With US Sports Shut Down, Gamblers Turn to New Wagers

People stand on an escalator in front of the shuttered MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas on Tuesday. (AP Photo/John Locher)

HOUSTON (CN) — Strange wagers are cropping up in the vacuum opened by the coronavirus-driven shutdown of college and pro sports. As it makes inroads in Congress, one offering seems morbidly prescient: “Will any sitting US Senator be diagnosed with Covid-19 before July 4, 2020?”

Oddsmakers for the sportsbook operator BookMaker of Costa Rica expect a U.S. senator to come down with the virus any day now, which is why if they set the odds for “Yes” at 1/11 or 91.66%. A $100 winning bet would pay out a profit of $9.10.

Arenas across the U.S., which in any other year would be abuzz with the pageantry of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament aka March Madness, are eerily quiet.

So are sportsbooks in Las Vegas. They would typically be swarming with thousands of basketball fans laying bets on the tournament’s 67 games, the most lucrative sporting event for U.S. sportsbooks ahead of the Super Bowl.

But all the casinos in Nevada and many others across the country are closed due to the coronavirus known as Covid-19.

And with the suspension of games by the National Basketball League, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer, these are desperate times for diehard sports gamblers in the U.S. who are turning their eyes to Turkey and Australia.

Fantasy sports company DraftKings also runs an online sportsbook available to residents of a handful of states whose lawmakers legalized sports betting after the Supreme Court in May 2018 struck down a federal law that had barred it everywhere but Nevada, with the exception of horse racing.

DraftKings has expanded its roster for jonesing clients.

“DraftKings Sports is offering several foreign leagues including Turkey Super Lig Soccer, Australia A League Soccer, as well as Turkish and Russian basketball which have proved really popular with players,” said Jamie Shea, head of the company’s digital sportsbook.

Shea said the company is even taking bets on table tennis, handball, snooker, netball, chess, volleyball and rugby matches.

“We have people tweeting at us all day long, asking us to add new sports or events,” Shea said in an email.

She said DraftKings would never consider doing any bets related to Covid-19.

If a U.S. sportsbook wanted to delve into that dark realm, could they? Odds are no, according to one expert, who said BookMaker can do so because it is an unregulated and unlicensed offshore operator.

A bet about senators testing positive for Covid-19 would fall under “other events” in Nevada’s gaming regulations, said University of Nevada, Las Vegas adjunct law professor Becky Harris, a former Nevada state senator and former chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

She said the bet would go through a six-step analysis set out in Nevada’s codes, which would gauge if the event could be effectively supervised, with integrity safeguards in place, and the outcome could be verified and be the result of a reliable and independent process.

“I don’t know if it passes that. I mean, certainly a test would be able to tell you the outcome of the event, but I’m not sure that the outcome couldn’t be speculated about or known prior to that based on symptoms,” she said in a phone interview.

As an avid fantasy sports player, Jarred Auzenne, 41, of Houston, keeps close track of the NBA and NFL and has an encyclopedic knowledge of team rosters and player statistics.

Though he knows little about professional video gaming, Auzenne said he’s taking a hard look at e-sports with the NBA shut down.

DraftKings, for instance, is offering fantasy contests for the blockbuster multiplayer online video game League of Legends. Players draft a lineup from a pool of League of Legend pros and rack up points based on their players’ performance over the course of several games.

“I’m thinking about it, if nothing happens,” Auzenne said with a laugh.

Covid-19 had been lurking in the shadows for weeks on Capitol Hill before two members of the House of Representatives announced Wednesday they have contracted the illness. And there’s been some scares in the upper chamber.

Senators Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Tom Cotton, R-Ark. and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. closed their offices March 13 after Cantwell’s staffer tested positive for the virus.

Cruz returned to Washington on Wednesday following a 14-day self-quarantine after he shook hands with a Spanish politician later diagnosed with Covid-19 at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February.

Any minute now it seems, a U.S. senator will announce they have tested positive for the coronavirus.

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