Coronavirus empties arenas and puts sports betting oddsmakers in unique situation

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Over a whirlwind two days of Coronavirus precautionary measures, beginning with a couple of NCAA basketball conference tournaments limiting or banning fans, then the city of San Francisco barring large gatherings, the biggest shoe dropped Wednesday afternoon. The NCAA announced a policy of allowing only essential staff and limited family members games for March Madness – annually one of the most popular events in sports betting.

Preventing further spread of and/or exposure to the virus is paramount, and rightly so, hence the aforementioned decisions, with presumably many more to come. The games themselves will be impacted, as well, with an unusual atmosphere inside all those venues. And it presents an equally unusual question for oddsmakers: what’s home-court advantage worth when there are no fans?

“With fans, we think it’s worth about 3 points in the NBA, but certain situations are different, and it could be a little more or a little less,” said John Murray, executive director of The SuperBook at Westgate in Las Vegas. He then noted that, absent fans, that number could get a modest tweak.

The impact assessment is a little different for the NCAA Tournament, though some anomalies exist there, as well.

“It’s harder to quantify in the NCAA Tournament. Most games are true neutral sites, so it shouldn’t matter,” Murray told Covers. “But then you have teams such as Duke, which always (seems) to play the first two games in North Carolina, regardless of what seed it is, or Kansas, which seems to always play its early games close to home. Not having fans at those games would impact the pointspread slightly more.

“Kentucky fans travel very well. It would hurt the Wildcats slightly to not have their fans there. But I don’t anticipate us making any huge adjustments if they’re playing these games in empty arenas.”

PointsBet USA communications director Patrick Eichner agreed with Murray in noting NBA home teams typically get a 2.5 to 3-point home boost. But that doesn’t get entirely erased in an empty venue such as Chase Arena, which will have a no-fans policy in effect for Thursday night’s Nets-Warriors contest.

“Regardless of the sport, crowds are only part of the equation,” Eichner said, noting travel and familiarity with the venue play a role, too. “You should see just a slight adjustment for Nets-Warriors. It’s likely no more than a 1-point move on the line, as crowds are just one element of the linemaking process. Players sleeping in their own beds, playing on familiar rims, etc., all have an impact, as well.”

Eichner also mirrored Murray in not anticipating any significant adjustments for conference tournaments or the NCAA Tournament, when it comes to game-by-game oddsmaking. Again, that’s primarily because the home-court element doesn’t come into play.

“I think there will be minimal impact right now, with the exception of the teams that might’ve seen a benefit from playing close to campus,” Eichner said. “Our trading team will be very attentive to make adjustments as needed, i.e. if the Under hits early and often, with players not being used to empty stands.”

However, as March Madness fans know, when an underdog gives a favorite a good fight in the NCAA tourney, neutral-site crowds tend to roar more for the dog. Minus such a crowd, that boost is missing.

“I certainly think it is fair to say that the favorites – presumably the larger, more well-known programs that have been there before – may be at a bit of an advantage on the court if in a dog fight with a Cinderella story-type team, given that the crowd will not be there to get behind the underdog,” Eichner said. “From an oddsmaking perspective, I think we’ll need to keep a close eye and adjust accordingly, as games play out and there’s a bit of a sample size.”

Events impacted thus far by Coronavirus precautions:

  • NCAA Tournament policy of no fans at March Madness games.
  • Nets-Warriors NBA game Thursday night allowing no fans.
  • Wednesday’s Jazz-Thunder NBA game postponed.
  • NHL’s San Jose Sharks to have no fans at home games.
  • NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets to have no fans at home games.
  • Big Ten tournament enacts no-fans policy beginning Thursday.
  • Big 12 tournament enacts no-fans policy beginning Thursday.
  • ACC tournament enacts essential staff/limited family policy beginning Thursday.
  • Pac-12 enacts essential staff/limited fans policy beginning Thursday.
  • Mid-American Conference tournament adopts no-fans policy.
  • Big West Conference tournament adopts no-fans policy.
  • Sunday’s Los Angeles-Seattle XFL game has a no-fans policy.

Sportsbooks already have some experience with these measures, in limited fashion. A week ago, fans were banned in Serie A, the top soccer league in Italy – a country hit hard by the Coronavirus.

“Soccer prices on that market moved by about 20 cents with no fans,” Murray said of the odds impact at the SuperBook. For example, a team that was a -130 home favorite might tighten to -110 with no fans in the stadium.

PointsBet similarly tilted the numbers a bit toward the visitor.

“Our Serie A odds did see a very slight shift against the home team after the no-fans policy,” Eichner said, while noting soccer is a bit of a different animal in an ostensibly empty venue. “From a linemaking perspective, soccer definitely does see a heavy weight given to home teams, thanks to the crowds. There’s no overarching standard like a 3-point shade in the NFL. Instead, it is more of a case-by-case, matchup-by-matchup basis.

“Looking at the Champions League knockout play, you’ll almost always see the ‘to advance’ lines shaded to the team that plays at home in Leg 2, even if they lost Leg 1. For instance, Paris Saint-Germain lost in the first leg to Dortmund 2-1, but was a -105 favorite to advance. If the second leg (which host PSG won 2-0 Wednesday) were to have been played in an empty stadium, the price would move. Not a ton, but safe to say into plus money.”

Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.

Longshots to consider when betting the Shoemaker Mile

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Monday’s Shoemaker Miles Stakes at Santa Anita Park is a great race for a number of reasons. For starters, the Shoemaker Mile is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race that offers the winner a guaranteed spot in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland.

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

The race also features last year’s Preakness Stakes winner, War of Will, making his season debut. Despite his triumphs on the dirt in 2019, War of Will started his career on the turf and his pedigree suggests that he’s very likely to be just as successful on the grass. That said, the Shoemaker Mile will be his first start off of a six-month break, and I’m going to try to take a swing or two with some horses who could upset the apple cart at longer odds.

Let’s start out with the horse on the rail, Without Parole. He won the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes going a mile at Ascot back in 2018. His three other career wins have all came at this mile distance as well. Granted, he hasn’t won in six races since the St. James’s Palace but he did finish a fast-closing third two starts ago in a much tougher U.S. debut in the TVG Breeders’ Cup MileIrad Ortiz Jr. rode Without Parole in that race and he will reclaim the mount on him again on Monday.

Without Parole has only had one race this year and it was in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational in which he finished second to last. However, he had several excuses right from the start of that race when he got squeezed coming out of the gate. He also raced in traffic throughout and got cut off several times in the stretch before Frankie Dettori — who had come from Europe to ride him at Gulfstream — finally just wrapped up on him. The Pegasus World Cup Turf also was a race that didn’t allow him to run on Lasix (furosemide) after he’d shown significant improvement racing on Lasix for the first time at the Breeders’ Cup.

Stream the 2020 Shoemaker Mile live here

How much of a factor might Lasix be for some horses? Well, let’s next look at the horse who finished last in the Pegasus World Cup Turf: Next Shares. In his following start (back on Lasix) in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes, Next Shares finished third (beaten just a neck) to River Boyne. Both Next Shares and River Boyne return in the Shoemaker Mile and I prefer the former as a pace play who has plenty of back-class. If you rewatch the Kilroe Mile, Next Shares covered a lot more ground than River Boyne. With a similar effort, Next Shares could certainly turn the tables.

The other thing to like about Next Shares is that his trainer, Richard Baltas, has entered speedster Neptune’s Storm in the Shoemaker Mile. That horse, along with Voodoo Song, should ensure a very brisk pace up front — they’ll also be kept honest by Blitzkrieg and War of Will, both of whom usually race on or near the lead. All of that speed adds up to good news for Next Shares. He’s a Grade 1 winner who has always done his best running when he’s had some pace to run into. The other two keys for him (like all stalking or closing-type runners) is clear running room late, and hopefully he’ll get that with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez taking the mount.

Lastly, we should take a look at True Valour. It’s hard to make much of an excuse for his flat finish in the Kilroe last out, but he’s truly performed better than what his results on paper might indicate. In the Thunder Road Stakes in February, he looked pretty keen early and it took him a few strides to settle down without throwing his head around and fighting his rider. Turning for home, it was clear that jockey Andrea Atzeni had plenty of horse under him but was just waiting for some running room. It ended up coming too late because River Boyne was in a better spot and had already taken command. True Valour did split horses nicely in the closing stages and was half a jump away from finishing second.

If you go back to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, True Valour had excuses there, too. He was up on heels early and he again took a little bit of time to settle down into a comfortable stride. Then, turning for him, he was just waiting for running room but instead got stuck behind a wall of horses. True Valour ended up steadying pretty badly and lost all chance at that point. I’m a little worried about how headstrong he tends to be early in races, but there’s a scenario here that could have at least two horses battling for the lead early and opening up some daylight on the rest of the field. That means he’ll be less likely to be running up on anyone’s heels and it also ensures that he’ll have a nice setup. Whether he can navigate clear passage late in the race is a separate matter.

Longshot Selections

#1 Without Parole

#3 Next Shares

#2 True Valour

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

How to bet an exacta on a horse race

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Betting an exacta can present a challenge on several levels.

There is, of course, the primary need to analyze past performances and decide which horses are going to finish first and second.

Yet because of the inherently lower payoffs as opposed to what you’ll find in a Pick 3 or Pick 4, you’ll need to structure your wagers effectively in order to turn your selections into a profitable wager.

For starters, an exacta can be a simple wager. If you like two horses equally, you can just box them in the exacta and collect so long as they finish 1-2 in any order. If you like one of them a little more, you can then bet more on the one you prefer, say $10 on a 1-2 exacta and $5 on 2-1.

If you’re a little more uncertain, make sure you structure your bet around the size of the field and the probable payoffs.

If you like a longshot, the higher probable payoffs give you the cushion you need to wager on more combinations and still turn a nice profit.

But if you’re dealing with favorites or horses at relatively low odds, you have to wager more efficiently to preserve your profit.

In a field of six or less, you’re best to either focus on one horse or box two of them instead of boxing three or more horses because of the small payouts the bet will most likely generate.

In a field of seven, a wise strategy would be to box your top two choices and then, if you are worried about other horses, play them top and/or bottom other the other horses. For example, box 1-2, then bet 1-2 over 3-4 and 3-4 over 1-2. This way you are getting coverage on four horses without having to box them.

Once you get an eight-horse field, as long as there is not an overwhelming favorite, you can expand the number of horses you box since the payoffs will typically be higher, giving you a better opportunity to offset the inevitable array of losing tickets in a boxed wager.