The NFL announced last week that it was cutting two weeks out of the preseason schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic which has now canceled 33 total games before an official practice has even begun.
It could be a prelude to future rulings from the commissioner’s office up to and including a season being canceled.
Millions of pro football fans are hoping the season gets going to restore some normalcy to day-to-day lives that have shut down most American sports. Nevada sportsbooks are also hopeful football is around because it’s the biggest business in the industry. Football season for the books is kind of like Christmas at Macy’s. Without Christmas, Macy’s goes out of business (they are already closing retail stores because they treated the internet like Blockbuster Video did, ignored it as Amazon and Netflix took over).
What’s the big deal? It’s only 33 preseason games, and limits on side and totals are usually set low at around $3,000/$1,000 compared to the regular season with high limits.
But it is a big deal. If we look at what Nevada books did last August when they won $18.7 million holding at 6.5%, the bulk of the winnings came from football, which included 83 college football games. The combined effort between pro football preseason games and the first week of college football won books $12.6 million at a whopping 17.5 hold percentage.
NFL preseason games have the allure of being on Thursday night through Monday night for bettors to get into their groove before being fully prepared and ready for the regular season. It’s a popular time and you can feel the energy of the changing seasons.
“I think the NFL did the right thing under the circumstances, but sure it’s going to affect our business,” said South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews. “Every year I’m amazed at how popular betting on preseason NFL games are. There are preseason games we’ve handled more on than individual World Series games.”
The Circa Sports team operating out of the Golden Gate casino downtown said they expect their handle to be greatly affected by cutting the preseason in half.
“It will definitely be detrimental to us,” Circa sports director Matt Metcalf. “We write a lot of sharp action so we can usually get on the right side of those preseason games and make some more money.”
An alternative opinion suggests this year there are more options to bet on than a normal August.
“Two weeks, I’m not sure the handle decrease will be earth-shattering with our customer base,” said MGM Resorts sportsbook director Jeff Stoneback. “I think with the NBA, NHL and MLB seasons going at the same time that the attention preseason games normally receive will be diverted into other sports, or at least about 70 percent of what we might expect to lose from those two weeks.”
One area Stoneback is already preparing for is the information game during the regular season with players catching the coronavirus. He says the information will be huge for both the bettor and bookmaker.
“You bet what is perceived to be a good number on Monday with Tampa Bay, but then on Friday it’s announced Tom Brady has the virus along with a couple of his teammates and the changes to the number are worth over a touchdown,” Stoneback said as an example.
I have an awful feeling in a few weeks we’ll be seeing all preseason games canceled as the NFL is backed into a corner when some of its players catch the virus while they watch how the other leagues handle the pandemic. A few MLB players don’t want to play and Freddie Freeman of the Braves was diagnosed positive on the first day of summer camp. The MLS bubble has already been breached, and the NBA bubble along with NHL training camps are sure to have a few rocky days as they restart their seasons later this month.
ESPN reported a story last week about several bets being made on international baseball at the Bellagio that is currently being investigated by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. There were about 50 bets in question that were made on a BetMGM kiosk and phone apps from 1:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. on baseball games that started at 1 a.m.
GVC Holdings runs the BetMGM operation out of New Jersey and made the start time errors. One of the bets made was a 10-leg parlay that paid out $137,107, which of course was made easier to catch when knowing the score from the first half of games.
I immediately had a couple of concerns beginning with how an operation could allow so much risk to roll through without approval when every MGM book in operation was closed. But despite GVC needing a full review of their internal operation and doing everything possible to protect the house from an error like this happening again, it’s still stealing by the bettors who knew they were playing games that already started.
The Gaming Control Board hates stories like this and doesn’t want any negative PR attributed to the state. But they’re also against thieves or those who take advantage of an obvious error. Just because someone forgot to lock the door of the bank doesn’t mean we can go in a grab all the cash we want.
Making best of situation
Despite a small betting menu, the South Point retail sportsbook is still operating 24 hours a day.
“Business has been good so far despite the limited options to wager on,” Andrews said. “NASCAR has been O.K., the UFC has been O.K., soccer has been O.K., and the Asian baseball has also been just O.K.
“It’s a small win, but like I tell Michael (South Point owner Gaughan), at least we’re holding. It’s just strange times right now.”