BEIJING (Reuters) - He’s the hero of the Beijing Olympics -- but Michael Phelps has become the bane of bookmakers.
Gamblers have joined Phelps’s winning streak with online betting sites reporting a spike in money riding on the U.S. swimmer and higher interest overall from gamblers in the Games.
Phelps has been the favorite in all of his races in the August 8-24 Games on various online betting sites, with odds for his victories down to about 5/2 on -- paying out about $40 on a $100 bet.
“Although he has been at short odds to win he has being doing the right thing by the punters who are getting back more than they get on bank interest,” said Phil Hannah, general manager at Australia-based online betting site SportsBet.
“He really has become a thorn in the bookmakers’ side.”
Most gamblers are betting Phelps will beat compatriot Mark Spitz’s record of winning seven gold medals at one Olympics, with the 23-year-old already snapping up five golds from Beijing, making him the most decorated Olympian of all time with 11 golds.
He is due to swim the 200 meter individual medley on Friday, the 100 meter butterfly on Saturday and the 4x100 meter medley relay on Sunday.
Online site Sky Bet is also paying 5/2 on for Phelps to beat Spitz’s record.
The Olympics is not traditionally a major sports event for gamblers but Hannah said the interest had picked up for the 2008 Games particularly in Asia as the events were televised during the day.
Swimming is the sport attracting the most bets but weightlifting, table tennis, judo and soccer are also getting some interest.
U.S-based Betsonline.com has also experienced an increase in Olympic wagers although spokesman Tommy Allen said the Olympics still lagged far behind sports such as basketball and baseball.
U.S. television network NBC, which paid almost $900 million for the exclusive broadcasting rights to the Olympics, has been delaying showing the Games to hit prime-time viewers in the United States which could impact gambling interest.
“But Phelps is such a phenomenon we have seen interest in him,” said Allen.
He said the odds for Phelps winning the 100 meter butterfly on Saturday were set at minus 255 which means a win would pay out $39 on a $100 bet.
“He’s the clear favorite of the Games,” said Allen.
Horse racing reappeared in mainland China in the early 1990s as jockey clubs were set up but gambling remains illegal, except for state lotteries.
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