Las Vegas is and will probably always be the Mecca of sports gambling. But after a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court, states around the U.S. are starting to get in on the act. Delaware was the first state outside of Nevada to allow open sports wagering, and New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania are expected to follow suit.
This is perfect timing for the World Cup, which in the United States brings with it either rabid interest or absolute indifference. And with the United States failing to make the World Cup for the first time since 1986, there’s probably less buzz this year than usual. Still, as the third most populated country on Earth, even a small level of interest means a lot of eyeballs, and with legalized gambling now in play, maybe there’s still something for Americans to play for. Forget patriotism, now’s the time to make some cold hard cash.
With a bevy of different World Cup bets to make, here are 11 wagers to look out for — from shoo-ins to absolute long shots.
Spain +600 to win the World Cup
As they say, follow the money. While Spain is the 10th-ranked team in the FIFA world rankings heading into the World Cup, and coach Julen Lopetegui was fired the day before tournament kick-off, La Roja has the third best odds (behind Brazil and Germany) to hoist the trophy it won in 2010. Even without Lopetegui, the squad’s tactical instincts are baked-in, and even if Spain has disappointed in recent major tournaments, it remains one of the most cohesive teams at this year’s World Cup.
All-in on Peru
Peru is currently 11th in the FIFA rankings, which isn’t too shabby. Yet Los Incas have the 18th-best odds to win the tournament. While it’s hard to imagine the Peruvians shocking the world, even with talismanic striker Paolo Guerrero back from a drugs ban, there’s the opportunity to win big if Peru goes on a miraculous run and the other side of the tournament bracket pans out as expected. If Brazil, Germany, or France meets Peru in the final, and the Peruvians win, you could win $20,000 for every $100 wagered.
Harry Kane for the Golden Boot
History tells us two things. First, a player will need five or six goals to take home the Golden Boot, which is awarded to the tournament’s top scorer: James Rodriguez had six in 2014; Diego Forlán, Thomas Müller, Wesley Sneijder, and David Villa each had five in 2010; and Miroslav Klose had five in 2006. Secondly, England’s national team has underperformed at every World Cup since 1990 (or simply not qualified, as in 1994).
Yet Tottenham’s Harry Kane seems like a player who can challenge for top goalscorer even if England don’t go deep into the tournament. He scored 30 Premier League goals in 37 appearances for Spurs last season, racking up six hat tricks over the 2017 calendar year. Over the last four seasons, he’s scored 135 goals in 187 games for his club in all competitions.
Placed behind other greats such as Lionel Messi, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Antoine Griezmann by bookmakers, Kane seems like a value bet for the Golden Boot at +1,600.
Messi vs. Ronaldo
Like with most great sporting rivalries, fans fall on one side or the other when it comes to debating the best player in the world. For Messi and Ronaldo to physically meet at this year’s World Cup, Argentina and Portugal would have to finish in identical places in their respective groups, win in the round of 16, before meeting in the quarter-finals. Another scenario could find them meeting in the semi-finals. But as we all know, the World Cup hardly ever goes as planned.
As a rooting fail-safe, why not bet on which of the two scores more goals? The odds favor Messi (-155) over Ronaldo (+120). While a smaller wager wouldn’t mean life-changing money, it’ll definitely keep things interesting as you track what could become an IRL clash later in the tournament.
Brazil against the world
Brazil has a number of players in contention for the Golden Boot — chiefly Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, and Philippe Coutinho. In a “Brazil versus the field”-type wager, you can win $375 for every $100 bet if a Brazilian is top scorer.
Keepers for the Golden Ball
Goalkeepers are possibly the least heralded players in football, rarely scooping the major individual gongs. But Germany’s Oliver Kahn winning the Golden Ball — the award for player of the tournament — in 2002 shows that keepers sometimes catch the big prizes, too. There are several options with long-shot odds that could pay out handsomely should it happen again. Consider Spain’s David de Gea (+5,500), Germany’s Manuel Neuer (+6,600), or Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois (+15,000). De Gea in particular is part of a Spain team unbeaten in 20 matches and is coming off arguably his best ever season at Manchester United.
Serie A gets shut out
There are various wagers that focus on classifying players by their club football. Specifically, you can make the ballsy shout that no player from England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, or Italy’s Serie A will score a single goal in Russia.
At +10,000, the Premier League bet seems like a complete Hail Mary, as does betting against Messi, Ronaldo, and the La Liga gang (+6,600). But at +1,100, oddsmakers clearly don’t think much of Italy’s top division — most likely because the Azzurri themselves won’t be at the tournament.
Should you believe that Serie A-based non-Italian attacking talent including Gonzalo Higuain, Dries Mertens, Andre Silva, Mario Mandžukić, Ivan Perišić, Nikola Kalinić, Paulo Dybala, Arkadiusz Milik, Juan Cuadrado, and Douglas Costa will fail to register, this is the bet for you.
The hosts advance
According to FiveThirtyEight, Russia’s group with Uruguay, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia is the weakest group in modern World Cup history. The site gives the host a 74 percent chance of advancing, despite a dearth of talent in the ranks and the prospect of facing Luis Suárez, Edinson Cavani, and Mohamed Salah. With +250 betting odds, it could be money ripe for the taking.
David vs. Goliath
Iceland’s first World Cup isn’t simply a feel-good story. Led by Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson — who spearheaded the tiny island nation’s quarter-final run at Euro 2016 — Iceland has a shot at once again defying the odds and advancing out of Group D alongside Argentina.
Should they make it, Iceland would likely face France in the round of 16, which, despite a wealth of young attacking talent, had unexpected slip-ups during qualifying, losing away to Sweden and playing out a scoreless home draw against Luxembourg. If Iceland (+1,000) pulled off an unlikely win (France hammered them 5-2 in their Euro 2016 quarter-final) and reached the quarters this year, you’d get a nice return on your investment.
Seeing red (and yellow)
In total, 125 red cards have been issued at the World Cup since 1990. The number per tournament has varied greatly of late, with a whopping 28 given out in 2006, 17 in 2010, and just 10 in 2014. The current prop bet has the over/under at 10.5.
While that number suggests players will be on their best behavior and not follow the examples of Luis Suárez, Kaká, Zinedine Zidane, Wayne Rooney, and David Beckham, oddsmakers are banking on a bounty of yellow cards, with the over/under at 220.5.
Set your goals
The World Cup is all about goals, the more memorable the better. Based on fan voting, a volley by Mexico’s Manuel Negrete in 1986 against Bulgaria stands as the greatest World Cup goal of all time. We’d also be remiss not to mention Diego Maradona’s effort against England at the same tournament nor Maxi Rodriguez’s stunning volley against Mexico in 2006.
Oddsmakers have set the line on tournament goals at 154.5. For those looking for something a little different, you can wager on the over/under for headed goals, which sits at 29.5.
Editor’s note: All odds taken from either OddsShark or Bovada. If you do plan to place a wager, please gamble responsibly.
For more World Cup coverage, check out every World Cup kit ranked from worst to best.