Is COVID-19 going to kill massive sports betting palaces?
We are already counting the long list of familiar and time-honored customs we will all have to adjust to during, and well-after, the Cornonavirus. From ending the handshake to the $9.99 buffet, all Americans will have to get used to a new way of living.
Way down on the list is another likable place all bettors have enjoyed gathering since making its way to Vegas back in the early 1970's. The Race and Sports Book. Due to the mass acceleration of online wagering and now the unwelcome advance of COVID-19, there is no doubt its popularity and place to gather a huge crowd in a casino are likely finished.
Before New Jersey and other select states, including Mississippi, welcomed the race book into their casinos, Nevada was the pioneer of the race AND sports book. And it certainly did not resemble anything that it looks like today.
These were the days of pull-down chalkboards and erasable pen screens posting hand-changing odds for horses and sports teams. In a funny way, it looked like a professional model of how a bookie shop appeared in several old gambling-oriented movies.
The major transformation occurred when landmark operations and "destination sportsbooks" appeared at mega Vegas hotels, like the Stardust, and certainly the Las Vegas Hilton. Today the LV Hilton is The Westgate, home of the Westgate Superbook, still largely known as the most famous and largest race and sportsbook in the world. Their first-class operation now includes online wagering and has other locations in Nevada and soon to be premiering in Colorado.
In fact, places like the Stardust and the Las Vegas Hilton (Westgate) Superbook were so popular in years priors to online gambling, that bettors (like me) planned their Vegas vacations there. Spending hours inside while it was sunny and 90 poolside degrees outside and jockeying for just a seat during weekends and then again at night when there was a featured game.
Lines at the windows were long, with horse bettors dropping f-bombs faster than losing exacta tickets. Most everyone was worried and anxious they would get shut out prior to post time. Combined were larger VIP bettors trying to get down on games before they started. Mixing in with the screaming was the dark lighting and cocktail waitress everywhere to hypnotize you. It was glorious madness from noon to midnight.
Oh, by the way, there was no such thing as SEEING any horse races or likely more than one or two games at most on the television monitors. This period was way before cable and/or satellite feed signals. Bettors were listening to horse races being called or watching the big boards for numbers being changed and posted. Every run scored, touchdown, etc.
Stay Home Everybody
While Dr. Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control currently beg you to stay home now to protect yourselves and to help not spread the Coronavirus, no message may be heard louder than for the sports bettors. Horse bettors too. And seemingly it has.
Flashing forward to May 2020 there seems no apparent reason to visit either your local or perhaps destination sportsbook anywhere in the U.S. Yes, it's great to get out of the house for many legit reasons, including food and medicine, but at what cost when you have everything needed for sports wagering and horse racing ONLINE at your fingertips.
No, I do not expect Drs. Fauci or Sanjay Gupta televising a public service announcement to check out the list of top online sportsbooks as a health and wellness procedure. It just does not make sense this month or next to saunter into a casino to play a trifecta or a parlay wager when it could potentially land you in a nearby hospital.
I would save that risk vs. return logic for deciding whether you potentially invest in say, the Ravens, Chiefs or Cowboys in the upcoming Super Bowl future pool. They're listed now with very different odds to competitively shop on all of the preferred sportsbooks.
One for Tennessee
As I commented upon recently, Tennessee is likely putting the Coronavirus near top of their evidence they see no financial need nor reason they should prudently build any onsite race or sportsbooks within the state. As for their strange noncompetitive minimum tax demands . . . well, that's another story.
Actually, the number one reason is online sports betting has more than proven to be the bettors choice thus far, since PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) was overturned exactly two years ago. New Jersey, the highest grossing gambling state in the U.S., has achieved their sports wagering revenue through an over 85% share online, despite several prime onsite locations, including the Meadowlands Racetrack, Monmouth Park, and all Atlantic City casinos. Other states have witnessed similar results with online wagering dominating.
Before COVID-19, sports fans, racetrack goers and casual fans were not packing these locations to watch games, mingle, socialize, and stare at screens. The virus and its implications will certainly now push them further away to perhaps the slots, casino tables and restaurants once the public returns. But as far as seeing a large crowd assemble to watch a game, a big race and bet onsite. Y'gotta know when to fold em'.
As a sports fan and social person, I want to see the onsite race and sportsbook make somewhat of a comeback when it is safe to return. However, it will take some sort of creative incentive to accomplish that. The casino marketing gurus are the best at figuring that out.
Give us some legit reason to leave our laptops and drive (or fly) back to the sportsbooks to play the ponies or join the cheering group rooting for our favorite teams. Or at least teams we bet on that day.
By statistics, the old guy at the track with the daily racing form and cigar will very soon be dead. Sitting next to him will only be a ghost of a guy without a computer or cell phone to tap in his wagers. If not in-play wagering.
There must be some incentive, bonus, firestorm, call it whatever you like to give a bettor a reason to return to the a sportsbook palace post COVID-19. I fear its rightful and welcome space in the casino landscape will soon be replaced with a bank of more slot machines. Or worse, an eSports betting arena.
Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, including previews and picks from Glenn, click here.