The coronavirus pandemic has forced bettors to read the fine print.
Whether a bet stands or is canceled as most major sports suspend play comes down to the stipulations at the bottom of the betting sheet. Those rules almost never matter in the normal course of the sporting calendar.
But “almost” has arrived.
NBA season win and NHL season point total bets are almost certain to be refunded because those leagues are highly unlikely to play a full regular-season schedule. (Some sportsbooks stipulate that teams must play at least 80 games for the bets to count; others require the full 82.)
Many books have had to refund Masters futures after the golf tournament was postponed because rules stipulated that it had to be played within eight days of the original start date.
One betting pool that has been unaffected is William Hill’s futures on the Kentucky Derby. The book gave no time frame other than 2020. So all of the bets that have been collected since the fall are still active — even though the field might look much different if it is run on the new date in September than on the traditional first Saturday in May.
“As long as it goes this year, we’re good,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “We’re excited about it. We’ve got a lot written on it.”
The Westgate was one of the books that had to refund its original Masters pools and reopen a new one that stipulated only that the tournament had to be played in 2020. Westgate vice president of risk Jeff Sherman said last week that it was “disappointing on a lot of ends.”
Circa Sports sportsbook manager Chris Bennett likewise bemoaned the loss of “a lot of time and energy” that went into booking and managing their original Masters pool before it had to be refunded. However, he wasn’t sure books could open up their time frames too much in reaction to the pandemic.
“You have to have some type of endpoint because customers have their money tied up,” he said. “You can’t just hold that money forever. It might discourage betting.”
William Hill didn’t have to refund its Masters pool because it had the same 2020 time frame as the Kentucky Derby, Bogdanovich said. He said he didn’t see making changes to their procedures based on the pandemic.
“We’re in a time of uncharted waters,” he said. “We’re coming across stuff that you couldn’t have rules for. … Obviously it’s frustrating and aggravating for all concerned (when futures are refunded), bookmakers and bettors.”
Bogdanovich said the toughest blow so far had been the refunding of NCAA Tournament futures, erasing nearly a year’s worth of heavy betting.
All the uncertainty about when sports will return has made books think twice about what stipulations to put on upcoming events. Before it shut down temporarily this week because of the pandemic, the Westgate opened odds on a third boxing match between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin with the stipulation that they must fight by the end of 2021.
Circa opened NFL season win totals with the stipulation that the regular season must be completed by March 31, 2021 — about three months later than normal.