How Will Sportsbooks Handle NFL COVID Forfeits And Cancellations In 2021?

Written By Brett Gibbons on July 23, 2021

On July 22, the NFL released a memo outlining new rules stating that teams with a COVID outbreak may not reschedule their games and will instead forfeit. Per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, unvaccinated players and staff “will be responsible for financial losses and subject to potential discipline from the commissioner.”

Further, the NFL says that unvaccinated players or staff “will be responsible for financial losses and [are] subject to potential discipline from the commissioner.”

“Wow,” is right, Tom.

So– what exactly happens to your bet in the event that an NFL game is canceled under these guidelines (God forbid)?

What happens to my futures bet if an NFL game is canceled?

While we pray no games are decided by the new forfeiture rule, we need to be prepared for it.

So, let’s say you placed a futures bet — be it win totals or a season-long prop — on the Vikings and one of their games gets canceled due to an outbreak in their building. Though the game is canceled, the Vikings would technically forfeit and it would be marked officially as a 2-0 loss to their opponent.

According to BetMGM, win totals are “unconditionally determined,” meaning that a loss is a loss. If the Vikings miss out on their projected 9 wins because of that forfeit, that’s just a bad beat. How they missed their 9 wins isn’t up for debate. This also goes for late-season cancellations– if the over or under has already hit, then the forfeited game won’t change the outcome.

For season-long player totals, you’d be at a disadvantage here, too. BetMGM explains, “all a player has to do is play one game for those bets to count. Thus a game getting canceled does not void the bets.”

Per FanDuel Sportsbook, they “settle markets based on the official governing body of the league.” They’re essentially echoing what BetMGM outlined, that a forfeit is counted as a loss in the NFL record book and with your bet.

No changes or exceptions to futures will be made at DraftKings Sportsbook, either: “Player futures and regular season wins would still have action.”

What if the NFL game I bet on is canceled or forfeited?

This is where you’d be in luck. Despite the game officially being declared a 2-0 loss for the forfeiting team, bets on the game itself (player props, moneyline, spreads) would be void.

So if you placed a game prop bet– say you took over Dalvin Cook’s rushing total for the given week — and the game gets canceled, you would be refunded your money. This also goes for parlays that involve the canceled game. On one hand, it could save you from a busted parlay; on the other hand, it could ruin a perfectly good one.

BetMGM and DraftKings Sportsbook confirmed that all bets on forfeited games would be voided and refunded.

How was this handled in 2020?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic was still in its earlier days for the 2020 NFL season, sportsbooks were forgiving with bets, especially futures. According to a Yahoo Sports article from October of 2020, there was no real contingency plan– at least at BetMGM– and that bets affected by sudden postponements/cancellations were voided and refunded.

The example given was in baseball, which had to set the precedent by being the first league to fire up after the start of the pandemic. BetMGM set minimum game requirements for MLB futures (60 games) and bets on teams that did not reach that threshold were typically forgiven.

However, say a bettor took the under on win totals (as outlined in the Yahoo article) and the team went under that total while also failing to meet the 60-game threshold, those bets were honored.

Fortunately, the NFL didn’t see any forfeitures in 2020 and no games were canceled, though a handful were rescheduled (notably a Week 4 matchup between the Titans and Steelers that was played in Week 7).

Do I change my strategy this year?

Unless you’re a time traveler and know which games will be affected by COVID outbreaks this season, then no.

Again, hopefully no games are forfeited and the season runs smoothly; however, it’s impossible to know when (or if) a game will be canceled due to a COVID outbreak. Unfortunately, these game cancellations will likely be last-minute and late in the week.

The best way to handle the situation is to avoid betting on teams that have early week rumblings about positive tests and be cautious with reports.

We will update this article as we learn more throughout the 2021 NFL season.

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Brett Gibbons

Brett is an avid sports traveler and former Division-I football recruiter for Bowling Green and Texas State. He’s a graduate of BGSU and works as an auditor for Google content curation products. He’s also contributed to Sports Illustrated and Fansided during his young writing career.

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