Like many businesses attempting to beat the odds and stay afloat during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, sportsbook operators are forced to place a losing wager.
The upcoming week was going to be the biggest month yet for legal sports betting in the United States, with more states accepting wagers than ever before following the PASPA repeal nearly two years ago.
But after the NBA suspended its season indefinity on Wednesday, March 11, after players contracted COVID-19, most of the upcoming professional and collegiate sporting events were put on ice.
When concerns over the coronavirus began to ramp up, the NCAA initially planned for March Madness 2020 to take place without fans in the stands, leading to #MarchSadness trending on social media.
However, as the MLS, NHL, MLB, and others followed the NBA’s lead by postponing play, the NCAA took it a step further on Thursday and chose to cancel both the men’s and women’s 2020 NCAA basketball tournaments.
Bookmakers always circle the third month on the calendar, knowing the luck of the Irish would always be on their side. In fact, the men’s tourney had been played every year since 1939, so it was consistently one of the safest bets a sportsbook could make in regards to promotions and bonuses.
March Madness betting annually brings in more revenue for a single month than any other time, and billions of dollars are wagered on the basketball tournament at brick-and-mortar, online, and mobile sportsbooks each year.
And that’s not including the financial impact from the traditional smorgasbord of tournament bracket challenges and office pools hosted around the country during the month of March.
Without Cinderellas, guests, or the eventual champion attending the Big Dance in 2020, sportsbook operators didn’t just have their financial toes stepped on by the coronavirus—they had their entire foot amputated.
And things will continue to look bleak since, without sports, there are no sports bets people can place other than futures, which is a long-term investment that might not payout for weeks or months.
John Murray, executive director for the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, told ESPN in an interview he expects sportsbooks and betting sites around the country to suffer significant losses from the cancellation of March Madness 2020.
“It’s our busiest week of the year,” Murray said. “In terms of ticket counts and crowds, that’s our busiest week of the whole year, the first week of the NCAA tournament. It’s a big concern, but every sportsbook in the country is in the same boat. There’s nothing we can do to control it. We’re just hoping for the best, while keeping the safety of our guests, our staff and everyone involved our No. 1 priority.”
Internet-based sportsbooks will fare a bit better, since most offer other ways to gamble money, such as online poker and casino games. Brick-and-mortar establishments are already a ghost town, for the most part, due to health officials warning against large gatherings and person-to-person contact.
Until the coronavirus situation is under control and is safely in everyone’s rearview mirror, sports leagues will likely continue to stay on hiatus to prevent further spread of the viral disease.
And in an industry where “let it ride” is just another day at the office, the only bet the sportsbook operators can place right now is on “ride it out”—hoping the odds are in their favor and that all of this will blow over soon.