Sports books the latest to catch fever with bets for entertainment only
By Sandy Robins
updated 10:10 a.m. PT, Mon., Feb. 12, 2007
For the first time in the 131-year history of the Westminster Dog Show, odds have been made on the outcome and posted on the sports book in Las Vegas, allowing dog lovers to have some fun determining which breed will win the coveted Best in Show title Feb. 13.
“No money will change hands and it’s purely for entertainment,” says John Avello, director of race and sports book operations at the Wynn Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“But people are going to have a lot of fun with it, because it is without doubt America’s premier dog sporting event and has a huge following.”
“We are thrilled to be on the sport book board along with the Oscars, the Super Bowl, NCAA basketball and all other major events that are so much a part of our culture,” said David Frei, Director of Communications for the Westminster Kennel Club in New York.
Last year during the two-day event, the Westminster Kennel Club had a record 127 million hits on its website as people from more than 140 different countries watched the breed judging on streaming video.
“Now, not only are dog lovers able to get involved and judge from outside the ring and pick their own favorites, but with the show on a sport book, they have the opportunity to have a vested interest at heart to see who wins,” Frei said.
“When it comes to working out the odds, it’s all about instinct, intuition and networking,” said Avello, known in Las Vegas as The Wizard of Odds. “And there’s no doubt having a math background helps. When I do my Oscar odds, I talk to Hollywood insiders and get what they’re thinking, and the same applies to other events like the Grammys and TV shows such as American Idol and The Apprentice. But having worked out the odds for Westminster, I now truly understand the meaning of ‘the underdog’!”
Avello has odds listed on all 165 breeds taking part in the show. The English Springer spaniel is the favorite at 25-1. And although greyhounds have a reputation for being competitive at the dog track, they are ranked 1,000-1 to become Top Dog at Westminster. Avello also has the odds on a dog from the terrier group winning the title listed at 2-1, with a dog ranked at 1-2 over a bitch at 9-5. He also believes that the odds favor a male handler being on the other end of the leash of the winning dog.
Since opening in 2005, the Wynn Las Vegas has earned the reputation of being one of Sin City’s most luxurious sports books, boasting 37 plasma TVs and three 12-foot-by-12-foot big screens. Its executive staff are also renowned dog lovers. Owner Steve Wynn brings his dogs to work, and Avello confesses to being a besotted pet parent to a West Highland terrier named Piccolo and a white cocker spaniel named Bacio.
“Dog lovers have such a spiritual and emotional connection with their dogs that if you own a particular breed, you automatically have a vested interest when those dogs come into the ring,” Frei said.
How this will affect Avello’s odds remains to be seen. Interestingly, the list of America’s top dogs changed dramatically last year, with the Yorkshire terrier overtaking both the golden retriever and the German shepherd to become the second-most popular purebred dog in America. The list compiled by the American Kennel Club still ranks the Labrador retriever as the country’s most popular dog, a position it has held since 1991.
“The recent rise of the Yorkie proves that many modern dog owners prefer a portable, pint-sized pet that fits their modern, fast-paced lifestyle,” AKC spokesperson Lisa Peterson said. “Not since the Boston terrier hit the top nearly 70 years ago has a small breed worked its way to such a high spot on the list.”
Now that Westminster is on the sports book in Vegas, will doggy-betting fever spread to other parts of the world? Both the online betting giant Betfair.com and William Hill, the prestigious London-based forecasting firm, say that in the past they have accepted bets on the Crufts Dog Show, but they have no plans to put Westminster on their board.
So for now, the standard maxim still applies: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
For more information, call 702-770-3072 or email John Avello firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. Her work appears regularly on MSNBC.com, MSN.com and in various national publications.
© 2009 NBCSports.com