How much do you know about the National Rugby League? In the coming weeks, those looking for a sports betting avenue during the Coronavirus pandemic could become much more familiar with odds on Australia’s top rugby league, along with lesser-known soccer leagues, cricket and even darts.
With March Madness canceled, the NBA and NHL seasons suspended, and Major League Baseball facing at least a two-week delay to its regular season, sportsbooks are searching for other markets to draw action. Although nothing comes close to replacing the NCAA Tournament, oddsmakers are finding ways to sate bettors’ appetites.
“We had quite a bit of soccer today – the Mexican Premier League, the Russian Premier League, the Ukrainian League,” DraftKings director of sportsbook operations Johnny Avello told Covers on Saturday. “We had darts up this morning, the PDC Players Championship, and we actually had in-game wagering for it. How about that?
“This is stuff you can find on our site. Now that there’s nothing else, you go on our site and it’s kind of front-and-center.”
The aforementioned National Rugby League provided another market for DraftKings.
“That’s prominent now. We’ve got alternative points for the games, alternative points for the first and second halves,” Avello said. “We’ve got first scoring play, first team to score, and we’ve even got some player props up: which player is going to score first, which player is going to score last. There’s a bunch of stuff up there if people want to engage in it. A lot of markets within the market.”
Soccer is a little more traditional, but even within that market, bookmakers are putting up more options. While Circa Sports in downtown Las Vegas always has Liga MX – the Mexican Premier League – on the board, there’s now an expanded menu for those games.
“We’ve added first-half and second-half wagers, and three-way lines for 90 minutes and both halves,” Circa Sports operations manager Jeff Benson said, although that didn't last, as Liga MX announced Sunday it was indefinitely suspending its games. “We’re trying to give our guests as much available to bet as possible. We will be adding the National Rugby League shortly, as well.”
Even offshore sportsbook operators are scrambling to fill massive holes in the sports betting schedule. No stone is left unturned, up to and perhaps including PlayStation options, according to a spokesperson for a prominent offshore site.
“We are definitely looking at different markets,” the spokesperson told Covers. “All sorts of ideas are being bounced around. From the Phoenix Suns playing out their schedule on the NBA2K video game to sailing, we plan on putting up as many odds as possible.
“We realize those will be tough to set numbers on, and there is a good chance of losing money, but we want our players to stay engaged and entertained.”
Of course, there are also proposition offerings on when the U.S. sports betting landscape will return to some semblance of normalcy.
“Exotic props will be huge. We already have them for when certain sports such as the NBA will start back up,” the offshore spokesperson said. The NBA prop is on whether the next game will be played by June 1, with Yes a -150 favorite and No a +110 underdog.
Those types of offerings speak to the leg up offshore operators have against regulated wagering in the United States. Nevada notwithstanding, legal sports betting in the U.S. is in its infancy, and as such, gaming regulators are treading carefully with what they’ll approve to post on the odds board. In an unforeseen situation as massive as the coronavirus shutdown, offshore books gain a huge edge.
“Offshores hold an advantage as long as the book has a history of offering creative content,” the offshore site spokesperson said. “Some books stay away from unique content, but we pride ourselves on being as creative as possible, so we aren’t afraid to open the doors on new offerings, in addition to expanding on already existing markets.”
Then there's the hot-button market of political betting, another offshore option not yet available on the U.S. legal wagering landscape.
“We offer a lot of political betting, so we will expand on this big time,” the offshore spokesperson said, alluding to markets on the Democratic Primary and later this year the U.S. presidential election. “It is extremely popular with our players.”
Back in the U.S., operators have to stick almost exclusively to sports, and to actual quantifiable outcomes on the field. UFC Fight Night Brazil on Saturday night was actually contested, though without fans, and Circa Sports added pick-the-round and exact result props for a card headlined by the Kevin Lee-Charles Oliveira lightweight match. Oliveira, a +125 underdog, won by third-round submission.
PointsBet USA began looking ahead Saturday, posting NFL markets that would normally come online later in the spring or even summer. In New Jersey, PointsBet opened lookahead lines on 43 regular-season games, primarily for the Giants, Jets and Eagles, along with some marquee games such as Packers-Vikings.
PointsBet New Jersey also opened a Super Bowl lookahead line, at AFC -2, and PointsBet Indiana put up lookahead lines on Colts regular-season games.
But such offerings require a lot of patience for bettors who’d prefer to get a bet down today and get paid today. Hence the rugby league odds and extensive props on a variety of soccer games around the globe.
“In our soccer leagues, we’ve got the winning margin, whether both teams will score, will there be a goal in the first 15 minutes, how many corner kicks will there be,” Avello said of DraftKing’s menu. “There are a lot of derivative markets.”
Those won’t come within miles of filling the massive March Madness wagering void, for books or the bettors. However, it’s all oddsmakers can do at this point.
“It’s not college basketball, it’s not pro basketball or pro hockey, but it’s something. People who don’t know about darts or Mexican soccer, maybe they’ll take an interest in it,” Avello said. “It’s a way for customers to get their minds off this situation. It’s a sad time for all of us, but we understand what’s going on, and it’s safety first. It’s about everybody being safe. Right now, let’s just get through this.”
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.