U.S. Sportsbooks Could Miss Out On Olympics Again


A vast majority of Japanese citizens oppose the upcoming summer Olympics, slated to kick off in Tokyo in late July and end on Aug. 8. Local resistance to the global sporting event has been mounting.

A poll this week showed that more than 80% of Japanese people oppose hosting the Olympics this year, with opposition growing in recent weeks as the country reportedly struggles with another wave of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. The Olympics were halted in 2020 due to the first wave of the virus.

Recently, a union of doctors in the country has called for the games to be canceled.

Organizers reportedly still are planning for regular athlete virus testing and a ban on fans coming in from overseas to make the Olympics a go. The aforementioned poll found that 60% of Japanese respondents want no fans if the event is in fact held. More than 11,000 athletes from 205 countries are expected to participate.

Olympic betting handle speculation

The Olympics would be missed by regulated mobile and retail sportsbooks across the U.S., especially because the games happen in the summer slow season, when American football is completely off the air. However, a cancellation is unlikely to be a massive blow to the books.

The last summer Olympics were in 2016, when single-event sports betting was confined to only Nevada. In August 2016, when the Olympic games were held, Nevada saw bettors wager $188.25 million, up about $3 million from August 2015. Of that August 2016 handle, $17.77 million was from the “other” category that included the Olympics, golf, boxing, MMA, and other relatively less popular sports. That was up from $10.77 million in the gambling category from August 2015.

The Olympics could have accounted for somewhere around 2-5% of the total handle for Nevada in August 2016, though there were estimates in 2016 that it would amount to more than 10% of the handle for the month. An official industry figure does not exist.

Americans wagered $2.1 billion legally in August 2020. The Olympics could generate $60 million to $120 million in nationwide handle based on that estimated Nevada percentage of handle in 2016. It wouldn’t be a terrible loss for the regulated sports betting industry, but it would be a noticeable absence.

That said, August 2016 was actually the first time the Nevada sportsbooks were able to take bets on the games in nearly 20 years. Nevada books had many events off the board and had relatively low betting limits, different from what the regulated sportsbook industry across the U.S. would offer now.

The Olympics in 2021, more than three years after Nevada lost its sportsbook monopoly due to a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, could prove larger as a share of handle for the betting industry.

Bettors in the U.S. have grown somewhat accustomed to wagering on so-called fringe sports due to the pandemic last year. In Colorado in May 2020, sportsbooks took $6.58 million in wagers on table tennis. Colorado table tennis handle in March was $8.84 million, nearly 3% of the total statewide handle for the month. Table tennis is just one of many Olympic sports.

Olympic betting handle as a share of total handle could also vary greatly by state.

Despite happening once every four years, the Olympics still aren’t a very popular betting event on American soil, but sportsbooks would surely like them on the menu this summer alongside baseball.

Image credit: Jo Galvao / Shutterstock.com


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