2010 World Cup could turn out to be the biggest gambling event in history

In what could well turn out to be the biggest gambling event in history, untold billions in scores of different currencies will change hands through everything from British betting shops to Las Vegas sports books to office pools, handshakes and the World Wide Web by the time the 2010 World Cup comes to a close on July 11 with the championship match in Johannesburg.

A big draw every four years, the 2010 soccer showdown is apt to be the largest yet, with both the timing of the games and the presence of so many longtime powerhouse teams building interest to a fever pitch across much of Europe, according to a new report by MarketWatch.

In the UK alone, estimates of potential turnover range from £1 billion (US$1.5 billion) to as much as £3 billion. European bookies are also expected to do brisk business, to say nothing of all the illegal wagering that traditionally goes on.

“Almost by definition, turnover increases exponentially every four years,” said William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe.

He said it will dwarf the next largest single event, horse racing's Grand National, which racks up as much as £300 million and even eclipse the four-day Cheltenham Festival, with its £600 million handle.

Adding fuel to the fire is England's presence in the tournament -- indeed, the English side opens against the United States -- which pumps up media hype in the UK and helps open the wallets of patriotic punters.

In addition to straight bets on winners and losers, William Hill and other bookies offer a dizzying array of side propositions on -- to name just a few -- leading scorers, who will be ahead at a certain point in a particular game, the time of the first goal scored and the first player to be seriously injured, he said.

"It used to be big to bet on what color David Beckham's hair would be," Sharpe said. "There are easily hundreds and possibly into the thousands of possible bets to make."

Spain, at odds of 4 to 1, is the current favorite.