Feet, Balls, World Cup Wagering

ask bookmaker jay kornegay

Welcome to US Bets’ recurring “Ask a Bookmaker” column, which answers many of the common (and uncommon!) questions gamblers and enthusiasts have about how sportsbooks operate in the modern age of sports betting.

The executive vice president of race and sportsbook operations at the Westgate SuperBook, Jay Kornegay has been in the sports betting industry for more than 30 years. After getting his start in Lake Tahoe, Kornegay took his talents to Las Vegas, where he opened the Imperial Palace sportsbook in 1989 before taking the reins of the 30,000-square-foot SuperBook in 2004. A Colorado State University alum whose putting stroke tends to betray him on the back nine, Kornegay has helped navigate the SuperBook’s expansion into multiple states since PASPA was overturned in 2018.

Have a question you’d like to ask Kornegay? Send it to [email protected] The Q&A below has been edited for clarity and brevity.

When last we talked, you told me that soccer tends to give hockey a run for its money as the fourth most bet-on sport in America. During the World Cup, where does it rank? Second behind football or does hoops still edge it out?

Basketball would certainly be the clear No. 2 behind football. They run neck and neck for the most part just because of the number of games the college slate normally gives us. Pro basketball gets more action per game. World Cup, there are some games that get very little action and some that get lots of action. These early round games would be lower-volume events compared to the knockout round and as the tournament advances.

There are popular teams that do get more attention than others, including Mexico, of course the U.S., Brazil, Argentina. But we’re also fighting this time difference. I’m sure we would have gotten a lot more tickets on Argentina if that game wasn’t played at two in the morning. Once the tournament gets down to the quarterfinals and beyond, they’re going to have better time slots and, most likely, the better and most popular teams will be playing. Those games are comparable to a really good college football game, and then you’ve got other games that are comparable to New Mexico vs. Boise State.

Friday’s England-U.S. pool matchup is being hailed as potentially the biggest soccer showdown in American history from a sports betting standpoint. Do you expect that to be the case? Is early betting trending in this direction?

Are they making that assumption based on the expansion of sports wagering in this country? Because more people have access to betting accounts than ever before. So I think, yeah, that would play a huge role. I think it’s gonna be a high-volume game and will probably be one of the most popular betting soccer games ever.

What are some other pool matchups that are attracting a good amount of action? 

Poland-Mexico got a lot of attention. The U.S.-Wales game did pretty well. There were a lot of smaller tickets. As far as the dollar amount, it wasn’t up there with an NFL game, but the ticket count was comparable to a college football game. We’ve got a small sample right now. There aren’t that many appealing games in the early going. You’ve got a lot of big favorites playing lower-ranked teams, and they tend not to get as much action as an England-Germany or Brazil-Argentina game.

We’ve got some big players in here who have been placing some larger soccer wagers in the early going. I think they will dabble with it, but there’s no doubt that the Mexican team and the American team are the two fan favorites. If Mexico or the U.S. were to make a run, they would become very popular at the betting windows.

What are some of the more popular player props or prop bets in general that bettors like to play?

The star props get the most attention, whether it’s Messi, Pulisic — and Ronaldo, of course. But you’re gonna have some studs who emerge as fan favorites as the tournament moves forward. Brazil’s a favorite, yet they’re a very young team. I’d imagine we’ll have a star emerge from the Brazilian team that will become a fan favorite.

Do you have some pretty savvy soccer analysts on your trading team or do some personnel typically need to get themselves up to speed in a hurry to effectively book an event like this?

Out of our oddsmakers, we know the major contenders. We do run into teams like Saudi Arabia and some of the smaller countries that we don’t know much about, unless they have players in the English Premier League or have arrived on the world stage.

How do soccer bettors tend to get along with football bettors at your Westgate property? Do they ever get into arguments over which sport has more of a right to call itself football?

No, but the American sports fan either loves or hates soccer. And I would say most of them don’t care for it. But I haven’t had any issues in the viewing area with the two fan bases. I do think that American football fans like to take jabs at the sport of soccer. I already heard it from a friend this morning. 

I lived in Germany for three summers, I went to one World Cup, and I really respect and enjoy the sport. I know, for American fans, it’s not appealing to them — as is American football to Europeans. I think both sides are at fault for not really knowing the true game. When Patrick Mahomes is running for his life and throws to his running back that’s running a wheel route and puts it right on the money for a 15-yard gain, Europeans don’t respect that. They don’t understand how difficult that move was. Same goes for Americans when a soccer player makes a 40-yard pass — a bender — and puts it on the foot of his teammate on the other side of the field. 

The U.S. didn’t make the World Cup in 2018. How much of a drop in handle did you guys see from the previous World Cup on account of their lack of participation?

Not a lot. The U.S. bandwagon will get very full if they advance. When they made that run in 2002, I was on a family trip in California and my son and daughter wanted to watch the quarterfinal game someplace. We got there just before the game started and it was jam-packed. We found a little niche to watch the game from and the U.S. came up short and it felt like half the room was crying. There are some very passionate American soccer fans out there. You can see just by looking at the first game against Wales, American fans really made a splash in that stadium.

Have you guys been selling more Bud Zero and other non-alcoholic beers at your brick-and-mortar properties as bettors try to mimic the booze-free Qatari experience?

No, the only thing that created was more jabs from American sports fans. I remember I went to the Olympics in Utah, and even though they lightened up some restrictions, there were very few drinking holes available to those Europeans. But they didn’t complain that much. They just wished there were more.

Art by Blundell Design

Author: Ryan Gonzales