Online betting sites haven’t exactly shuttered here in the great lull created by the coronavirus outbreak. Instead they have adapted, mutated, stretched outside the usual and comfortable business of setting lines on the major stick-and-ball sports.
The gaming industry, along with Atlanta, the site of the cancelled Final Four, have taken a huge hit this month with the loss of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. James Murphy, a writer and oddsmaker for Sportsinsider.com, supplied some numbers: “In terms of total handle (the NCAA tournament) is bigger than the Super Bowl. Last year in the state of Nevada – they’re the easiest people to get numbers from – the overall handle for the month of March was $596 million. Of that $350 million was March Madness. By way of comparison, the Super Bowl in a good year is in the neighborhood of $190 million to $200 million.”
That’s also felt across outside brick-and-mortar casinos, at places a Georgian stuck in the house might go. Pat Morrow, the head oddsmaker for Bovada said the sports betting handle is down 85% for that online site. But do not weep for the bookmaker.
“People have nothing to do and they want to bet on something, so we’re trying to put up as much as we can and tell people, look, we’re still open for business, we’re moving on, we’re not dwelling on this,” Adam Burns, sports book manager for Betonline.ag. “We’re saying, if you want something to do, here are some options. We’re not forcing you, but here are some options.”
“We know we’re not going to make as much money as if we had March Madness out there or the NBA out there,” Morrow said. “As much as we’re distracting the players, we’re distracting ourselves, too. We’re thinking of a lot of outside-the-box kind of props out there.”
While the Vegas casinos go dark, the virtual operations soldier on, offering wagers on all manner of topics from politics to entertainment to economics.
Some sports, too.
Looks like you can get 2-to-1 on the Morupule Wanderers over the Gilport Lions in the Botswana Premier League (that’s soccer, by the way).
Here are but a select few of the options on a typical day such as Tuesday in a most atypical time, as found on either the Bovada or Betonline sites:
You can bet on the first number right of the decimal point on the Dow Jones at closing today.
You can bet on the Candidate’s (chess) Tournament in Russia — Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, for one, is a slight favorite over Ian Nepomniachtchi on Wednesday.
You can get more than 7-to-1 on Swole Patrol in Friday’s match against Team Liquid in an eSport match (if these are indeed called matches).
And various bets for farther down the road include which member of the Trump cabinet will be the next to leave (the shortest odds are on Alex Azar, Health and Human Services), and which airline will be the first to file for bankruptcy (American is at 1.5-to-1, Delta nearly 3-to-1, Southwest more than 5-to-1).
Will the Fed announce negative interest rates? God help us, you can bet on that, too.
Ah, but the landscape is constantly changing in uncertain times. You could bet on whether the last kid standing at the National Spelling Bee would wear glasses, but now that May event has been suspended.
“The old line goes, one of the only things that is recession-proof is gambling. We’re trying to roll with it,” Burns said.
One could make the argument that if you have to look this hard for something to bet on, maybe, just maybe, there’s a betting problem.
Wagering on the weather? Really?
Bovado’s Morrow said his site is taking in about the same amount now on the daily weather bets as it would on a typical NBA prop bet, such as LeBron James’ total points in a game.
Players don’t seem to see a problem here as much as an opportunity. Just some really odd odds, some really out-there opportunities.
“It’s hurting everyone,” said Murphy, the sports-betting expert based in South Carolina. “But sports betting types and bookmakers are very resilient by nature. So far, I’ve been kind of impressed by how they’ve handled the situation.
“You shouldn’t dismiss anything just because it sounds silly. At the end of the day if I win $100 betting the NFL or I win $100 betting beetle racing or something, you go to the grocery store, they don’t ask me what I won it on.”
Now, whether your significant other asks if you just lost $100 on marble racing — a real thing — that is another proposition.
These experts say that in the absence of more established games such as basketball, baseball and soccer, punters have shown some appetite for two alternative outlets in particular.
“We’ve seen maybe 300% growth in eSports (electronic gaming) in the last week of betting,” Burns said.
And, he added, “Politics betting is one of the biggest-growing things that we’ve offered, especially because of Donald Trump. We’re taking so much money on this, it’s incredible. And it keeps growing. It’s going to take more than the Super Bowl because who knows if the Super Bowl is even going to happen? Out of every product we offer I’d say politics is the biggest one.”
They currently are listing Donald Trump as a slight favorite to win re-election over Joe Biden. And maybe pundits should pay more attention to the betting public and less to the pollsters.
“Not to toot my own horn, but the last election we were writing about how the polling didn’t reflect the reality in August before the election. The poll numbers weren’t matching up with the betting odds,” Murphy said.
As for the potential return of more familiar games and betting options, yes, you can bet on that, too.
As of Tuesday, Bovada posted an over-under date of the return of the NBA and Major League Baseball at July 3. There is considerably more money to be made betting the before on that date than the after — not a good sign for a quick resumption of normalcy.
"I'm trying to be an optimist. I'd like to see sports in some form, even if it's in an empty stadium or not, back by September. I know some would like to see it back in the summer. I don't really foresee that," Morrow said. "Any day that it comes back will be a great day. Otherwise, we'll just have to keep doing the daily weather, doing the daily speculating on stocks. But after a while doing it, we're going to be quite good at it. We will raise limits. More players will get into it. We'll figure out what's working, what's not.
“We can either fold up shop and go home or we can try to rise to the occasion and put something out there that competes for eyes and is interesting.”
One encouraging note: It remains possible to place a bet on the favorites for the Super Bowl and World Series — you know, the comfortable choices. Georgia is still listed as a seven-point underdog to Alabama for their Sept. 19 scheduled game. Maybe you can do some sports betting without sports. But to collect on a futures bet, you still have to have a future.