This past week marked the Diamond Jubilee for Her Majesty, the Queen of England, celebrating her 60th year on the throne. If you don't watch morning shows, which treat all things British with as much breathlessness as they do men suing ex-girlfriends for custody of their dogs, you may not have known this.
It certainly slipped my mind. On Tuesday morning, with Euro 2012 a few days away, I dialed up David Williams, a PR rep with Ladbrokes, the UK bookmaker. Because everything we do stateside as far as betting seems quaint compared to what's happening across the pond, I wanted to get a sense of just how big the action would be. Too bad I called him on his cell at 4 in the afternoon his time, as he was celebrating the Jubilee. It reminded of the day two years earlier, when I called him with questions about the World Cup betting handle. As I peppered him he finally said, "Can you call me back? Today are the UK elections and we have a lot of money at stake right now." I felt like the ugly American. This was the sequel.
Williams passed me off to his colleague, Alex Donohue. He was at his Ladbrokes office in northwest London, about 30 minutes from the center of the city. For the next few weeks this is where he will spend most of his time, sweating the games on what Ladbrokes calls its trading floor. "There are lots of screens all over," he said. "This is where all the liability management goes on. It can be very high-octane, and when the games aren't going well, there are a lot of fraught people."
When I asked Donohue what people in England think of Americans not being able to bet legally he answered, "I don't know that anyone thinks about it, because I don't know anyone can imagine that."
There will be a lot of fraught people all over the world, not just in betting shops. Interpol, the international crime busters, estimates that the yearly global sports betting market reaches $1 trillion a year. Of that, the group reports that 70 percent is bet on soccer. And that is when there isn't a big tournament taking place. Two years ago, for the World Cup, nearly $700 million was wagered in England. Worldwide, it was the most-bet sporting event in history. Or consider this little bit of perspective if you have trouble seeing beyond our borders: At the most, U.S. government estimates of how much Americans bet on sports every year is $380 billion. I repeat, that is the high end of what they believe to be true. The reality is, with only $2 billion or so bet legally in Nevada, it's impossible to guess how much is in this particular bucket.
(With New Jersey still banging the boardwalk for legalized betting, this is a good time to point out how, when I asked Donohue what people in England think of Americans not being able to bet legally he answered, "I don't know that anyone thinks about it, because I don't know anyone can imagine that. When you ask them about gambling in the U.S. they all talk about Vegas because people here love it so much.")