Wipe Out: A Look At How MLB Canceling Its Season Would Impact Sportsbooks, Sports Bettors

Posted By Derek Helling on August 4, 2020 - Last Updated on August 7, 2020
MLB season canceled cancelations schedule

The already shortened, always tentative 2020 MLB season seemingly hangs by a thread. Among other things, the wholesale cancelation of the rest of the campaign will have an impact on sportsbooks.

They should be able to handle the immediate situation if MLB pulls the plug. Later this year, however, is when it might really hurt for bettors and books alike.

Could there be a swift end to the 2020 MLB season?

In theory at least, yes. This past weekend, after MLB postponed a fifth of its games, Commissioner Rob Manfred reportedly laid out management’s position.

Manfred told MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark that he would use his power to shut down the season if testing outcomes continued to grow. Although MLB’s collective bargaining agreement does give Manfred that sole authority, it’s unlikely he would truly make the move unilaterally.

Manfred works for the owners of MLB’s 30 teams. Any move that significant would likely require approval from at least a majority of owners. It might have to be near-unanimous.

But yes, with such support, Manfred could end the season in a manner of minutes. Whether the PA agreed would be irrelevant. Manfred hasn’t been clear about what threshold of positive tests would force such a decision.

He has been clear, however, about at least his willingness to do so in the public eye. In what could have been an intentional leak to drive his point home, reports also surfaced that MLB has told broadcast partners to have other content ready to go in case the season ends abruptly.

That report is probably more about the PR angle and stressing the fact that players need to abide by the protocols than actual news to ESPN or FOX. Given the number of games that the league has already postponed and the general tentative nature of the situation, it’s unlikely broadcasters didn’t already have content ready to fill those slots.

In the same way, sportsbooks that have been taking action on the MLB season have protocols in place. Having a plan doesn’t mean that following it won’t hurt, however.

The pain won’t be immediate for sportsbooks

Sportsbooks knew that the entire season rested on a razor’s edge from the beginning. That was especially true for MLB because of the travel, greatly increasing the chance of infection as compared to other leagues in “bubbles.”

Sportsbooks have likely been well prepared to refund wagers on single games that don’t take place. The regular season isn’t when baseball betting pops up on the greatest number of tickets, anyway.

Should MLB not get to a postseason, that’s when it will hurt for sportsbook operators. The playoffs and especially the World Series are marquee wagering events ever year. Last October, it helped New Jersey sportsbooks collect a then-record $487.9 million in wagers.

If there is no World Series this year, that will represent a significant loss to sportsbooks. Although it’s hard to know exactly how much the sportsbooks will lose because it’s nearly impossible to predict how comfortable bettors would be placing bets on the event amidst the pandemic, that particular event not happening would be costly because operators would likely have to refund all of the futures wagers they have been promoting since MLB started the season.

The situation is a reminder that bettors shouldn’t make assumptions about sportsbooks’ policies. Part of being well-informed when you place your wagers is knowing the house rules.

You know what happens when you assume things?

Sportsbooks post their house rules regarding canceled and postponed events on their apps/websites. Before putting your money down, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with them.

If anything is unclear, that’s why the books have customer service channels. Most of them offer live chats, email, text, and telephone options for bettors.

If you’re going to bet on MLB games, it’s also crucial that you stay aware of the latest news on their status. For example, the St. Louis Cardinals are still awaiting results of further testing.

If that yields yet more positives, it’s likely that will result in more postponements. It might be wise to similarly postpone your wagers until you know for certain games are happening.

Right now, the entire situation is fluid. The 2020 MLB season could end swiftly. For bettors, fans, and sportsbook operators alike, that would be like a closer blowing a lead in the ninth inning.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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