Thanksgiving is about family, food, and football. And, perhaps more than ever, sports betting.
“In a normal year, this four days is behind the Super Bowl and the first week of March Madness as the biggest days of the year,” said Nick Bogdanovich, the director of trading at William Hill, to Casino.org. “It’s just crazy action. It’s just insane from Thursday to Sunday. It’s eat as much as you can, drink as much as you can, bet as much as you can.”
With sports gambling becoming more prevalent around the United States, and with the CDC encouraging people to stay home for Thanksgiving because of rising COVID-19 rates, the action is expected to be hotter than the Thanksgiving gravy.
Buffet of Betting
As usual, the NFL slate will highlight the Thanksgiving betting menu. The Houston Texans (3-7) at Detroit Lions (4-6) will start the day, followed by the Washington Football Team (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (3-7). The big game, the Thursday night finale between the Baltimore Ravens (6-4) and Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0), was postponed to Sunday because of several positive COVID-19 tests within the Ravens.
A lot of the action will take place before the kickoff of Lions-Texans.
“Thanksgiving usually is the morning,” said Ed Salmons, the vice president of risk management and oddsmaking at Westgate SuperBook, to Casino.org. “The first game starts at 9:30 our time. Usually from 8 to 9:30, it’s the really busy point. It kind of comes in spurts, but most of your business is done really early that day.”
And that business has been booming. While much of the economy has suffered through the pandemic, sportsbooks have thrived. With so many entertainment options off the table, many sports fans have turned to gambling to add a little juice to their sports viewing. While Las Vegas remains the Mecca of sports gambling, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have posted record handles. With fewer people traveling to spend time with family for Thanksgiving, insiders expect a four-day betting bonanza.
I think it’s going to be a ton of action,” said Bogdanovich, who estimates 70 percent of bets are placed online rather than a retail site. “Right now, sports betting’s at an all-time high. We’ve never written more business. It’s going to be incredible. The people are locked down, they can’t go anywhere. So, they’re on their computers and they’re watching and they’re betting.”
Patrick Eichner, the director of communications for PointsBet, called the upcoming holiday weekend a “perfect storm.” Football is a Thanksgiving tradition, fewer families will be together, so more eyes will be glued totally to the game rather than Aunt Betsy’s health problems, and there is more access to sports betting as more states make it legal.
“We’re going to see this trend continue,” Eichner said. “If you dial in specifically on the state of New Jersey, we’ve seen it improve month over month. We just keep setting record highs every month. So, I think if you compare it to previous Thanksgivings, it’s absolutely going to do better.”
NFL fuels sports betting, which makes it the Thanksgiving feast. Culinarily speaking, Friday and Saturday are about leftovers. From a sporting perspective, Friday and Saturday are about college football. There will be less of it this year because of COVID-19. But Bogdanovich said Friday’s game between No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 25 North Carolina will be “off the charts.”
If the NFL is the turkey and college football is the mashed potatoes and gravy, college basketball will provide the green bean casserole. The COVID-delayed season tipped off on Wednesday. No. 1 Gonzaga will play No. 6 Kansas in a huge Thanksgiving showdown, and there are games throughout the four-day weekend.
Those games not only will fuel this weekend’s feeding frenzy, but provide a welcome lift to handle throughout the week. Sportsbooks have missed the NBA and NHL, which usually are a month into their seasons. College basketball will help fill the void.
“Without NBA and hockey during the week, the pickings are definitely slimmer,” Salmons said. “The football is accented that much more. The one downside to that is people like variety. They like to see some basketball and some hockey mixed in there. After a while with football, every game blends into the next game. Especially these college games. You watch these MAC games, they’re entertaining but they’re comically funny.”
Thursday Football Feast
Neither of Thursday’s NFL games are especially compelling. It probably won’t matter, though. A standalone NFL game, such as Sunday Night Football or Monday Night Football, always attracts a lot of action. Even without Steelers-Ravens, Thanksgiving will provide two standalone games to sports fans who might not have a holiday table to gather around.
It will be good for the books. Well, maybe. We’ll see,” Bogdanovich said. “Maybe we’ll get our butts kicked. I want to say it was ’93 or ’94, it was a tsunami. They won every game Thursday, so they had more to bet with on Friday. They won every bet Friday, so they had more to bet on Saturday. Then they won more on Saturday. By Sunday, the bookmakers were crying, it was so bad. It was the most insane four-day run of all-time. It was an unparalleled beating for bookmakers.”
Salmons has some bad memories, too.
“It’s always the favorites,” who get bet, he recalled. “I have a lot of bad memories of Thanksgiving and the favorites winning every game.”
Win or lose, sportsbooks know the importance of Thanksgiving runs deeper than Thursday’s bets. This isn’t just about printing some extra tickets. Rather, it’s about attracting and maintaining customers.
“Thanksgiving’s a massive opportunity,” Eichner said. “You’re going to see a lot of very aggressive pricing, promotions, boosters to perhaps capture new clients or keep existing clients happy and sticky to your book, and make sure that your book remains their book of preference. It’s an opportunity on both sides of the table.”