A silver lining of the Coronavirus scare may be that the public becomes laser-focused on what few games are allowed to take place. Volleyball, video gaming, Turkish football, even Ping-Pong (not to be confused with advanced versions of “Pong”) are getting front-page feature tabs on American betting sites. It’s only a matter of time before our friends on the Pinball circuit are helping sportsbooks rake-in wagers on potential new wizards, their tourneys replete with gobs of hand sanitizer and Lysol-rinsed flipper buttons.
Sports gambling is education. By the time the pandemic is over, more viewers will know more about alternative sports than ever before. The fast-paced Australian soccer league will benefit, also the underrated Kontinental Hockey League, assuming Russian clubs are able to carry the Gagarin Cup postseason banner without international help in 2020.
But it would be crazy for bookmakers to ignore the enhanced potential for “futures” gambling markets in major sports. Major League Baseball speculators will have a field day, given extra time to calculate around World Series futures and ultimately win-total lines as soon as a number of MLB games to-be-played is known. The NFL Draft is sure to attract even more action than it usually does, even if it is postponed like so many other crowd-friendly events. Bored gamblers will wager too many dollars on NCAA basketball’s reboot in 2021.
There’s another type of futures betting that will grow in popularity in March and April, and that’s “Coronavirus” prop wagers. Bovada Sportsbook is strangely slow to the draw with proposition lines on how major leagues (including the Major Leagues) will adapt to the public health crisis, but other betting books (like MyBookie) seem ready to jump in.
Sports and the Coronavirus: Prop Bets at Major Online Sportsbooks
“Corona with lines” prop betting markets include MyBookie asking “which league will be the first to play a regular-season game?”
Despite the disparate scheduling problems of major U.S. sports offices, the gambling odds are almost deadlocked 4 ways:
MLB – (+200)
NBA – (+200)
NHL – (+210)
Major League Soccer – (+375)
Weird that baseball is getting about the same frequency of bets-placed as professional hoops and North American pond shinny (since the odds began already closely-matched, we can’t blame it on people getting drawn to a specific % payout or low risk). None of the leagues have been forthcoming with “target” dates to get back to competition after the pandemic has peaked in the United States and Canada.
Since the MLB organization can most-afford playing a few games without packed attendance in the stands, and because hardball hasn’t begun yet, you might expect Major League Baseball to be getting the shortest line to restart 1st. Gamblers appear to believe that the NBA and NHL have some advantage, however, in having already gotten deep into their seasons by the time the worldwide pandemic forced cancellations. That angle could change over the next few weeks as basketball and ice hockey begin to focus efforts on making the playoffs happen – remember the betting odds are on which league will be next to play regular-season games.
Bovada’s maiden attempt at a Coronavirus-sports prop appears not on a “current events” betting board (of all the times for a site not to have one of those!) but on the betting page’s “entertainment” section. “Will the 2020 Tokyo Olympics be cancelled, postponed, or relocated?” the bet propositions. But as opposed to MyBookie’s asking the public to imagine lengthy, flagging restarts in 3 out of 4 major sports, Bovada allows whoever is emotionally OK cheering for a bad outcome to pick a simple “yes” market at (-300) odds on the Tokyo Games not happening on dates scheduled, while everyone else can choose “no” (+200) and cross their fingers for a blazing Olympic torch on July 24th.
BetOnline is avoiding the subject of suspended seasons, postponements, and delays. In fact, the betting site’s elaborate board on WrestleMania is in full bloom despite the event’s corona-caused distress and the likelihood of a change in plans for the WWE. A prop gambling market on the website asks whether Mike Tyson will appear at ‘Mania in Tampa, Florida on Sunday, April 5th, with bettors wagering at 8-to-1 odds on a cameo from Iron Mike. But the sportsbook doesn’t bother to proposition the obvious question surrounding the Gulf Coast grapple – will the iconic show even take place in 2020?
“Bee” Ware of Sports Bettors on Withdrawal
Finally, there’s the National Spelling Bee finals to consider. (This is what happens when 95% of sports are postponed, ladies and gents.) Bovada and other sportsbooks traditionally offer fun, novelty betting markets on events like the Spelling Bee or the Little League World Series. People don’t mean any harm by gambling in such markets, after all, the children don’t even have to know about it, and thus we might as well be betting on video-game avatars. The event itself would never be impacted by Sin City in any way.
Las Vegas is impacted by world events. Still it is hard to say whether the current number of National Spelling Bee betting lines – currently close to 10 at Bovada, BetOnline, and elsewhere – out-number the usual gratuitous gambling markets for people who dislike sports but enjoy other competitions on TV. WagerBop is not qualified to make a judgement on whether BetOnline’s adorable “Will the last speller wear glasses?” odds on the National Spelling Bee will be available in its Entertainment section every year, or if handicappers and bettors, driven mad by a lack of live sports on TV, are going overboard in every other genre they can think of…including the late-May spelling competition. Would it be fair to say that America has never been more interested in gambling on a TV spelling bee? The answer is yes. Sports-junky withdrawal is never a picnic.
It is interesting that the National Spelling Bee plans to continue onward in a spring season of fear and caution and cancelations. Children and early teens, of course, do not appear nearly as threatened by the Coronavirus as are adults and old people.
Could that blessing be a shortcut back to hosting live games? Why not let kids, all but immune to the illness, take over an administrative role? Heck, we could even decide to pay attention to Junior High and YMCA sports for a while. Just let inmates run the asylum.
Don’t pretend that the IIHF’s Under-18 Worlds are cancelled because 15-year olds are at high risk. The International Ice Hockey Federation, run by old men with cobwebs on their ties, is protecting its hide and keeping adult employees healthy enough to make really bad decisions. Cancelling the U18 tourney instead of letting teens run the entire thing was yet another short-sighted mistake; a group of naïve youth referees might have actually been fair to the Canadians for once.
“And the children shall lead” could turn out to be more than a parable (or a Star Trek episode) if Coronavirus’ iron grip on sports is maintained for long. And if it comes to that, Las Vegas will have many people to thank who can’t place a legal wager.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.