Coronavirus Pandemic Changing the Face of Sports Betting in U.S.

Nov 03, 2020 10:11Tim Ronaldson
Retail sportsbooks adjust to pandemic

In a typical year, sportsbooks in Las Vegas would be packed to the brim with fans on football weekends. Especially on Sundays, NFL fans would rush to the sportsbook as early as possible to get a seat that they wouldn't leave all day long.

To accommodate the ridiculous crowds, sportsbook directors would set up extra chairs along the back walls of the sportsbook to provide more seating. Unlucky visitors who couldn't grab a chair would still pack in, standing anywhere they could get free ground to view all the games going on at once on the huge TV screens next to the wagering board.

That's a scene that anyone who's ever been to a sportsbook can certainly imagine. But it's also a scene that may not be replicated exactly, at least in the near future, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause havoc across the United States.

How will this affect retail sportsbooks, and sports betting in general, across the country?

Safety Measures Put in Place

Sportsbooks in most states have been allowed to re-open for a few months now, albeit with restrictions in place to help curb the potential spread of the coronavirus.

The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, the largest retail sportsbook in the world, has put a limit of only 50 people allowed to view sports at one time. The SuperBook normally has more than 350 seats, and often hosts a spill-over crowd that gets much larger than that in its 30,000 square feet of space.

In addition, people who visit the SuperBook must wear a mask at all times -- as they must when indoors at any casino in Nevada. There are also other coronavirus safety measures in place, such as the presence of hand-sanitizing stations everywhere and more space in between seats.

Similar measures are in place at other major sportsbooks around the country. New Jersey has imposed similar restrictions to casinos and sportsbooks in Atlantic City as well as racetracks that host sportsbooks.

What this means is that, at least while the coronavirus pandemic is still around, the experience at retail sportsbooks will be anything but normal.

How Retail Sportsbooks Are Adjusting

There isn't any way around the physical restrictions that are put in place on these sportsbooks. They can't, for example, decide to allow more people into the sportsbook, otherwise they could be shut down and fined.

To compensate for this, many sportsbooks are doing other things to try to attract visitors to their sportsbook. Some of the ways they're doing this include:

  • They're setting up self-service sports wagering kiosks just outside the sportsbook. This allows people to still wager on games without exceeding the capacity limit within the sportsbook's footprint itself.
  • Sportsbooks that are located within casinos are also increasing their marketing to customers inside the casino, especially at bars and restaurants that show sporting events on TV.
  • Some are setting up self-service betting kiosks at these locations as well, which again expands their reach without exceeding attendance limits.

Some of these creative ideas are likely to stay around long after the pandemic, too. It's a great way to attract new customers to sports betting without forcing them to make their way to the sportsbook to interact with a ticket counter. Sportsbooks are often tucked in the back of very large casinos, making it an out-of-the-way venture for those who aren't die-hard sports fans.

The Move to Online Wagering

Online wagering via apps has always been seen as the future of sports betting. Many industry experts have long believed that, in areas where the practice is legalized, people would much prefer to bet online rather than in person.

The main reason for this is convenience -- they can place a wager from wherever they are, at any time, as long as they are physically located in the state. Those states that have legalized online sports betting restrict the wagering to happen when a person is within the boundaries of that state.

Using geo-location technology, the sports betting apps identify where the bettor is currently located, and only allow wagers to be placed if they are confirmed to be within the state's borders. This means, for example, that a person can only place a sports wager if they are physically located in New Jersey at the time the bet is placed, no matter what state they are a resident of.

What the coronavirus pandemic has done is speed up the move to online sports gambling. With restrictions on land-based sportsbooks, more and more people have turned online to wager.

In New Jersey, roughly 80% of all sports wagers occur online. When the state set an all-time record when it accepted $668 million in sports wagers in August, a large majority of that ($601.9 million) came online. Similar breakdowns have occurred in other states where online sports wagering is legal, such as Nevada.

While many states have legalized sports wagering since the Supreme Court overturned the PASPA law in 2018, not all allow online wagering. But, that could change in the near future, especially as they see the massive numbers it is producing in states that allow online wagering.

This could, perhaps, be the longest-lasting impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the sports betting market in the United States -- that online sports wagering expands in states that once viewed it as a big negative.

Tim Ronaldson
Lady Liberty
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Tim Ronaldson is a writer, blogger and marketer. He loves all things sports, especially covering the sports betting industry. He joined the AmericaGambles Team 2020 and is mainly responsible for columns and extensive reportage articles.
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