By Jason Hensley & Justin White
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
COVID-19 has brought plenty of changes to sports. And sports gambling is no exception. The uncertainty surrounding when — or if — games are played and who will play in them makes it difficult to put money down with confidence. But that doesn’t mean sports gamblers have stopped trying.
“You know, as crazy as it might sound, if you know what you are doing there are still bets to find out there,” said Corey O’Connor, a frequent gambler. “Most recently everyone was saying the Steelers would blow the Ravens out. They had the line set at 11. Normally I would skip out on this game with so many starters out. It’s one of those games that are just too crazy to predict. But I just knew these teams always play each other close. There is no way the Ravens don’t cover and that’s exactly what happened.”
Sports gamblers like O’Connor continue to stay at it, even with COVID-19 adding a layer of uncertainty. It remains to be seen whether the sports betting market, which was valued at $85 billion in 2019, will end up being that hot in 2020.
The sports betting routine was halted for many when the sports world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first league to shut down was the NBA, which suspended the league “until further notice,” in mid-March, with many other worldwide leagues following suit within days.
With the leagues and tournaments gamblers were used to betting on shutting down, gamblers had to turn to other options. This turned many bettors away from gambling, said Derek Cioffi, who helps people place bets.
With traditional sports on pause, a lot of people turned to gambling on esports, leading to roughly 40 times the amount of betting in the industry, according to reports.
Even video games like Madden NFL were bet on as a replacement for real football. A social media section of Bleacher Report called br_betting ran a simulation of Madden 20 football games. Games were streamed live on Mixer and lines were posted on social media.
People who wanted to bet on traditional sports had to turn to other countries — especially those not as ravaged by the pandemic as the United States. That led to increased betting on football and baseball leagues in countries such as Belarus and South Korea.
Through those early months of the pandemic, this was a valid thing for people to bet on, and people did it to chase the feeling of winning a bet again.
“I started betting Korean baseball in May, and I was able to bet that until June,” avid gambler Devin Kowalewski told us.
In June, more sports leagues such as La Liga, the English Premier League and others across Europe began to resume play, and thus gave bettors some of the more familiar leagues to bet on.
And even as sports in the U.S. resumed over the summer and into the fall, changes remained in sports gambling. Home field advantage is much less limited without fans in the stands. Games can be cancelled at a moment’s notice. Key players drop out — sometimes hours before game time, leaving gamblers hung out to dry.
On Dec. 8, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Dez Bryant was prepared to suit up against his former team, the Dallas Cowboys. Gamblers bet on his over/under in catches for the game. But less than an hour before kickoff, Bryant tweeted out his positive result, making him ineligible to play. This voided all bets including him and tanked parlay odds that had included him on this Sunday.
Gamblers have to be more careful in their betting with all these additional caveats. And COVID-19 is a major challenge for line makers. Taking lines early could be beneficial if a member of the opponent’s team falls ill, but the reverse is true of the team you’re betting on as well so it is something to beware of either way.
Sports betting is a growing industry, with more and more states legalizing it and more and more ways to do it online. But COVID-19 has, for the moment, made gambling more difficult.