Baseball has been tough to book

It seems like every day on the sports betting landscape there has been a new twist and turn with the coronavirus pandemic.

On the baseball front, a whole host of challenges have presented themselves with new rules, new COVID-19 cases among players and staff, postponements and rescheduling of games, pitcher assignments and seven-inning doubleheaders are just some of the headaches that sportsbook operators are dealing with.

“Baseball has been going great for us so far in terms of handle,” said Thomas Gable, director of the race and sports book at Borgata in Atlantic City. “We will probably come close to setting a record for monthly baseball handle this month, but it certainly has been challenging with teams canceling games the day of for various reasons.

“In terms of the pitchers being scratched, we are used to dealing with that as it happens on occasion throughout a normal season. Obviously, if you have a listed pitcher on a ticket and then they don’t start, your wager will be refunded. The biggest changes we have been dealing with are the rules changes especially with extra innings as a runner has to start on second base. And, of course, the seven-inning doubleheaders. We had to adjust the house rules with the regulators to account for these types of games.”

Other sportsbooks agree.

According to traders at William Hill, baseball has presented new challenges for them this season. Starting pitchers are being scratched at a greater rate, which leads to more last-minute line changes and more customers with voided wagers on markets tied to starting pitchers. The shortened doubleheaders forced model adjustments to account for the two-inning decrease. Also, with only a brief time between Game 1 and Game 2, it can be hard for customers to get down on that second game, especially if teams have not announced starting pitchers ahead of time.

In another sport that people have been craving for — college football — bettors across New Jersey and Pennsylvania got their wish last Saturday night as Central Arkansas rallied past Austin Peay, 24-17, in the FCS Kickoff Classic at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.

“Saturday’s FCS opener between Austin Peay and Central Arkansas was a great game for bettors. The handle for the game was comparable to a prime-time FBS NCAAF football game last season, as well as an average non-prime time NFL game,” said Rush Street Interactive COO Mattias Stetz, who runs PlaySugarHouse.com and BetRivers.com. “Both PlaySugarHouse.com in New Jersey & PA and BetRivers.com in PA have already started to see action on this weekend’s slate of games. We expect to see some good handle with more recognizable schools like Memphis, BYU, Navy and SMU playing.”

Granted, it was one football game, but it was the first game of the coronavirus pandemic and it will set the tone for this week, topped off Monday as BYU visits Navy.

“We didn’t hang a number on the Austin Peay/Central Arkansas game on Saturday. We had a few inquiries, but not a lot,” said Gable. “But certainly with the games beginning this week, the interest is now growing.

“I really believe that there has been so much going on with the other major sports (MLB, NBA and NHL) that the bettors’ attention hasn’t been on college football or even so much on NFL as it normally is this time of year. But people are getting that itch for football again. We’ve had decent advance handle on the college games coming up this week. As more teams get underway, it should be a decent season as long as there are no interruptions due to the pandemic.”