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Rio Paralympic Games: Why bookies won't be taking many bets

Ellie Simmonds swimming Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bookmakers expect to take few bets on Ellie Simmonds and other Paralympic stars

The idea of the Paralympics is that they are parallel to the Olympics - from the Greek "para", or alongside - but when it comes to betting the two are far from equal.

The Paralympic Games start in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday, with swimmer Ellie Simmonds and wheelchair athlete David Weir among those tipped to win more golds for Para GB.

Ask any bookmaker, though, and they will tell you it is not a big event for them.

William Hill, the UK's biggest betting firm, took a "couple of million pounds" in bets from the Rio Olympics, but is expecting less than £150,000 from the Paralympics.

Or to put it another way, betting on the 11 days of the Paralympic Games will generate the same as one midweek horse race, according to industry estimates.

'Not Bolt levels'

It's not because punters are nervous about betting on disabled athletes, bookmakers say.

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Media captionTen things you should know about the Paralympics

Instead, one of the main reasons they give is that even after the success of the London 2012 Paralympics, the best athletes aren't as well known as their Olympic counterparts.

"Ask people in the street and they might be able to name some, but it's a way to go to Usain Bolt levels," says Paddy Power, the eponymous spokesman for Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.

During the London 2012 Games bookies offered a wide range of bets on the Paralympics for the first time.

Para GB had its best ever showing with 120 Paralympic medals, helping amputee sprinter Jonnie Peacock and cyclist Dame Sarah Storey emerge as household names.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Paralympics isn't about the betting, says Paddy Power

Despite the success, the betting interest was underwhelming.

"Even though they were hosted here in the UK we didn't see a particularly significant uptake," says David Williams from betting firm Ladbrokes.

'Timing is everything'

British bookmakers expect it to be even lower for the Rio Games due to the time difference and the UK not having the "host nation buzz".

Mr Williams predicts the Paralympics won't be "particularly compelling" for its customers, "unless some extraordinary events combine to really capture the imagination of punters, which would be great".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Rio Olympics was not a big betting event - despite huge viewing figures worldwide

Many of the big races are overnight for British punters, says Simon Clare from the betting firm Coral. "And timing is everything with these events."

Partly for that reason betting on the Rio Olympics was 10 times smaller than on London 2012, he says, even though Team GB won more medals.

'Supply and demand'

But it could also be self-reinforcing. Betting operators have the expertise to offer odds on tens of thousands of events every day - from Ukrainian Under-19 football to who will win Strictly Come Dancing.

Their traders swot up on all sorts of exotic sporting knowledge, but for the Paralympics they will only be putting up odds for the likes of David Weir and Ellie Simmonds, if at all.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Bookmakers find it difficult to grapple with the hundreds of Paralympic events

"Bookmaking is fundamentally about supply and demand," says Ladbrokes' David Williams. "Where there is a demand or likely demand from punters we supply the odds but hitherto in the 2016 Paralympics we simply haven't seen the demand."

Ladbrokes hasn't received a single request for odds on the Paralympics yet, he says.

William Hill's Joe Crilly says odd-setters and gamblers face a huge range of sports and disciplines at the Games - even more so for the Paralympics, which has 200 more events than the Olympics because of extra classifications for different disabilities.

'Not a priority'

Still, the Olympic Games generally are not big business for bookmakers, despite the huge global audience.

"Olympic betting is small and Paralympic betting is even smaller," says Coral's Simon Clare. "While there's a huge interest in watching the Paralympics, the betting is just so low it's not a high priority."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Six-time Paralympic gold medallist David Weir is one of the few athletes bookies expect to take bets on

The Rio Olympics were watched by more than 45 million people in the UK and more than 3 billion worldwide, while the Paralympic Movement reported viewing figures of 40 million in the UK and 3.8 billion worldwide for London 2012.

In both cases this didn't translate into hordes of punters. Coral took the same in bets from the 19-day Rio Olympics as it did from one Saturday afternoon of football betting.

But Paddy Power and others suggest bookmakers won't be too concerned.

The Paralympics is about great sportsmen and women with disabilities competing at the highest level, they argue.

As Paddy Power puts it: "The raison d'etre for the Paralympic Games is not betting."

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