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Patrons stunned in ‘ghost town’ Las Vegas sportsbooks

Updated March 12, 2020 - 8:51 pm

Sportsbook patrons could hardly believe what they were seeing Thursday.

“It’s kind of like a ghost town,” Las Vegan George Zhouf said at the Westgate.

Sportsbooks across the Las Vegas Valley were mostly empty Thursday for one simple reason: There was hardly anything to bet on. College basketball conference tournaments were canceled in the morning, followed by the NCAA Tournament, and MLB and the NHL joined the NBA in suspending their seasons.

The day began with 58 college basketball games scheduled across the country, but at 12:30 p.m., the main TV screens at the Green Valley Ranch Resort sportsbook were showing MLB exhibition games, UEFA Europa League soccer matches and The Players Championship golf tournament. The rest of the MLB exhibition season was later suspended, and The Players Championship was canceled after the first round.

About 30 to 40 patrons were still in the Green Valley sportsbook, but most were betting on horse racing.

Mark Youngblood, 63, a retiree who lives in Henderson, said he comes to the sportsbook regularly, but especially for March Madness and the NFL playoffs.

“It’s kind of depressing,” he said, looking around.

Youngblood does not agree with the decisions to shut down the professional leagues and cancel the rest of the college basketball season. He said he thought the media was overreacting to the situation.

“The psychological impact is worse than the virus itself,” he said. “It’s a drastic overreaction. I don’t think it’s necessary. We should rely on people to be safe. If they don’t feel well, they should stay home. It’s common sense.”

At the South Point, 10 to 15 people were sitting in the sportsbook around 2 p.m. Of the four main TVs, one showed The Players Championship, and the others were tuned to coronavirus coverage on ESPN. Like at Green Valley, the list of canceled games still rolled across the sportsbook ticker.

The separate racebook around the corner had about 60 patrons.

At the Westgate, about 30 people dotted the sportsbook around 4 p.m. The large screen showed the end of the first round of The Players Championship, and others were tuned to coronavirus coverage.

The betting board showed only futures bets for the major leagues, along with MLB season win totals.

Las Vegan David Heath, a 52-year-old freelance videographer, said he came to the Westgate just to see what the scene in the sportsbook was like. He was snapping photos of the ticker as it rolled through the sportsbook, with the score on every game listed as 0-0 with a notation that it had been canceled.

Heath, who said he studied epidemiology in graduate school, also called the precautions an “overreaction,” but said he could understand why people were concerned.

Zhouf, 51, said he agreed with the cancellations and suspensions and has been taking extra precautions as an Uber driver.

“One word: Italy,” he said, referring to the country’s lockdown amid the pandemic. “We don’t want to become Italy.”

Heath said there had been one positive side effect to the coronavirus’ wipeout of the sports calendar.

“For the last two days,” he said, “I’ve been having the most intriguing conversations in sportsbooks.”

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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