Julio Cortez / AP
Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Making a decision at the sports betting window was never so difficult. It never involved this much guilt.
Glancing over World Cup soccer odds last week, one number jumped off the betting board: Taking Germany to beat the United States. Winner, winner, chicken dinner I immediately thought.
But as I went to place the wager, seemingly already counting my winnings, I began to doubt the decision. No, I didn’t question my handicapping — Germany was far superior.
Rather, I couldn’t bring myself to root against my country in such a crucial game. Would I be less of an American if I bet against my country? Was my patriotism in doubt for simply thinking the U.S. was overmatched?
Well, apparently yes, because I balked and let my guilt take over, opting to not make the wager. I couldn’t feel like Pete Rose betting on the Reds. I couldn’t let my desire to make a few dollars replace the desire for my country to make a deep World Cup run.
Turns out I’m not alone.
Veteran bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro of the South Point reports most money wagered at his property on U.S. games has been on the red, white and blue. If the U.S., which were 200-to-1 to win the tournament, pulls off the unthinkable and is the last team standing, Las Vegas casinos would be big losers.
“You have a bunch of people rooting for their country for a $10, $20 or $50 investment,” Vaccaro said.
Today could be when the cheering stops. The U.S. faces Belgium in an elimination game, and oddsmakers aren’t too confident in the Americans. Belgium is minus-220 to advance (wager $220 to win a $100), signaling the end of the tournament is likely near.
While the American way in our capitalistic society is to find the best deal, I’ll again refrain from wagering. I also refuse to bet against my favorite sports team, and considering I’m a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, that took some restraint during the 20-year playoff drought when 100-loss seasons were the norm.
Maybe that’s why I’m a perennial loser at the sports book. I don’t have that killer instinct.
In sports handicapping, where bettors are already faced with long odds to make a profit, loyalty shouldn’t interfere with decision-making. You can’t be a homer. You can’t bet with your heart. You can’t be patriotic.
One school of thought says betting Belgium means you’ll be a winner either way. If the Americans lose as expected, you’ll cash a ticket. If they win, then you’ll celebrate a historic upset.
Watching the game would be impossible. Would you root for your bet or for your country? Imagine cheering when Belgium scores a goal when the masses of people you were watching with were devastated.
And, Vaccaro says, there’s a lot of people packing the books across town watching games.
They have enjoyed a nice spike in business because of soccer, especially considering the summer is typically a slow period. Despite the South Point being “whacked with the totals going over” early in the World Cup, Vaccaro says they are dead-even for the tournament.
The money wagered for U.S. and Mexico games have resembled business for a Monday night NFL game.
Mexico was eliminated Sunday in a heartbreaker against the Netherlands. Selfishly, and because he's patriotic, Vaccaro is rooting for the U.S. to get past Belgium to give books a few good more days. He knows football, the real football, is still a few weeks away.
That’s when I’ll bet the Pittsburgh Steelers 16 straight weeks. And that’s not me being a homer — they are football’s best team. Every year, right?