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With sports shut down, bettors turn to weather, NBA 2K ... even marbles

20th March, 19:17

For sports books and sports fans alike, there's nothing quite like March Madness.

There's the thrill and hope that goes into of picking an unknown No. 15 seed to knock off one of college basketball's blue-blood programs. Then there's the potential ecstasy of cashing in the winning ticket should the upset actually happen.

It's arguably the biggest event of the year, according to Dave Mason, longtime brand manager at BetOnline.

"And we lost it overnight," Mason said. "It's a massive, massive hit for everyone."

So what now?

"We literally have people betting on the weather," Mason said. "We are going to have to get creative and see what works."

With the coronavirus effectively wiping out sports on nearly every continent over the past couple of weeks, online sports books, like BetOnline, are scrambling to pick up the pieces.

It's the same story for Bovada, which according to head oddsmaker Pat Morrow, has seen its sports betting platform plummet by 85 percent.

"The only reason we still have even that much traffic is because we still have sports being played in places like South America," Morrow said. "These leagues that typically don't get bet on have seen a massive spike with people wanting to consume sports in any way they can."

There are still some traditional things, like NFL free agency and the upcoming NFL draft, that have seen a lot of action.

There are also some non-traditional things ranging from soccer in Belarus to basketball in Sudan to table tennis in Russia.

There are even some completely off-the-wall bets -- like the temperature in certain cities -- that have started to pop up across the different platforms.

Anything to keep people engaged.

"There's a ton of stuff we are talking about," Mason said. "I know the Phoenix Suns are playing out some of their games on NBA 2K. We will start posting odds on that. We saw someone tweet a marble race with this intricate track in the sand and people were hitting me up on Twitter saying we should offer odds on that. We will look into stuff like that. There are no bad ideas right now."

It's like Super Bowl prop bets on steroids, except instead of the length of the national anthem, or coin toss result, or Gatorade color, people can bet on things like which month the Masters will take place, or which Westworld character is going to die.

"We are trying to distract ourselves, too," Morrow said. "We have folks here with families, and we are waking up and putting odds out as much for our own benefit as anyone else. We aren't trying to make tons of money with some of these things we're putting out there. Honestly, if we break even on most of this stuff, that's more than fine with us."

It's also a tough time for everyone with tens of thousands of people applying for unemployment daily. That's somethings the online sports books understand now more than ever.

"There are a lot of people that are going to be hurting financially that don't want to gamble," Mason said. "There are also other people that might be doing OK that need a different outlet. You can only watch Netflix for so long. Most of our people want to watch some sort of competitive event, whether it's the Super Bowl or a bunch of marbles going down a hill."

While they work for different companies, both Mason and Morrow agree that they want their respective platforms to provide an escape for people, even if it's only for a little bit.

"We would like people to turn off the cable news for, like, 30 minutes and come here and try to forget what's going on," Morrow said. "And the people will have a big say in what we do. If it's more weather betting, we will do that. If it's more NBA 2K streams, we will do that. If it's speculating on the political scene, we will do that. We are going to find ways to make it work."

It certainly won't take the place of March Madness, or the NBA playoffs, or the NHL playoffs. But it could offer some sort of mindless entertainment until everything gets back to normal.

"Luckily, we are a strong company, and once the games turn back on, we are going to be here," Mason said. "In the meantime, if people want some action, we still have plenty to bet on."

Whatever that might be.

"There's always something to bet on," Mason said. "It might not be the Super Bowl. It might not be March Madness. It might not be the Masters. I tweeted out the other day that I'm going to post odds on the cockroaches in my kitchen. Who is going to scurry away faster? Even though I was joking, I guarantee if I put something like that out, someone would bet on it. It's just something fun right now, and people can use that with everything that's going on."

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