(LONDON) — Danny Boyle’s opening extravaganza highlighted the best of the British, icons like Potter, Bond and Bean, but London 2012 also spotlights another British cultural favorite – betting. For the first time Olympics-lovers and sports fans can bet on the outcomes of each 302 medal events across 26 sports, plus a variety of novelty bets.
The hottest one was who would light the Olympic cauldron. Saturday, most bookmakers are offering refunds after a team of Britain’s greatest Olympians joined up with seven young athletes for the honor. William Hill, one of the largest gambling houses in the U.K., operating a quarter of the total number of shops in the country, said that no one could have predicted the surprise move.
“That’s the thing about betting, all previous bets we’ve taken in the last six, seven years, don’t really matter compared to what’s happening on the day of the game,” Rupert Adams, a spokesperson for William Hill, told ABC News.
“If they’re gonna watch it anyway, why not put a few pounds on it to make it exciting? That’s the British culture of betting,” said Adams.
Adams, like most betting experts, says that Olympic wagers won’t come close to generating the kind of traffic or revenue mustered by traditional sports like football or horseracing; but that it’s an exciting and unknown terrain.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’ve got high hopes – it’s London, it’s on TV all day,” said Adams. “We’re planning on betting on everything, and about 50 million pounds ($79 million) will be bet across the industry.”
The British gambling industry is worth $9 billion a year, and is regulated a government body called the Gambling Commission. A spokesman from the Commission told ABC News that licensed betting operators are obliged to report to them if any “suspicious” activity arises.
Asked about the potential risks to Olympic bets, a spokesperson from the International Olympic Committee said the chances were pretty slim; but that the impact of any breach would be very high:
“All participants will have been made aware of the threat and will have signed up to comply with the IOC Code of Ethics and Betting Rules.”
In the wake of the Games, the Olympic Committee and the European Sports Security Association created a working group to monitor betting and potential match fixing. According to the Remote Gambling Association – the U.K. organization that oversees Internet betting – the rise of online gambling and live betting don’t pose serious security risks. But betting houses say they bolster the popularity of creating wagers.
“Social media and live-betting are definitely having an effect,” said Jessica Bridge, a spokesperson for Ladbrokes, a betting house that currently offers 11,000 different wagers associated with the Olympics.
“Most people with an opinion send it out on their smartphones, and they can also put their money where their mouth is,” she added.
Although the total revenue from Olympic bets is expected to climb only as high as one afternoon during a key soccer league match, the betting bug has already spread across government circles.
Australia Sports Minister Kate Lundy said she would row a length of the Olympic rowing course if Team Great Britain won more medals than Australia, while British sports minister Hugh Robertson would dribble a hockey ball round Australia House in London if the situation was reversed.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio