The New Jersey sports betting crowd will have to wait out what has become “March Meekness.”

Gone is the lucrative gambling month scheduled to encompass high-level wagering intersections:

  • The thrill of March Madness, college basketball’s championship tournament.
  • The homestretch of the National Hockey League season.
  • Late-season play in the National Basketball Association.
  • Major League Baseball spring training and season openers.

For the moment, that’s all gone.

The NCAA men’s conference tournament championships, weekend previews, and Selection Sunday speculation piece won’t appear here, as planned.

An avalanche of sporting events vanished in a 24-hour blur. The chain of troubling events followed the declaration of the “P” word Wednesday.

And the word was not “parlay.”

The World Health Organization officially labeled the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. That “P” set off a larger one, panic, throughout the world at large, not merely the sports wagering realm.

Soon enough, bettors should regain all the wagering options that serve as a failsafe for sports betting companies during this “social distancing” appeal from the WHO.

NJ sportsbooks react to the coronavirus

Sportsbook operators resemble professionals trapped at home after a blizzard shuts down operations. The only option is to wait out the big variable.

In this case, that’s the perceived potency of the virus. This is an unprecedented dilemma for sportsbook operators.

“We continue to offer wagering on everything being played,” said Matt Stetz, the COO of Rush Street Interactive.  Rush Street owns and operates SugarHouse Casino in several states, including:

  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Indiana

“This is out of our hands now.  We have no idea what the leagues will decide to suspend. It’s in the hands of the leagues themselves.”

Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill, mirrors the industry sentiment of suspended acclimation.

“At this time, we don’t have any comment on the coronavirus. We are trying to get our heads wrapped around all of it.”

The rapid event timing is a lot to process. The nuance of different situations and the larger world sports betting finds itself in new territory.

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COVID-19 impacts sports betting

But for now, the coronavirus speed bump is real.

In roughly chronological order, it unfolded like this, following the WHO’s declaration of the pandemic:

  • The NCAA announced that conference tournament basketball games would be played without spectators.
  • Conference tournaments were then canceled, and one game, St. John’s versus Creighton, was discontinued at halftime.
  • The likelihood of an unwelcome March Madness cancellation grew on Thursday.  Not only was a large gathering of people deemed unsafe, but how would one determine at-large berths without a conference champion?
  • Duke and Kansas Universities said they would not travel to March Madness, ensuring the final decision that came two hours later, when the entire tournament was shelved.
  • The NBA paused its season after one of its players tested positive for the virus.  That number later became two. The league has the option to continue in a few weeks, even play a shortened postseason, unless the virus breaks out among more teams and officials.
  • The NHL paused its season.
  • MLB shut down spring training and delayed the scheduled March 26 start to its season by at least two weeks.
  • Santa Anita Park shut down its meet for now.
  • The PGA Championship was canceled after the first round.

Even the Dubai Cup, a $12 million signature horse race set for March 28 in Saudi Arabia, announced the race would be run without spectators. Will it even happen without the public on hand to enhance it?

Tennis will also be canceling events.

The ATP called off men’s tournaments for the next six weeks. The WTA said its tournament in South Carolina, set for April 6-12, would not be held as scheduled, with decisions about the rest of the season to come in the next week.

NASCAR announced it would race the next two weekends, in Atlanta and Miami, without fans, and IndyCar made the same decision for its race this weekend in St. Petersburg, FL.

Even the fledgling XFL, which unfurled a promising start, canceled its season Thursday night.

Social distancing is the new black

The NBA development most likely thrust this rash of events over the top.

Importantly, there were no dissenting voices over putting a hold on the schedule.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban expressed concern for his family, said half of life is random and that his team was prepared to follow league directives reached in consultation with medical experts.

Cuban also scored public relations points, saying the team would keep workers on the payroll, perhaps doing volunteer assignments. That’s an important distinction, addressing the rank-and-file ripple effect of a team shutting down operations.

NBA and NHL commentators spoke of the need, and the intention of their leagues, to follow medically based recommendations. They appeared relieved, rather than disturbed, that medical guidance would make the cancellation of big-money events a no-brainer.

Editorials began surfacing, pressuring the NCAA to cancel March Madness. It can’t be postponed, as the event is time-sensitive. The NBA and NHL, meanwhile, could pick up after a month away.

Other sporting events and community functions toppled like dominoes:

  • Boxing matches Thursday in Boston
  • St. Patrick’s Day parades in New Jersey
  • Community fundraisers
  • Nursing homes, practically self-quarantining

NJ mobile sports betting will recover

Handicapping: The President of China visited the coronavirus Ground Zero, Wuhan, this week. 

Hypothesis: The virus could be on its way out there. That means it could run its course here before too long.

Despite the setback, this is an appropriate time to reflect and savor the new sports wagering enterprise.

Two years ago, we had PASPA. We couldn’t picture a world with:

  • DraftKings
  • FanDuel
  • William Hill
  • BetMGM

Two years ago, you could not have envisioned New Jersey surpassing half a billion dollars of wagers in one month.

Mobile technology did not exist during the decades-long lobbying period to legalize sports wagering.

Mobile allows betting with the press of a finger. And multiple wagers during the game. All without standing in line.

Fifteen inches of snow can be piled in your driveway, trapping you inside. Still, you can have action on events almost anywhere in the world: football, tennis, golf, basketball, soccer—some payouts approaching $1 million.

Yes, coronavirus is a bad (out)break. Some industry jobs will be lost.

Turmoil marks the business world outside of sports. But there could be hockey in June, an extended NBA season and the return of baseball.

It will get warm.

The virus will run its course.

And, eventually, bettors will look at this as just an off-season.

Dave Bontempo

About

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others.