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Desperate Casinos Are Now Taking Bets on the Weather

18th March, 18:54

Las Vegas is a ghost town. Photo: Joe Buglewicz/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On March 18, 2019, nine NBA games and four NHL games happened. The Major League Soccer and Premier League seasons were in full swing, the NCAA tournament was three days away, and Major League Baseball's opening day was coming up in a little more than a week.

What a difference a global pandemic makes.

On March 18, 2020, the sports world is largely, though not entirely, dormant. The coronavirus outbreak and a near-global commitment to social distancing has led to the cancellation of the NCAA tournament, the suspension of NBA, NHL, MLS, and Premier League games, the postponement of the baseball season, and much more.

That's left sports bettors eager to wager on damn near anything -- and some gambling establishments willing to get creative. Since Monday, the online sportsbook Bovada has offered weather-related bets, allowing people to put money on the over/under for high and low temperatures in some major American cities. BetOnline.ag is taking weather bets too.

"The severity of what's going on in the world right now, it's bombarding us," Pat Morrow, head oddsmaker at Bovada, told Intelligencer. "You can't really flip away from cable news. You can't have your usual distractions. So we figured: What else are people talking about? What else are people engaging with? Hopefully this could be our own way to provide distraction."

For now, Morrow says, the sportsbook is only offering bets on high and low temperatures, but that could soon change. "As our pseudo-expertise starts to improve a little bit we have discussed adding in precipitation rates or simply 'yes' or 'no' on precipitation," he said. His team is boning up on weather analytics and has even consulted the Farmers' Almanac, though they didn't find it very useful.

These would normally be boom times for Bovada and other sportsbooks. March is routinely one of their busiest months, thanks to the NCAA Tournament. But instead of college basketball -- plus a full slate of the NBA, soccer, and hockey -- bettors are now left with arcane offerings like table tennis in Ukraine and horse racing in South Africa.

That's where the weather comes in. Will Donaldson, a 34-year-old in Louisville, said his morning routine typically includes browsing college basketball and NBA lines and making a few bets. "It lets me come home from work and have something to watch, something to pay attention to," he said. "Without that, there's a void in my life."

So on Wednesday morning, he pulled up Bovada's new betting lines. "I looked at regional cities close to Louisville and took the over in Cincinnati and the under in Indianapolis," he said. "It's supposed to be 60 here."

Morrow says one benefits of weather bets is that they have a fairly quick resolution. "It's not something that people are tying up their money in for long periods of time like they would, say, in a Super Bowl futures bet," he said.

And it's keeping customers engaged at a time when, Morrow estimates, the sportsbook is offering only about 5 percent of its usual sports betting. The money coming in on the weather bets is not a lot, but it's not nothing. Morrow compared the amount bet on each temperature bet to that of a typical NBA prop, such as the number of points LeBron James might score in a single game. "We're not replacing the NBA or March Madness right now, but even getting this kind of betting handle is still beneficial," he said.

The view is similar from the other side of the wager. For Donaldson, who put $20 on the temperatures in Cincinnati and Indianapolis, weather-betting is something, but it hardly fills the void. In a normal March, he said, "I'd probably have 25 games going now."

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