Gambling industry reeling after coronavirus-related shutdown of NCAA tournament

AP photo by Paul Sancya / Gamblers place bets at the MGM Grand Detroit casino on March 11, the day that legalized sports betting launched in Michigan. The COVID-19 epidemic has interrupted sports across the globe, and the gambling industry has had to turn to less likely wagering opportunities to fill the gap.

On March 12, Alabama was a 1.5-point favorite over Tennessee and Florida was a 7.5-point pick over Georgia as the Southeastern Conference prepared to unleash four men's basketball tournament matchups inside Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.

Those contests and countless other sporting events then abruptly vanished amid this COVID-19 pandemic, as did their accompanying betting lines, and it has left both the athletic world and the gambling industry in indefinite limbo.

"We had some UFC action last Saturday, and there has been the NFL frenzy this week and the odds of where Tom Brady is going to go," said Brian Edwards, a senior handicapper at "The Patriots went from 25-to-1 to 40-to-1 to win the Super Bowl after Brady left, and BetOnline already has odds to win the 2021 NCAA basketball tournament. Books are trying to compensate by getting odds up early for next year, but things have changed drastically.

"In a few days, I'll kind of be on vacation, but not happily, though."

photo AP photo by Mark Humphrey / Luis Rivera, left, sanitizes seats in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena after the remaining games at the SEC men's basketball tournament were canceled on March 12 due to coronavirus concerns.

Coronavirus concerns have staggered the gambling world, with Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announcing Tuesday that there would be a 30-day shutdown of all casinos and gambling operations within his state. That has resulted in the first closing of Las Vegas casinos since the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, though some mobile gaming opportunities, including sports betting apps, have remained operational at least for now.

Of course, gambling is no longer associated just with Las Vegas and Nevada, as there are now 16 states offering legal sports books. ESPN gambling analyst David Purdum reported this week that Illinois and Michigan were the latest states to come aboard and timed their arrival before the 2020 NCAA basketball tournament that ultimately never transpired.

This year's 68-team NCAA men's field was scheduled to start Tuesday and Wednesday with First Four games in Dayton, Ohio, before erupting with 48 showdowns from Thursday through Sunday at eight sites ranging from Tampa, Florida, to Spokane, Washington.

"They've always said that the Super Bowl is the biggest day to bet but that the first four days of the NCAA tournament are the biggest four days," Edwards said. "Then you've got the Sweet 16 weekend and the Final Four weekend and NIT action, so I don't even know if there is a way to quantify the number of how much Vegas and other areas have lost out on."

Last March, Nevada broke its monthly sports betting intake record by reaching nearly $600 million.

photo AP file photo by Wilfredo Lee / Florida guards Ques Glover, left, and Tre Mann are among the college basketball players who had their postseason canceled because of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Sports Illustrated reported this week that $8.5 billion was wagered on the 2019 NCAA tournament, adding that the average fan filled out four brackets with a median entry fee of $30. Now some of those fans are evolving to more remote athletic competitions or simply placing futures bets on more prominent sports that they hope can return sooner than later.

"People are looking for other avenues, and I'm sure people will be handicapping the NFL season win totals a lot earlier than normal," Edwards said. "People who haven't bet on the NFL draft before may do so now. If you look at our board now, we've got minor league soccer in Argentina, Australia, Chili and Turkey. I don't do soccer, but that's on our board right now.

"There are prop bets on when the NBA is going to start back, so there have been some things these last few days."

Several college football lines were released earlier this week as well, including Alabama being a 4.5-point favorite against visiting Georgia on Sept. 19 but a 1-point underdog for its Nov. 7 visit to LSU.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship had a 66% spike in action last weekend from the previous weekend, according to DraftKings, while action on Turkey's top soccer league was up 1,338% last weekend, with that country's second-highest league up 2,187%. The UFC matches for this weekend have been canceled.

Bovada this week even offered over/under bets on Wednesday's high temperatures in New York (set at 44 degrees), Los Angeles (61), Houston (81) and several other major cities. Bets still can be made for those who seek them, but the soccer in Turkey and Philadelphia's high temperature don't quite provide the same mainstream interest as the annual NCAA bracket pool.

"We're all hoping we get some NBA, whether that's in June, July or August," Edwards said. "Surely this isn't going to mess with football season. That would really stink."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

photo AP photo by Nati Harnick / Official basketballs for the NCAA Division I men's tournament won't be put to their intended use with that event not happening due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and the cancellation of the 68-team bracket's games has had ripple effects on industries that rely on sports.