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Las Vegas books scramble for content day after sports stopped

Updated March 13, 2020 - 7:59 pm

What will Las Vegas sportsbooks do now that there are virtually no sports left to bet on?

“I’m open to suggestions,” South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews said.

The day after the sports world stopped, horse racing was the main draw Friday for bettors at Las Vegas books. California racetracks Santa Anita and Golden Gate are holding races with no spectators over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

“I hope they don’t shut that down,” The Mirage sportsbook director Jeff Stoneback said. “We’ve got horse racing plastered all over our TVs now and we’ve had pretty good race crowds (Thursday and Friday).

“A few years ago when the NBA had a lockout, we could book EuroLeague games and pick up some more soccer games in Europe to have more content to wager on. But the whole world is shut down. There’s really nothing more we can do.”

Props on soccer?

With the NCAA Tournament canceled and the NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball, PGA Tour and NASCAR suspending their seasons, UFC is the only active American sport, with a fight card scheduled for Saturday in Brazil.

The only sporting events on Friday’s betting card were a pair of Mexican soccer matches and the Westgate sportsbook posted props on both of them.

“On anything that’s still available at this point, we will have as expansive a menu on it as we can,” said Jeff Sherman, Westgate vice president of risk.

Luckily, Sherman said, the Mexican league is one of the most popular for bettors of the international soccer leagues.

Mexican, Russian and Turkish soccer are the only games on the betting board on Saturday and on what would’ve been Selection Sunday — when the NCAA Tournament field is chosen and Las Vegas books post the opening lines on the wildly popular March Madness.

“This is definitely the most challenging time I’ve had, and I’ve been doing it for over 25 years,” Sherman said. “We will do what we can and be as creative as we can.”

Las Vegas books also have had to make adjustments to their hours of operation and staff to deal with the stoppage of major sports.

In addition to UFC and soccer, DraftKings sportsbook in New Jersey has posted odds on rugby, cricket, darts, Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League and Australian rules football (also available at the Westgate).

“You’ve got to have content,” DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello said. “We do have retail locations, but for the most part we’re a digital company. If you don’t have stuff you can bet on, what good is it?

“Everybody’s watching their phones and virus happenings. We’re trying to get their mind off of that. Maybe we’ll open some new markets for people we never knew about before. Maybe people will find something they really like.”

Billions could be lost

Depending on how long the sports world stays dark, books could miss out on billions of dollars of wagers and millions of dollars of profit.

For example, in March, April and May of last year alone, Nevada books won a combined $65.2 million from a total of $1.2 billion in wagers.

The state’s books won $329 million in 2019 overall from a betting handle of $5.3 billion.

“This thing just blew up in such a short time span, I don’t think anybody could prepare for it. Not for mass cancellations and suspensions of major sports leagues,” Caesars Entertainment sportsbook director Bill Sattler said. “We’ve dealt with labor issues but nothing like this. This is unprecedented.

“All we have to do is weather the storm. Once it blows over, I think it’ll be as good or better than it was.”

Reporter Jim Barnes contributed to this story. Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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