The New Normal In Betting: Rugby, Virtual Sports, And … Curb Your Enthusiasm?

Written By Chris Sheridan on March 20, 2020

Friday was supposed to be the day we all gathered around the water cooler and checked our NCAA Tournament brackets from Day 1 of March Madness before spending the afternoon and evening waiting for some Cinderella to emerge.

Instead, we have the coronavirus putting the world on lockdown, causing social distancing, shuttering racetracks, casinos, bars and restaurants along with the entire sports universe. We’ve all been punched in the gut.

Cabin fever is rampant, toilet paper is scarce, the Dow Jones has tanked, and the only news we are getting from the sports world outside of the NFL consists primarily of updates on which athletes have contracted the COVID-19 virus, how they are handling it, and who may or may not be next.

Nobody knows when mainstream sports will return, and a normalized world like the one we lived in until just a couple of weeks ago seems a long way off. We have never seen anything like this in our lifetimes in terms of a sustained period of not having televised sports to distract us from the perils of everyday life … and for us to wager on.

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But all hope is not lost

DraftKings Sportsbook is making the necessary adjustments to keep business open and provide a wagering menu to those who still choose to take their chances in the legalized U.S. sports betting market.

“I cannot tell you how much money we have taken on the Tamps Bay Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl and/or win their conference,” Johnny Avello, the head of sportsbook operations at DraftKings, told, referencing the move of Tom Brady to the Bucs after 22 seasons with the New England Patriots.

But there is nothing in the near future to wager on in basketball, baseball, hockey, golf and tennis, which has forced the book to get creative and to scour the global landscape for sporting events – real and virtual – that are appropriate for gambling.

Australian Rules Football (those who remember the early days of ESPN are familiar with it), Australian Rugby, Australian Soccer and Cage Warrior fighting from Manchester, England, were among the wagering choices atop the DraftKings menu on Friday.

A deeper dive into the site revealed ”wagering pool” odds on the winner of Shark Tank and what will happen Sunday night in the season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO. Those prop pool contests are free: no real-money markets are offered.

NFL futures odds are about the only mainstream thing available for wagering on DraftKings, with this week’s free agency having left Brady’s Bucs as the sixth choice (at +1800, along with the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles) behind the Kansas City Chiefs (+600), Baltimore Ravens (+750), San Francisco 49ers (+900) and New Orleans Saints (+1400) with shorter odds.

DraftKings has been approved by the state of New Jersey to offer wagering on horses from tracks in the Garden State, but all of them are shuttered because of the pandemic. New York’s Aqueduct Racetrack had been operating, but it was closed Friday after a worker tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday.

But DK and other sportsbooks in America have been operating on the premise that horse betting is mostly a thing of the past and pro/college sports betting is the wave of the future. The shutdown of the NBA and Major League Baseball and the cancellation of the NCAA tournament has impacted the bottom line of all wagering entities, as chronicled by colleague Adam Candee at Legal Sports Report.

“This thing hit us kind of quick. Nobody could prepare for this,” Avello said. “If this ever happens again, if sports ever go through an extended lull, what we are learning is that we have to get creative.

“Everything we were doing before will eventually come back, but some of the new offerings are going to stick, and people will know them.

“Usually, you concentrate on the major sports along with golf and tennis,” added Avello, who compared the lack of sports to the days when the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were competing for the NCAA championship but wagering on them was not permitted in Nevada, and thus the sportsbooks were dark. “But we’re offering things that people haven’t seen before, and we’ve opened some eyes, and these other sports – darts and Australian Rules Football – are something that people may want to wager on when things get back to normal.”

More innovation coming?

As the shutdown of the sports world continues, DraftKings is looking at offering wagering on virtual sports, along with simulated sports that would act much the same way as slot machines through a random generator. Virtual dog racing and horse racing could be added to the wagering menu in the days and weeks ahead as America locks itself down and wonders when normalcy will return.

In the meantime, the “new normal” means having a wagering menu with items that would have been inconceivable for DK and other sportsbooks just two short weeks ago.

Rival book FanDuel is hanging its hat on having more college football opening week wagering opportunities than any other sportsbook, and the offshores are putting up all sorts of political odds and porn site traffic over/unders.

Nobody likes this, but it is what it is. We all still have to make a living, and that includes sportsbooks and their thousands of employees. And eventually, things will return to normal. What remains a major uncertainty is the amount of wagering dollars that will be available in households where wagering budgets were impacted by unprecedented losses on Wall Street and unprecedented closures of businesses.

Bottom line: There is less money out there to be wagered, but wagering will continue. Yep, this certainly is a different kind of March Madness.

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