College football futures were taken off the board at Las Vegas sportsbooks after the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences announced Tuesday that they won’t play football this fall because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everything is down because we don’t know what happens next,” Westgate sportsbook vice president of risk Ed Salmons said. “Will all the good players transfer? Will they change the playoff format?”
The first conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision to postpone its fall season was the Mid-American Conference on Saturday. The Mountain West — with UNLV — did the same on Monday.
The Big Ten was the first Power Five conference to cancel its fall season. About an hour after the Big Ten’s announcement, the Pac-12 announced its season would be postponed until the spring as well.
Nevada sportsbooks could lose about $50 million if the entire college football season is canceled. They took a record $1.87 billion in wagers last year on football — college and NFL combined — and won a record $122.4 million.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board doesn’t separate college football and NFL betting numbers. But GCB senior research analyst Michael Lawton said in an email that “we have been told anecdotally that college football wagers account for approximately 40 percent of total football write.”
Using that barometer and last year’s numbers, that would mean the state’s books would miss out on about $50 million in profits if college football was canceled.
“The real question is, are they postponing it or canceling it? Because if they postpone it until the spring, I don’t think it will be that bad for us,” Westgate sportsbook director John Murray said. “As long as we got college football in the spring, theoretically we’d get our handle back in the spring. That wouldn’t be disastrous.
“But if they outright cancel it like March Madness, that will be very, very bad.”
The Westgate wrote rules on its 2020 college football futures that the season must be completed by August 2021 for action on conference title odds, national championship odds and College Football Playoff odds, which are good only for a four-team playoff.
If the season is not finished by August 2021, the wagers will be refunded. Likewise, Heisman Trophy wagers will be honored if the award is presented. If a player opts out of the season or the award isn’t presented, the bets will be refunded.
Rules vary by each sportsbook.