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Sportsbooks Adjusting to New Environment, Admit ‘Complete Crapshoot’

US sportsbooks are waiting patiently for major professional sports to resume — the PGA Tour and Major League Soccer currently the two exceptions.

Major League Baseball in 2020 will be a vastly different experience for players, causing concern for sportsbooks. The New York Yankees and Mets have been playing their “spring” training games in front of fan cardboard cutouts. (Image: Adam Hunger/AP)

The NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL — the so-called “big four” in the US — haven’t played a game since March. When they do return, oddsmakers say there will be a host of variables that will make their jobs exceptionally difficult.

From players testing positive for the coronavirus, fan-less stadiums, to rules implemented to protect player safety, oddsmakers will need to consider a series of new conditions.

[It’s going to be a] complete crapshoot with all the unknowns,” said Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill’s US operations. His comments were made to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

With the uncertainly comes a deluge of questions. How does a sportsbook offer lines on a game when an ace starting pitcher for a team might be scratched at the last minute from testing positive? Will bets be refunded? What about futures? If Patrick Mahomes is required to stay away from his Super Bowl defending Kansas City Chiefs for two weeks, surely the team’s odds of winning another Vince Lombardi Trophy would lengthen.

“We’re just going to have to react as fast as humanly possible. It’s going to be a wild time,” added Bogdanovich.

One thing is for sure — the 2020 sports year will be unlike anything ever experienced before.

Return to Play

The MLB will begin its much-delayed 2020 regular season on Thursday, July 23. The season will run just 60 games, as compared to the traditional 162. The NBA plans to resume its regular season at the end of the month, but only 22 teams will return, with eight remaining games before the playoffs tip-off.

Twenty-four teams will resume play in the NHL playoffs, which begins August 1. The NFL plans to kick off its season September 10, and, as of now, the regular season will still run for 17 weeks.

It’s expected that stadiums will be without fans, or at reduced capacities. Oddsmakers say they aren’t sure how that might impact players.

The totals [over/unders] are a little tricky,” Johnny Avello, director of operations at DraftKings, said. “We don’t know what that’s going to be like without fans in the stands.”

“Is that going to make them score more than they would normally score because they are focused? Or is it going to be less because their momentum isn’t driven [by the roar of a crowd]? That is something we’re going to keep a close eye on,” Avello continued.

New Schedules, Rules

The number of coronavirus cases in the United States now totals 3,761,362. The disease has been cited for 140,157 deaths.

Walt Disney World in Orlando will host the rest of the NBA season and playoffs. Florida has reported 360,394 positive coronavirus tests and 5,072 deaths. The NHL’s two hub cities for the 2020 playoffs are Edmonton and Toronto.

The MLB opted not to use hub cities to play games, and will instead allow each team to play home and away games. But there are several new rules, including the use of a designated hitter in the National League, relief pitchers must face at least three batters unless there’s an injury or an inning ends, and extra innings will start with a runner on second in hopes of the game-ending quicker.

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