing and FIFA’s Secretary General Jerome Valcke issuing an ultimatum to host cities who are months behind schedule), Brazil 2014 looks set to break all betting records, especially if one of the longer shots triumphs in South America.
Hosts Brazil go off favourites in the betting—they can be got at a general 3/1 according to OddsChecker.com. Argentina's mercurial talisman Lionel Messi heads up the "Top Goalscorer" bets at 8/1.
Patriotic British bets on England, meanwhile, may be at a premium this year—especially if their dismal 2010 showing is anything to go by—and Roy Hodgson’s men can be had at a more realistic 28/1 this time around.
Whether it’s Brazil, Argentina, Messi or a cheeky punt on Australia (1500/1) to lift the World Cup come July 13, there are more ways to bet on your favourite team than ever before.
The Football Revolution Will Be Advertised
Following a trend that started with the 2010 World Cup, sports-betting advertising is set to go stratospheric this summer—indeed, it has started in earnest already—as the leading bookmakers vie for every pound from new customers.
Since UK advertising laws were loosened, prime-time TV betting advertising has increased massively over the past couple of years, especially live "in-running" markets during the ad breaks of big football games.
As well as the relaxation on advertising, new tax laws kick in December this year as the British government seeks to close loopholes on bookies’ offshore operations, while in 2015 controversial Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in bookies shops will witness higher taxation. Bookmakers, therefore, need to earn every penny they can. Betting site 888.com will hope that the signing of Luis Suarez as brand ambassador is enough to secure them the golden loot.
The Impact of Mobile Gaming
With ads that change to suit the current state of the footie match you’re watching, the TV and tablet have become implicit tools in armchair gamblers’ arsenal.
The burgeoning mobile gambling market—more than $45 billion in sports bets will be placed via mobile devices by 2017 according to an OddsWinner.com report—has seen tablets and smartphones become the new betting terminals. At the swipe of a finger you can Back and Lay on the exchanges, close out spread bets as you watch a match on the TV, and wager in-running.
It’s hard to argue with Ray Winstone's giant floating head when he tells you that Steven Gerrard to score next at 7/1 is a good bet, especially if you’re watching—and betting on—your tablet. Without a doubt, the 2014 World Cup will be the first mobile gambling World Cup—indeed, the most user-friendly betting tournament of all time.
Savvy gamblers will sit and watch football matches from start to finish on their monitors or smartphones and alter their bets based on the information in front of them—markets that were once the preserve of spread-betting experts only.
With mobile betting so widespread—and predicted to account for almost half of all interactive gambling by 2018—even the most hardened couch-potato gambler can take a punt on second-half corners before their curry has arrived at the door.
Match-Fixing—A Very Real Threat?
With so much at stake—and so many possible ways to make a million—scare stories have emerged about match-fixing on a huge scale.
As the BBC highlights, massive Asian betting syndicates have already infiltrated European leagues and bribed footballers or officials to help throw games, affect decisions or concede goals.
Corruption has found its way into international corridors too. The Guardian reports on a high-profile case in 2011, where Bulgaria and Estonia played out a 2-2 draw, while Latvia beat Bolivia 2-1 in a separate game.
The key fact was that all seven goals over the two games were penalties, and just under $7 million was bet on the matches.
After complaints were made to FIFA, the officials in charge (from Hungary and Bosnia) were charged and banned for life.
And last month, a court heard how three players from the English lower-league Conference South were paid cash by Far Eastern businessmen to help fix matches.
Following a new ruling by the FA, next season all pro footballers in England will be banned from betting on all football matches—wherever they are in the world. Currently, footballers are just banned from betting on games in which their own club is involved.
The moves will do little to stamp out low-paid footballers susceptible to bribes being approached by illegal betting syndicates, however.
The World Cup’s Early Warning System—Early Enough?
Although any matches at the World Cup are in danger of falling victim to similar skulduggery—with billions watching games on TV around the world, the scope for blatantly fixing a game is much reduced—FIFA are taking no chances.
Football’s governing body have introduced an Early Warning System which will monitor betting markets on all matches played in Brazil.
FIFA’s own security director has admitted that meaningless “dead rubber” games towards the end of the group stages at this year’s World Cup could be most at risk from fixing.
FIFA currently has some 400 gambling operators signed up to help, plus agreements with gaming regulators in jurisdictions such as the UK, Malta, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man where many of the world’s biggest sports-betting sites are licensed.
Can Brazil Avoid ‘the Curse of 2002’?
It is hoped that the EWS will go some way to stopping any repeat of alleged match-fixing that has blighted previous World Cups.
In a quarter-final between Italy and South Korea at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea (which Korea won 2-1,) there was speculation that the referee was being too lenient on South Korea for their heavy tackling.
Later in the game, the referee—Byron Moreno—disallowed Italy a penalty and sent off Francesco Totti for diving.
Eyebrows were raised that the ref was perhaps influencing the game, with even Sepp Blatter calling the refereeing in the game, “a disaster.” Moreno was subsequently banned for match-fixing on no less than two separate occasions.
The influence of Asian betting syndicates in the game is certainly a threat, but only a cynic would suggest any game at the World Cup will be affected. It will also be interesting to find out how many of those in football use FIFA’s own "corruption hotline"—a special webpage set up to let players and coaches report (anonymously) any suspicions or allegations of match-fixing and illegal betting.
But at the end of the day, who needs to bribe England players for them to duck out at the quarter-final stage when it’s such a shoo-in?*
*A 4/1 shot, if you’re interested.
Author's Note: Odds in the article derived from OddsChecker.com