As stadiums sat empty during the COVID-19 pandemic, online sportsbooks struggled to write bets.
It all happened so suddenly. One moment, Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert was playfully touching the microphones and tape recorders of journalists covering the team, joking that he was giving them all coronavirus.
A couple of days later, Gobert was testing positive for COVID-19.
Just like that, the dominoes began to fall. The NBA paused its season. The NHL followed suit the next day. NCAA basketball conference tournaments collapsed like a house of cards falling in upon itself.
The fledgling XFL shut down and then folded. The MLS went on hiatus. Around the world, all of soccer’s major leagues went off the scheduling grid. Euro 2020 and the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games were moved to 2021.
Eventually, even MLB came to its senses and sent everyone home from spring training.
In living rooms across the world, there was consternation caused by the realization that the entire sporting landscape had gone into hibernation. Folks hadn’t hungered as much for something since the listeria scare of the summer of 2008, when all the meat was recalled.
If sports fans were desperate, imagine the empty feeling in the pit of the stomachs of sports bettors and especially, sportsbook operators as all the lines vanished from the board.
It certainly was odd to see no more odds.
There were two schools of thought at work here. Imagine a comparison between bacon eaters and pig farmers. One likes to eat bacon to fill the void in their bellies. The other needs you to eat bacon in order to fill their bank account and avoid bankruptcy.
A similar dichotomy existed between sports bettors and sportsbooks.
Bettors were at a loss regarding what to wager on minus their sporting staples. Sportsbook operators were scrambling to find something to offer odds on in order to ensure that they would not lose their businesses.
The routes that both took to weather this storm provided some remarkable tales of the strange and the unusual.
Table Tennis, Anyone?
Russian table tennis proved to be the sports betting star of the COVID-19 lockdown.
There were some sports that opted to try and weather the COVID-19 storm. The nation of Belarus determined that since they couldn’t see coronavirus, it didn’t exist. They kept their sports going, including the country’s soccer and hockey leagues.
Australian Rules football sought to keep going but quickly realized the error of their ways and closed up shop.
Desperate sportsbooks began setting odds on athletes playing eSports with their virtual selves. Little did they know that the solution to all their problems was located in the basement of most suburban homes.
Table tennis was coming to a sportsbook’s betting lines near you and in the most surprising development of the COVID-19 outbreak, bettors were quite willing to follow the bouncing ball of Russian table tennis to glorious outcomes.
“We went out and found whatever we could,” Johnny Avello, head of sportsbooks for DraftKings told Forbes.com. “We wanted to keep our customers engaged.”
With its propensity to lean toward favorites and the ability to build large parlays with the promise of significant return on limited investment, several bettors were able to make huge bank on Russian table tennis wagers.
Not Turning To The Casino
When sports vanished, the casual bettor turned to other activities. They binged on Netflix, rode their bikes around the neighborhood, or took the dog for a walk.
An empirical study conducted during the sports shutdown by the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction looked at the habits of sports bettors who were left without sports on which to bet. Sports bettors from Sweden, Germany, Finland, and Norway were assessed to analyze their betting activity prior to and following the outbreak of the pandemic.
Their study revealed that there wasn’t any increase in wagering at online casinos by sports bettors suddenly shut out of their usual wagering avenues of opportunity.
If they couldn’t bet sports, for the most part, these bettors weren’t going to bet at all.
Surviving To Thrive Again
Online betting houses are run by creative and clever professionals. Their career is built around assessing risk, and you have to admit that they’re pretty darn good at it.
Online sportsbooks were among the first industries to go all-in on Bitcoin when the cryptocurrency was still a mystery to most folks. That’s proven to be a well-played bet.
The creativity they displayed to keep afloat during the pandemic slowdown is currently being rewarded as sports slowly make their return from enforced hiatus. For instance, the Bundesliga was the first major soccer league to return to the pitch. In that first week of action from Germany’s top division, sportsbooks reported a 428% increase in wagering.
They say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. That’s the approach with which the sportsbooks are viewing the past few months.
“When you don’t have all the normal content, customers will migrate,” Avello said. “That’s the positive that’s going to come out of this. We’re always looking for additional content.
“We got good action on the stuff we did, but now that we’re starting to get back to core events, demand should rise even higher.”
As the NBA, MLB and NHL ready to return to play this summer, it will be a boon for the sportsbooks.
“It could be one of the bigger summers that we’ve ever had,” Avello said.