Olympic Odds Posted in Nevada as Wagering Approved by Commission

American sports bettors now can wager on whether Usain Bolt will win the 100-meter dash at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, or if the U.S. men’s basketball team will claim its third straight gold medal.

The Nevada Gaming Commission on Thursday legalized gambling on the Olympics, a practice already allowed in places such as the U.K. The proposal, brought by a group of the state’s casinos, was approved at the commission’s monthly meetings in Las Vegas.

William Hill U.S., Nevada’s largest sports book operator, responded by posting its initial Olympics menu. Bolt, the 100-meter record holder and winner of the event’s last two gold medals, is -200 to win again, meaning a $200 bet would return $100 plus the initial stake. The U.S. men’s basketball team is -320.

“With more than two out of every three Americans having watched the London Olympics in 2012, the games in Rio have the potential to offer a sizable impact in August of 2016 like we saw last June, across Nevada, with the World Cup,” William Hill U.S. Chief Executive Joe Asher said in a release.

Momentum has shifted in the U.S. toward a more receptive sports gambling environment. National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver has called for legalization of sports gambling, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says it’s time for a conversation on the issue to begin and daily fantasy sports -- legal though in many ways similar to traditional sports gambling -- has become a multibillion dollar industry.

Record Winnings

Nevada sports books won a record $227 million in 2014, up from $203 million a year earlier, according to Gaming Control Board statistics. The total gambling win fell 1.1 percent, to about $11 billion from $11.1 billion.

William Hill lists the U.S. as a 6 1/2-medal favorite over China in the overall golds competition. The 2016 Olympics, to be staged in Rio de Janeiro, will feature golf for the first time since 1904. William Hill is listing 3-1 odds that the gold medalist will be American.

Both the Brazil men’s soccer team and U.S. women’s soccer teams are +250 to win gold, meaning a $100 bet would return $250 plus the initial stake.

“We look forward to continually expanding our Olympic menu in the next 18 months leading up to the games,” Asher said.

Olympic bets were legal in Nevada decades ago. As part of the efforts of U.S. Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, to ban betting on amateur sports, an agreement was struck in 2001 to allow college sports gambling while banning wagers on other amateur sports such as the Olympics and Little League Baseball, according to USA Today.

Professional Olympians

Though the U.S. once used only amateurs to represent the country in the Olympics, professionals now dominate rosters.

Betting on the Olympics wouldn’t approach the level of money spent on the Super Bowl or college basketball tournaments, though the Summer Olympics in particular would help keep visitors coming to the warm-weather state during a typically slow time of year, said Jimmy Vaccaro, who runs the sports book at the South Point Casino. He declined to estimate exactly how much might be spent.

“We were busy the entire last year because of the World Cup in summer,” Vaccaro said in a telephone interview this month. “These are the things that make a difference.”

Established in 1959, the Nevada Gaming Commission regulates gaming licenses and adopts regulations to enforce the state’s gaming laws. The committee’s five members are appointed by the governor and serve in a part-time capacity.

Yesterday’s revision of those regulations give the commission chairman the authority to limit the bets at his or her discretion, according to the Associated Press.

The NBA’s Silver said in September at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit that legal sports gambling throughout the U.S. was “inevitable.” He later wrote an op-ed on the topic for the New York Times. Baseball’s Manfred this month told ESPN he would speak with team owners about the issue because of the changing landscape.

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