The impact of Covid-19 has been felt throughout the world, as more and more countries enact policies that require social distancing to stop the spread of the virus. Sports leagues across the globe have been forced to suspend or cancel events due to the rate at which the disease has spread throughout the countries they operate in, impacting the industry in ways that were previously unimaginable. In the United States, the spread of the virus has forced a suspension in play and practices for the NBA, NHL, MLS, and MLB. The timing of the outbreak has also forced the NCAA to cancel March Madness, one of the busiest sports betting periods of the year. The suspension and cancelation of these events have forced sportsbooks into adapting to try and stay relevant in what has brought the booming sports betting industry to a screeching halt.
The Power of March Madness
Oddsmakers were primed and ready to handle Selection Sunday this past weekend; March 15 would have signified the launch of sports betting on the NCAA college basketball tournament, one of the biggest sporting events of the year. However, on March 12, the NCAA announced its decision to cancel the tournament amidst concerns surrounding the spread of Covid-19, after initially suggesting the tournament could be played behind closed doors. The 15-day tournament was set to span 14 cities, and as always was slated to be one of the most-watched sporting events of the year. The tournament consistently brings in millions of dollars between the media coverage, ticket sales, and gambling.
The notorious March Madness brackets, which fans have been filling out for years, present an opportunity for even the most casual fans to enter pools for cash prizes. These pools have acted as an access point for anyone interested in wagering on sports, even in the most casual sense. Sports betting has become even more accessible in recent years, after legislation has rolled out in 16 states since the Supreme Court’s decision to lift the ban on sports betting in 2018. Now fans who have been filling out brackets for years have been considering doubling down on their potential winnings by placing wagers at sportsbooks throughout the country.
It may come as a surprise to some that the money wagered on a college sport surpasses that of even the NFL or NBA, but the March Madness tournament does just that. In the first four days of the 15-day contest, March Madness generates more money in wagers than even the Super Bowl. With the cancelation of the tournament, sportsbooks in Vegas and throughout the country are looking for a way to counteract this massive loss.
The Impact on Vegas
In an interview with USA TODAY, Jay Kornegay, head of operations at Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, expressed that there is no magic bullet for replacing March Madness. Last year, 47 million Americans wagered approximately $8.5 billion on the tournament. These figures include the countless brackets that fans fill out, as well as the wagers placed on individual games. What’s even more concerning, is the fact that the NCAA tournament isn’t the only gap that sportsbooks will have to fill in the coming months.
Almost every other sport in the world has been impacted as well, and the effects are being felt by sportsbooks throughout Nevada, where they typically bring in $500 million a month in sports wagers alone. The concerns surrounding the spread of Covid-19 has also forced temporary closures of brick-and-mortar locations like Vegas’ Wynn Resorts. Other locations have been forced into workforce reductions, as sportsbooks seek to do what they can to counteract the lack of action and provide steady work for their employees, as well as steady action for their players.
Current and Future Sports Betting Options
For the time being, many sportsbooks have shifted their attention to rely on futures bets, such as selecting the Super Bowl and World Series winners for the upcoming seasons. Additionally, bookmakers have done what they can to off lines on the extremely limited sports betting options left at their disposal. Brazilian UFC, Turkish and Russian soccer, and a very limited number of other contests have been the only available markets for sportsbooks over the past few days. It may not be much, but this limited action has at least offered something to bettors for the time being.
With such limited offerings, the sports betting industry is poised to see a steep decrease in revenue, after what has been one of the most successful sports betting periods in U.S. history. What’s even more unsettling is the fact that the suspension in play has the potential to last longer than expected; both the NBA and NHL intended to return to play in about six weeks, while the MLB is expected to delay the start of their 2020 season. As the virus continues to spread, it’s possible that these suspensions in play could extend until July.
While the future of sport hangs in the balance, sportsbooks will have to make do with the limited offerings at their disposal.