The English aren't exactly flocking to the betting windows, at least just yet. Then again, they might not have much left to bet after a dismal sporting weekend that tested the heart of even the most stoic Brit.
The Russians, of all people, beat England in its national sport, possibly costing the country a berth in the European Championship. The South Africans did the same in the Rugby World Cup, beating the defending champions in the final.
And driving hero Lewis Hamilton tanked in the final race of the Formula One season, depriving home fans of their first British driving champion in more than a decade.
So excuse them if they haven't been scouring the roster of the Miami Dolphins to find some reason to take 9 1/2 points and bet them to cover against the New York Giants in the first regular season NFL game held outside North America.
``It's been a little overshadowed this week by the England football team, the England rugby team and Lewis Hamilton in FI,'' said Graham Sharpe, a spokesman for the William Hall betting chain. ``They all lost.''
You can bet British bookmakers didn't lose along with them, because they tend to be a savvy bunch. They have to be, because sports betting in England is as much a part of the social fabric as the neighborhood pub.
Go down the main street of any tiny English town or village and the odds are there will be a betting parlor open for business. You can find them on almost every street corner in London, and anyone attending a soccer match at Wembley Stadium can put a few pounds on the game while picking up some fish and chips on the concourse level.
Except this weekend, that is. As one of the conditions for hosting the NFL, organizers had to agree that punters (an English word for bettors, not kickers) could not wager on the games inside the stadium itself.
On this Sunday, the 40 to 50 Betfred windows normally open at Wembley for betting on anything from NFL football to Premier League snooker will be closed.
Outside, though, it's fair game to bet on any game. And that includes the Betfred shop in the village of Wembley where about 500 pounds had been wagered as of Tuesday despite the fact most British bettors consider football to be something played with a round ball and short pants.
``It'll gather momentum throughout the week,'' said Betfred spokesman Peter Collins, who said the bookmaker would be putting up 25 to 30 special wagers on the game in addition to the usual point spread and money line.
The line the British bookies use looks suspiciously like the Las Vegas line, with the Giants a 9 1/2-point favorite over the hapless Dolphins. That's the same point spread you can get on the Las Vegas Strip, where millions are wagered every weekend on America's favorite betting sport.
The difference is the NFL is embracing London as a partner, so much so that commissioner Roger Goodell said last week the city might one day host the Super Bowl. The same league that so abhors the thought of betting on its games that it wouldn't allow Las Vegas tourism officials to even buy a TV ad during the Super Bowl, is considering holding one in a city where there are probably 20 betting joints for every one in Sin City.
Hypocritical? Sure, but the NFL is all about money and opportunity, and there is plenty of money to be made at the 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium and plenty of opportunity to make even more once the British are properly introduced to the American game.
``This has nothing to do with Las Vegas,'' NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. ``We can't control where there's legalized gambling. There's legal gambling in other places near where we play games.''
Gambling, yes. Most states have lotteries, Indian casinos are nearby, and it's not hard to find a place to throw a few bucks on a filly.
Sports betting, no. At home that's the province only of Nevada, and it's a sure bet the NFL would never allow as much as an exhibition game in Las Vegas, not to mention a Super Bowl.
The NFL's arguments about Las Vegas and sports betting have all been made before. Though some credit the point spread with helping boost the league's popularity, the league is so afraid of being tainted by a scandal that it would rather pretend both betting and the city itself don't exist.
All of which makes it odd that the league would be so happy to be in London, where the only concession made to the NFL was that the betting windows inside the stadium itself would be closed.
No matter. There will be thousands of places in England to bet the game, and bookies say the fact it is being played in London will make it especially attractive to British punters (no, not the kickers).
And if they don't want to bet football, there will always be another national team to gamble on.
Forget the Dolphins plus the points. How about England at 5-2 odds against Sri Lanka on the cricket pitch?
The punters have to love that one.
----
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org

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