You know those Laurel & Hardy routines where a tremendous crash occurs off-camera, announced with a symphony of sound effects, after which only the aftermath is seen?
That’s what it’s been like at offshore sportsbooks as the dreaded Coronavirus peaks in major countries, and as the entire sports world stops and waits for the pandemic to end.
Well, almost the entire sports world. An interesting nugget of trivia 20 or 30 years from now would be the question “when were club matches from Belarus the featured odds at Bovada Sportsbook?” Once at 3 AM CST on a Tuesday? Nope. For about a whole damn spring in 2020.
But apart from the crazy Belarusians, whose dictator claims that vodka and farming will kill off any vestiges of Wuhan fever – and the almost-as-crazy UFC of course – it’s a barren sports landscape. Sportsbooks are starting to go insane trying to create markets for gamblers to speculate on.
2 to 4 weeks ago, online bookmakers were in a state of shock. “Coronavirus prop bets” were still in meek supply, and some betting sites were still offering futures wagers on spring championships and 162-game season win-total O/U lines on Major League Baseball, as if there was really a chance for such outcomes to occur.
As of the 1st Monday of April, the bookies in Sin City’s outer orbit have adjusted. Potential outcomes of futures betting have been limited to late summer, fall, and winter. Bovada is weirdly still taking action on the NBA Finals in 2020 even though the NBA is reportedly ready to write-off the season. But the site’s other featured sports bets as of 4/6 are fascinating to behold.
Forget pond shinny from Belarus. Some of the current gambling odds are on events we didn’t know bookmakers even charged anyone with observing and recording the outcomes. They certainly can’t be found on your local ABC affiliate. (Wide World of Sports was a looooong time ago.)
There are moneylines and spreads on a 3-on-3 ice hockey league from Moscow at Bovada Sportsbook, with team names like “Kings Town” and “Six Trolls” reminding incongruously of the clubs and nicknames in English Championship and League One soccer. The mainstream gambling site is also going all-in on the NBA’s H-O-R-S-E competition scheduled for May. Prop bets on the H-O-R-S-E tournament include conference-to-win, division-to-win, and even Over/Under “6 feet 6 inches” on the height of the NBA’s champion shooter. (It’s (-115) either way if we’re counting.)
The problem with H-O-R-S-E in official competition is that no 2 players’ moves are exactly alike. If the NBA is putting on the more-interesting version of H-O-R-S-E in which you’ve got to complete your opponent’s style of shot, as opposed to “freestyle from spot X,” then it’ll take excellent remote officiating to determine whether an on-the-hook player is making an opponent’s sunk shot easier in some way or is simply executing it with his own flair. There might be some NC-17 arguments over won and lost bets in bars when the H-O-R-S-E title is crowned…if any bars are open by then.
Bovada is going wild with its “Entertainment” section too. Except a lot of what the bookmakers consider “entertainment” these days is relevant only to tastes like those of Henry Winkler’s character in Night Shift, who has no money in the stock market but reads Wall Street Journal for fun anyway. There are dozens and dozens of betting markets on the Dow and Nasdaq averages, even odds on the rise or fall of individual stocks like Tesla and Apple.
We can pretty much guarantee there aren’t many Wall Street brokers gambling on Bovada’s “business” odds. Why would they? They’re already “wagering” on the actual stocks themselves.
In case you’re wondering, yes, there are still “Entertainment” betting odds on actual entertainment. Someone named Babu Santana, who may or may not have wrestled Hulk Hogan for the WWF Heavyweight Championship in the late 1980s, is favored at (-220) to prevail over the field in the 2020 annoying-whisper championships Big Brother 2020 Brasil.
Pin-Balled Around…and Trying Not to Flipper Out
Handicappers are gladly dealing with some out-of-whack-ness at the sportsbook these days. Over at MyBookie, the Costa Rican bookies have re-oriented daily action to the scant remaining soccer fixtures in Nicaragua and Belarus, plus “Madden” NFL and “NCAA2K” simulations to scratch the spring pigskin itch the XFL had targeted while speculating how March Madness ’20 would have shaken-out.
As usual there are a few cracks in the book beyond its featured tabs. “Hockey Russia” does not lead directly to the active 3-on-3 Russian league but to a defunct KHL section. Liga Pro, the “Short” hockey promotion skating mostly for the pleasure of bookmakers, can be accessed in a sub-menu. If you’re desperate for action you’ll find the odds and the relevant TV streams off-site, if you’re not, well, who ultimately cares about a novelty league from a hemisphere away.
But it’d be nice to have accurate information. Not the mixed signals and cloudy schedules of the Coronavirus months. Like golfers who went for the green from too far in the rough, sports commissioners and sportsbooks alike are compounding the problem of COVID-19 by running “ghost” markets for events that have little or no chance of a timely outcome. In other circumstances, bookmakers are offering categories that just don’t make sense given the news of the past few weeks,
MyBookie’s “International Hockey” and “International Basketball” categories lead only to minor-league club hoops in Chinese Taipei. (That’s worse than when you order Hot & Sour Soup and receive a lukewarm salt-brine solution instead.) “FIFA 2020 Soccer” is an especially-confusing market as of Monday, April 6th, appearing at a glance to be out-of-date world football odds in markets sent into limbo due to postponed matches. On closer inspection there is an icon of a video-game controller next to the FIFA label. Yet any clicks toward the Virtual sports market yield a good ol’ error page.
The sportsbook makes it all worthwhile, though, with its trademark odds on Pinball. Not that MyBookie doesn’t run Pinball odds all the time anyway, but it’s nice to think wizards might get together (kinda) and run-up a decent betting handle on a widely-viewed tournament in May or June. The IFPA Championship is the next big event in the arcade sport, and the community is so close-knit and trustworthy that many Pinball machines in major competitions are designed, built, and even maintained between rounds by the wizards themselves! That’s good news in a post-COVID-19 world.
Is there another sporting event in which players are allowed to rig the arena? Nevertheless, the Pinball circuit is so built on trust and integrity that wizards may agree to only a few witnesses to balls-played at a time, with competitors rotating in and out of the arcade 6 feet apart and avoiding 10 or more participants standing in 1 place at a time. Wizards who build machines may also agree to host IFPA tournament rounds in their home arcades, live-streaming a tilt or 3 before others do the same from safely-removed locations. Anyone who tries to use the weird circumstances to cheat may be sent to a tiny, crowded market to get hand-sanitizer.
In short, it’s not just comparatively easier for newfangled “esports” commissioners to run events in spring ’20. It’s possible for Pinball organizers and other old-fashioned arcade enthusiasts as well. When there’s no necessary human contact involved in an activity, no great slew of ticket-buyers to accommodate or send home wanting, and a cooperative group of “athletes” without 100 different agendas to placate, Coronavirus-defying spectacles can occur.
MyBookie is also quite wise to leave its Pinball Futures market broad for now, not knowing which wizards will be available to play or not. “North America” is the most-popular IFPA pick at (-190) odds, which may overlook some of the talent from Finland and elsewhere in Europe (+160).
Betting Odds on Managers, and Managers, and Managers…
Finally, the carousel of soccer managers on the continent is also a very big deal if the markets at Bovada Sportsbook are any indication.
Or maybe punters are getting so bored without football, they’re willing to pick foosball between old lady supporters at this point.
Mauricio Pochettino is a (-275) favorite to limit Manchester United’s attack become Man United’s next sideline skipper. There are also betting markets directed at Red Devils’ executive positions.
No one can figure out who the next Barcelona manager will be, but Xavi Hernandez serves as a placeholder-favorite of sorts at (+175) payoff odds. Eddie Howe, despite being a longer payoff at 3-to-1, is a solid favorite to become Three Lions’ next head coach, next to underdog Graham Potter (+700).
An amusing choice on the England’s Next Manager betting board is Phil Neville (+1400), a hammy veteran of U.K. football whose “SHOCKER!” English tabloid headlines remind Yankee fans of soundbite-producing American pigskin coaches like Jon Gruden and Herman Edwards.
Player transfers are up for futures action too. Gabriel Jesus is a (+750) wager to sign with Real Madrid before September 1st, and Liverpool and Juventus are strangely long-shots to go after Harry Kane anytime soon at 25-to-1 and 33-to-1 respectively. Many of the world’s great attackers are expected to wind-up outside of the Premier League by 2021, but bettors expect Willian to play in the Kingdom, with (+350) odds on Tottenham Hotspur and (+500) odds on Arsenal as a landing spot.
Oh yes – there are still actual-competition futures odds at Bovada. England is a slim (+450) favorite to win UEFA Euro 2021, not an unsound pick for gamblers so long as Three Lions keeper Jordan Pickford can regain consistently strong form in a year’s time.
Like 99% of athletes in the world, Pickford must improve at his private training facility…for now.
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.