It’s arguably the biggest sporting event in the world and the fact that it only comes around once every four years makes it even more keenly anticipated by football fans all over the world. Because it’s a sport that is also played and understood everywhere from Albania to Zimbabwe it also ensures a truly global audience. In fact, it’s estimated that when the two nations meet for the final on Sunday July 15 in Moscow a worldwide audience of 1 billion people will tune in to the match, the same number who watched the 2014 clash in Brazil between Argentina and Germany.

For many of us this year’s tournament has been one of the best ever, and not just because England have managed to defy many pundits’ most optimistic predictions that the team could reach the quarter finals and no further.

Expect the unexpected

There have been a number of reasons why it’s stood out so much as a tournament and the first is the number of shocks and surprises that it has held along the way. For example, who could possibly have predicted back in June before the first ball had been kicked that we’d be heading towards the final with countries like Portugal, Germany, Argentina and Brazil already eliminated? Of these, the biggest shock of all must surely have been Germany. Before the tournament started they were favourites to win but they failed even to get past the group stage following shock defeats by Mexico and South Korea and only winning their clash against Sweden thanks to a set-piece goal from almost the last kick of the game.

A second reason for the tournament’s huge and unexpected success has been the quality of many of the games themselves. Whether it was England’s demolition of Panama in a 6-1 goal frenzy, the thrilling end to end action of the 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal in their Group B clash or the rash of games that have been decided by nail-biting penalty shoot outs, fans everywhere have been treated to thrills, tension and surprises.

A step too VAR?

A further element that has added a whole new dimension has been the introduction of the VAR system to help referees to adjudicate on events on the pitch. Many initially rejected this as an idea despite the fact that similar technology has been used in other sports like rugby, cricket and tennis for some time now. There’s no doubt that it has proved controversial on a number of occasions with one of the most blatant being the awarding of a penalty for Iran against Portugal for handball and which allowed the former to draw the game 1-1.

But one area in which it has definitely helped has been in exposing the histrionics by players like Neymar who have a habit of diving to try to gain an advantage over the opposition. For many of us this kind of display is not one that the tournament will be fondly remembered for and it’s even led to the making of a satirical video by schoolchildren.

The World Cup’s not just provided an inspiration for this kind of activity, it’s also been a big success for many of the commercial interests surrounding it. These range from the global sponsors like Coca Cola and McDonalds to the many gambling companies that have stood to see huge amounts of money being wagered on everything from who the leading goal score is going to be to predicting the eventual winners.

How the gambling industry’s winning

In an industry that is thought to be worth up to £625 billion per year, 70% of sports betting’s revenue is said to come from football. During big sporting competitions like the World Cup there’s an inevitable spike in the income and over the 2018 tournament bookmakers are hoping to make a profit of over £41 billion. In the UK alone, the amount of money spent on gambling during the World Cup is expected to more than double from the £1 billion figure from Brazil in 2014 to £2.5 billion this year. In fact, with England’s unexpected success there’s every reason to suppose that this will turn out to be a conservative estimate. If they do reach the final it’s all but impossible to predict what great news this could be not just for the country but for bookmakers everywhere.

From the very outset there has been a huge marketing push from these businesses to exploit the opportunities that it presents and one could hardly open a newspaper or watch a TV ad break without being assailed by encouragement to make watching more interesting by also having a punt on the outcome.

Reel fun

And it’s not just bookmakers who have sought to exploit the opportunity, online slots companies have as well. While there are no games specifically licenced by FIFA there are a number that very clearly capture the atmosphere of a big game and one of the very best is the Bicicleta slots game, available at, the game is named after the acrobatic bicycle kick, the backdrop of this slot game is set in a packed international stadium with cheering crowds and plenty of potential money-winning action. There’s no doubt that all the noise around the World Cup will have encouraged an increase in the number of players on football themed online slots.

Returning to the more conventional methods of trying to win money from the World Cup, there’s no doubt that bookmakers do not receive universal approval with some feeling it’s irresponsible to encourage widespread gambling.

As a possible reaction to this, one of the most notable responses has come from the iconoclastic Paddy Power who have promised to donate £10,000 to an LBGT+ charity for every goal that Russia score. So this has not just helped them to occupy the moral high ground, it’s also achieved huge amounts of positive PR too.

Whether this reflects on the rest of the industry remains to be seen but it has shown that, contrary to how many may feel, the gambling industry does have a social conscious and it’s not afraid to come out and demonstrate it on the biggest stage of all – even if it does risk enraging Vladimir Putin!

Dan Alvarez