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Jamaica Returns to Winter Olympics Highlights Nature of Sportsbetting

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Jamaica will be everyone’s favorite underdog, but don’t expect many to bet on them.

The Jamaican bobsled team has announced that it has raised the necessary funding to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It marks the Jamaican bobsled’s first time at the winter games in 12 years. Jamaican ambassadors of the sport hope the Sochi games will revive its popularity in the small island nation. Bookmakers hope they will visit land-based and online sportsbooks in Jamaica to place bets.

Jamaica qualified for the two-man bobsled which will be run by Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon. Watts, a member of the 1988 team which shocked the world by competing in Calgary, put up roughly GBP 100,000 of his own money to help get to Sochi. Jamaica received the final berth out of 30 total two-man teams, meaning that oddsmakers will probably give them the longest odds of any team.

Sure, we all saw the Cool Runnings, the popular 1993 film that put Jamaica on the map for more than just reggae music and beach resorts. It was a great feel good story about an underdog making a statement on the national stage. We will hear the same story (minus John Candy) this year about Jamaica competing in Sochi. However, unless they pull a huge upset and receive a medal, it’s unlikely another Hollywood film will be made about them.

Everybody loves an underdog, even bookmakers

• Jamaica generally receiving 1,000/1 odds to win the gold in bobsleigh

Bet365 favorited Canada to win the men’s hockey gold with 2/1 odds

• All of forms of gambling are illegal in Russia except in four special zones; Sochi lies outside of each of them

What is truly interesting about this story, and why it is in the gambling news, is that it highlights the underdog-favorite relationship and how it effects the placement of wagers. Bettors love underdogs for two reasons. First, they bring unpredictability and excitement to the table, offering an alternative to the boring favorites whom everybody is betting on. Second and more important, they yield higher payouts.

Bust as much as bettors love underdogs, most of the time they put their money on the favorite. They tend to wager conservatively. As underdogs offer higher payouts, they offer far longer odds. For an ordinary working person, it makes more sense to make the safe bet even if the payout promises to be smaller.

While bettors love underdogs but usually bet against them, bookmakers absolutely love underdogs! In fact, they need underdogs to win once in awhile in order to turn a profit. UK sportsbooks lost a fortune the other weekend on English Premier League football when the favorite sides won all six matches.

As most money is bet on favorites, the total payout for bookmakers is smaller when underdogs win. They may give out a few huge payouts but they receive winnings from a larger pool of losers.

The darlings of Sochi

As much fun as we will have watching Jamaica compete, few of us will bet money on their success. In the two-man bobsled event the favorites are expected to be winter stalwarts Canada and the United States. In the four-man bobsled the short odds go to Germany, the US, and Russia. As most wagers will be placed on these teams, sportsbooks will hope to make money by their being upset. There is nothing they would like to see more than a gold medal for Jamaica, which is generally seeing 1,000/1 odds of winning.

In Ice Hockey, the most popular winter event for spectators, short odds have been given to Canada and Russia. Oddsmakers have on average given both of them 11/5 odds, with Sweden coming in third with 6/1 odds and the US at 17/2. One major bookmaker favorited Russia with 7/4 odds. The UK-based bookmaker Bet365 gave Canada 2/1 and Russia 9/4 odds. Despite its impressive showing last time around the United States are getting little love from oddsmakers. Bettors will see if the home advantage is as strong this time as it was for Canada in Vancouver in 2010.

Bet365 released its odds for alpine skiing. They chose Norway’s Aksel Svindal as the overwhelming favorite in the super G event with 4/5 odds. Coming in at an extremely far second is fellow countryman Kjetil Jansrud at 12/1. Annoyingly for bobsled fans it does not appear that Bet365 is taking wagers the sport.

Sportsbetting in Russia

The Russian government closed down most of the country’s casinos and betting shops in 2009. According to Russian gambling laws the activity is only legal in four remote regions. Sochi lies outside of the special gambling zones, so spectators looking to place bets will not be able to do it legally in land-based shops.

In addition, online gambling and betting is illegal in Russia. People attempting to access online bookmakers from the inside the country will be blocked. So, if you insist on making bets on the Sochi games, do it from the comfort of your own home.

All of the large international bookmakers are accepting online bets, as long as you place them from a country where online gambling is legal. Some examples of legal international bookies include Bet365, BetViktor, UniBet, Bovada, and Betway. Expect the total worldwide wager on the Sochi games to be huge. It just won’t be happening in Russia itself.

What to expect at Sochi

While a lot of us (especially bookmakers!) would like to see some major upsets next month at the Olympic games, the favorites usually end up close to the top. Don’t expect the Jamaican bobsled team to leap-frog 29 others for the gold medal. Don’t expect Slovenia or Austria to win the gold medal in hockey, as Bet365 gave each of them 1,000/1 odds. But if you decide to take a risk and put your money on the underdog, be consoled by the fact that your payout will be infinitely larger than if you go the conservative route. Picking boring competitors from countries that always win is no fun anyway.

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