Sportsbooks thrive on odd events during pandemic curtailments

Casinos like Caesars Palace remain busy online after they shifted their focus to provide creative odds for events such as the 2020 NFL Draft, eSports and Russian table tennis. File Photo by James Atoa/UPI
Casinos like Caesars Palace remain busy online after they shifted their focus to provide creative odds for events such as the 2020 NFL Draft, eSports and Russian table tennis. File Photo by James Atoa/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI, May 15 (UPI) -- Major sports are suspended in the United States, but bettors still clamor for action on online sportsbooks, with many wagering on competitions that normally don't attract much attention.

"Business is booming," said Adam Burns, the sportsbook director at BetOnline.AG.


"We probably took in 10 times more money than last year on the 2020 NFL Draft. It goes to show people are looking for something to bet on. The draft is always big, but I couldn't believe how much money [was bet] when I woke up the next morning."

Websites like BetOnline.AG and SportsBetting.AG usually are filled with gambling options, such as game results, point totals and personal statistics for live NFL, NBA, MLS and MLB action in the United States and abroad.

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Oddsmakers quickly became creative after league shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic. Sportsbooks now offer betting odds on virtual events, like the recent Kentucky Derby clash that pitted former Triple Crown winners against each other in a digital format.


Gambling sites also offer odds for streamed video game competitions and computer-simulated versions of NFL games and UFC bouts.

Odds are posted for an expected Electoral College battle between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in the U.S. 2020 election.

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Handicapping a movie

Betters could put money on the actor and actress they think will play Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin in the Tiger King movie. Brad Pitt, Rob Lowe and Nicolas Cage -- who has been cast in a new Tiger King TV series -- were the favorites for the male lead. Among the favorites for female lead were Patricia Clarkson, Shelley Long and Lisa Kudrow.

Bets on sports other than basketball, football and baseball generated $21.7 million in April 2020 in New Jersey sportsbooks, up from $14.8 million in 2019, according to a state gambling revenue report.

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"The rise in bets on nontraditional sports has been interesting, and with auto racing and golf closer to starting, that trend could increase," said Dustin Gouker, lead analyst for network, which analyzes and researches betting trends.


The pandemic has proven that virtually any competition will attract wagers. Betting on table tennis thousands of miles away has been one of the most unexpected sources of income for gambling sites.

For those matches, gamblers can wager and stream simultaneously, though there's a seven-hour time difference between the U.S. East Coast and Moscow.

Hundreds of clashes in the Moscow Liga Pro are listed on the betting sites daily. The intense games involve two competitors smashing high-speed forehand and backhand shots and displaying rapid reflexes to maintain long rallies.

Table tennis wagers are also available for matches in the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Brazil.

While sportsbooks have capitalized on the interest in the peculiar offerings, site operators worry that the novelty of the sports will wear off and eat into profits.

To bolster revenue, the sites have increased prop bet offerings -- bets made based on some aspect of a competition that doesn't impact the outcome. Those often focus on point totals and player performance.

No U.S. players

The problem right now, though, is that no players are competing in the United States, so the action is restricted to Asia and Europe.

"Thankfully, we have some sports returning to action like UFC and NASCAR," said Robert Cooper, odds manager at SportsBetting.AG. "Sports fans are just begging for something to watch and wager on."


Physical casinos in Las Vegas remain shut, but several are open online. The lack of games and closed casinos resulted in gain of only $1.45 million for Nevada casinos in March, down from a record $32.5 million in that month a year earlier, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Nevada casinos also shifted resources to offer betting on new sports trends because the major leagues are suspended. That has brought more gamblers to their online platforms as a result.

"Our mobile sites have remained active, yet focused on substantially different sports given the cancellation of many major sporting events," a Caesars Entertainment representative said.

"There's been more creativity into setting odds on events like the NFL Draft, table tennis in Eastern Europe or even eSports. In addition, sports betting enthusiasts have increased their volume on our online casino and poker sites in states where these are legally offered."

Caesars -- the official casino partner of the NFL -- plans to launch online sports in new states to prepare for the return of major league sports.

Since the 2018 repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, Caesars has rolled out sportsbooks in seven states. Previous regulations had limited sports betting to Nevada.


MGM Resorts International said its BetMGM platform "is doing well in light of the current environment" with the help of online bets in home dart competitions, Belarusian soccer and, of course, Russian table tennis.

"We're very happy to report that our casino and poker business in New Jersey is performing at remarkable levels since sports stopped," said Jason Scott, vice president of trading for Roar Digital, a joint venture between MGM and GVC Holdings.

"Another positive observation is that numbers in Colorado, where we commenced trading on May 1, have been well over projection," Scott said.

BetMGM clients can bet digitally in Colorado, West Virginia, Indiana, Nevada and New Jersey.

Horse racing limited

Online sportsbooks expect to receive lots of wagering on horse racing in coming months. They've added futures bets -- wagers made based on how an event will finish in the future -- for marquee races.

Racing was held last weekend in Japan and in Hallandale Beach, Fla. Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., will resume races Saturday.

Churchill Downs said in its quarterly report that its adjusted earnings were down 26 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with adjusted earnings of $55.3 million in the same quarter a year ago.


The company, which owns online wagering platform, said content for available wagers decreased, but the number of wagers increased. TwinSpires allowed wagers for tracks that held races without fans, like Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs, while Churchill Downs Racetrack was idle.

"Right now we're in a period of lower competition and high concentrations of fans wagering on less content," Churchill Downs Racetrack said. "That often translates to full fields that create a better product as there are fewer places for horses to run."

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