The 2018 World Cup — the biggest betting event in the world — kicks off Thursday, June 14 and it’s no surprise that defending champion Germany and 2014 semifinalist Brazil are the consensus favorites at around 4-1 at Las Vegas sportsbooks.
Spain, France and Argentina are the three teams with the consensus next-best odds in Las Vegas, and stand at 6-1, 6-1 and 8-1, respectively, at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of support for Germany,” Westgate SuperBook head oddsmaker Jeff Sherman told ESPN. “The money is starting to spread out, but we’re mostly concentrated on Germany, Argentina and Mexico. Argentina is our largest liability.”
Several other sportsbooks told ESPN that the most bets and the most money was on Germany, which is looking to become the third country ever (first since 1962) to successfully defend a World Cup title.
There have also been some big futures bets.
Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management at CG Technology, told ESPN that they took a $10,000 bet on Brazil to win the World Cup at +450 odds, as well as a $5,600 bet on Argentina at +750. One bettor even risked $50 on longshot Saudi Arabia to win at 1,000-1 odds.
“The team that hurts us the most is Mexico,” director of William Hill trading Nick Bogdanovich told ESPN. “We’ve gotten a lot of money on Mexico to win.”
The United States was a 100-1 longshot in October, before failing to qualify for the tournament for the first time since 1986. The country’s absence will certainly decrease the overall World Cup betting handle (along with games kicking off in the early morning due to the time difference with Russia), but Vegas oddsmakers were split on whether the total amount bet for this year’s World Cup would be up or down from the 2014 event.
“I think it will be a slight increase, 5-10 percent,” Bogdanovich said. “There is such a higher volume of sports betting in 2018 [than 2014] that it will overcome the U.S. being out and the time difference.”
“I would have expected a 15-20 percent increase on handle from natural growth,” Sherman told ESPN. “With the U.S. out, I would still expect an increase from 2014. But it will be small.”
Other bookmakers were more pessimistic.
“Three of the top five games in terms of handle in 2014 were U.S. games,” Simbal noted. “Who is waking up at 4 a.m. local time or staying up to watch the games. If I was making a line on the overall handle, I’d make less [than 2014] a slight favorite.”
Chris Andrews, head oddsmaker at South Point, agreed: “We’re open 24 hours a day, but the game times aren’t great for us. I’m sure when it’s all said and the done the handle will be OK, but not as good as four years ago.”
Betting interest on the World Cup has risen in recent tournaments, Nevada bookmaker David Purdum told ESPN in October. The 2014 World Cup that saw the U.S. advance to the knockout stage fueled record handle at multiple sportsbooks in the state.