GBGC’s Chief Executive Warwick Bartlett will be hosting the Betting Trends and Strategies track at the iGaming Super Show in Dublin (22-25 May). The event is free to attend for all delegates.

Sports betting is a little bit like the system of crop rotation practised by farmers across Europe in the Middle Ages. In some years a field was left fallow to let the soil rest and recover. In the same way sports betting has its own cycles of major events like World Cups. If 2011 was a fallow year in this respect, then 2012 is very much a “growing” year with both the European Football Championships and Olympics taking place.

But major sporting events can be a mixed blessing for betting firms. There is the benefit of the wider media build-up and anticipation to the event helping to create interest in the betting. This effect can help lower the cost of acquiring customers during the tournament itself but it is equally possible to overspend on marketing in the run up to a tournament and recruit low-staking, once-a-year customers that do not recoup their recruitment costs.

Looking back four years ago to 2008, Unibet, for example, used 55% of its marketing in the first half of the year, as it built up to the Euro 2008 tournament. In 2009, when there was no summer tournament, Unibet spent 46% of its marketing expenses in the first half of the year. But sports betting gross win around the tournament itself did not reflect the increased marketing spend in the first half of the year. In both 2008 and 2009 the gross win pattern was the same for Unibet – Q1 and Q4 were the best quarters.

Of course, the other element of this equation is the sporting results themselves. If results go against the bookmakers, then even the best marketing campaigns will find it hard to boost revenues. William Hill said it had a “poor Euro 2008” when Germany and Spain reached the final, with Spain winning 1 -0 thanks to a goal from Fernando Torres, back when he scored goals. Having added the World Cup to their trophy cabinet in 2010 as well, Spain are favourites to win the tournament again this year (3.25), with Germany second favourites (4.0).

In fact 12 of the 16 finalists are currently trading at odds of 13.0 or bigger, so the betting firms clearly feel that very few of the teams have a realistic chance of actually winning the tournament.

Punters, however, do tend to be patriotic in the major tournaments and firms who target a particular country will be hoping that nation’s team does not lift the trophy. In this respect, English bookmakers have been raking it in from patriotic punters since 1966. But if England – without a permanent manager at the time of writing – do ever lift a major trophy again it will really hit the English-focused betting firms.

At a price of 41.0, even the most patriotic gambler will find it hard to make a case for Team GB topping the gold medals table at the London Olympics later in the summer. In general, the Olympic games has never been a major betting event and, given the attitude of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) towards gambling, it might be more hassle than it’s worth for even licensed, properly-regulated firms to offer an extensive number of markets on Olympic events. The IOC president Jacques Rogge has repeatedly stated that illegal betting and match-fixing are as much of a threat to the Olympics as athletes taking banned substances. Speaking to The Independent in 2011 Rogge said, “Illegal betting has yet to be detected at an Olympic Games, but we are not naïve. We know the day will eventually come. The potential for corruption is at an all-time high due in part to the advent of betting on the internet and the anonymity, liquidity and sheer volume it encompasses. There are more temptations and pressure on athletes, coaches, officials and others to cheat for betting gains than at any other time in the past. What’s worse, this cancer continues to go largely unregulated in many parts of the world.”

Betfair signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the IOC at the start of 2012 to share information during the 2012 Olympics. The company also did the same thing before the Beijing games four years ago. One measure apparently being considered for the London games is the setting up of an education zone within the Olympic Village where athletes can go to get advice on gambling regulations. Olympic athletes are not allowed to bet on events in the games according to a code of ethics in operation for the duration of the games. The code also applies to other members of a team’s delegation such as the coaches, team officials and referees.

A measure of the concern the game’s organisers have about gambling was revealed by British Olympic Association (BOA) chairman Colin Moynihan. Moynihan said, “every morning [during the games] there will be a meeting of the Gambling Commission, who will work with the Metropolitan police and LOCOG, the border agency, and IOC representative on that working group to analyse any unexpected or significant movements in the markets”. One wonders what weight of money it would really take to cause a “significant movement” in the men’s 50km race walk, for example.

The London Olympics should be ideal for developing betting on Olympic events if the willingness from betting operators exists. In stark contrast to Beijing in 2008 and (as it stands) Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the UK already has a regulated Internet gambling market, the advertising of online gambling is permitted, the UK consumer is well-educated in Internet gambling, and spectators at appropriate Olympic events could even bet in-running on their smartphone.

Betfair, for example, has taken a sponsorship deal with two UK female beach volleyball players. They will promote Betfair on their bikinis through a Quick Response (QR) code which links through to the Betfair website when scanned with a smartphone.

But one suspects that the risk of being associated with bad publicity in relation to suspicious betting will outweigh the benefit of any additional betting turnover for most betting firms. There will be markets offered around the total medals won and some key sports but perhaps more for media publicity than for real betting purposes.

Developing a wider betting interest in Olympic events would certainly help betting firms add to the cycle of events in their “crop rotation”. In theory Olympic betting should also produce a “bumper harvest” for operators too in terms of gross win margin because most customers will be betting on events that they rarely follow other than every four years at the Olympics.

In-running betting on the men’s 100m final might be a little way off, however.

GBGC first wrote this article for the GIQ April-June 2012 edition.