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Gambling industry adapts to world with few live sports options

29th April, 16:15

Online sportsbooks have offered odds on everything from the weather to Esports, and people are betting on some of the obscure leagues still playing

Not only has the shutdown of major professional sports leagues due to the coronavirus deprived fans of an escape from their daily lives, it has seriously impacted the sports betting sector and resulted in a unique paradigm shift.

"We were faced with a March without March Madness and now we're into an April without NBA playoffs or NHL playoffs on the horizon," said Pat Morrow, head oddsmaker for the online sports betting website Bovada. "That created really large gaps in significant betting handle and essentially revenue attached to that. So, once it became clear that these sports were going away and not coming back anytime soon, it's led us to where the website today has a variety of different things to wager on that we wouldn't have had going back six weeks ago."

Right around the time Bovada and other sportsbooks typically would have been posting over/under lines and point spreads for the NCAA men's basketball tournament, Morrow found himself taking bets on the weather and the stock market. People were actually wagering on whether the temperature in a city like Houston or Chicago would be higher or lower than the established line (81 degrees and 42 degrees, respectively, back on March 17th).

"It had its highs and lows and for the first couple of weeks it was something that was popular with players," Morrow said. "But we realized really quickly that there was a significant amount of players with a meteorological background and we realized we were a bit out of our element, and we were mostly attracting 'weather sharks' so to speak. We had to put the pause on it for now but it's something we do want to revisit."

Stock speculation as to how the NASDAQ and Dow Jones Industrial perform each hour is still a betting option, along with politics, specifically odds on the 2020 Presidential election. There are also Esports, including Esoccer and Madden NFL simulations where bets are being placed on games between computers. Even NASCAR's iRacing Series (NIS), where drivers compete in virtual races online at the same tracks they were scheduled to race in person, has been popular.

There are actual live sports taking place in other parts of the world that people can bet on, including professional baseball in China and Taiwan and Latin American and European soccer, specifically in Nicaragua and Belarus. Professional basketball is being played in Tajikistan as well as table tennis in the Ukraine and Russia, all of which are keeping the oddsmakers at Bovada busy.

"We are very much a global sportsbook and a lot of this stuff has become much more consumed by North American players in a way that it really hadn't looking back as recently as 3-5 years ago," Morrow said. "That's actually really helped us mitigate this because players are a little bit more comfortable betting outside of North America on these sports and these leagues that have direct TV coverage or digital streams."

Oscar Brenes is the chief operating officer for Betcris, an online sportsbook that is only available to bettors outside of North America, and while his site did not venture into the weather game, it did add the stock market and politics as options. Betcris also made a big investment in Esports about 18 months ago and is now among the market leaders in that sector.

Betcris and Bovada are now planning ahead for when the American sports leagues resume play and how to handicap some of these sports. They are looking at some of the different extraneous factors like the fan-free venues, potential rules changes and readiness of the athletes.

"It's not the same for a star player who has a nice backyard and a nice gym to keep practicing as it will be for a regular guy who just had a rope and a couple of makeshift exercises," Brenes said. "I think we're going to have to look at how the players that had some advantages during this thing will have more of an impact on the game, the ones who had access to all the facilities, because they're going to look stronger than some of the other guys who barely had room to exercise."

Like the rest of us, the sports gambling industry is going to have to continue to adapt to a new normal.

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