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.

Verlander injury shuffles Astros’ MLB futures odds

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MLB betting got a shake-up Sunday afternoon, specifically on World Series odds and AL pennant odds, with news that Astros star pitcher Justin Verlander could miss the rest of the season – or at least a significant chunk of it – with an arm injury.

Initial reports suggested Verlander had an elbow ailment, but both he and manager Dusty Baker quickly denied that. Baker called it a forearm strain and said that Verlander would be re-evaluated in “a couple of weeks.” The reigning AL Cy Young winner pitched a solid six innings in an 8-2 Opening Day rout of the Seattle Mariners on Friday.

Verlander’s injury led oddsmakers to shuffle futures book odds on the defending AL champions. Covers checked in on the MLB odds moves with a couple of Las Vegas sportsbooks.

How does Verlander’s injury affect Astros’ World Series odds?

At CG Technology books, risk analyst Rich Zanco said the Astros quickly moved from +1,200 to +1,800 in World Series futures. The SuperBook at Westgate also had Houston pegged +1,200 prior to Sunday’s news and initially went to +1,600, then dialed it a little further to +1,800.

However, there were apparently buyers on the Astros at that point, prompting the SuperBook to reel the price in to +1,400.

How does Verlander’s injury affect Astros’ American League odds?

In AL pennant futures, the Astros initially moved from +600 to +800 at The SuperBook, then ticked back to +700.

World Series odds

Team Odds to win
Los Angeles Dodgers +350
New York Yankees +350
Houston Astros +600
Atlanta Braves +1,600
Minnesota Twins +1,600
Tampa Bay Rays +1,800
Washington Nationals +2,000
Cleveland Indians +2,000
New York Mets +2,000
Chicago Cubs +2,000
Oakland Athletics +2,000
St. Louis Cardinals +2,500
Cincinnati Reds +2,500
San Diego Padres +2,500
Philadelphia Phillies +3,000
Chicago White Sox +3,000
Los Angeles Angels +3,000
Milwaukee Brewers +4,000
Boston Red Sox +5,000
Arizona Diamondbacks +6,000
Colorado Rockies +8,000
Toronto Blue Jays +10,000
Texas Rangers +10,000
Pittsburgh Pirates +20,000
Detroit Tigers +20,000
San Francisco Giants +30,000
Seattle Mariners +30,000
Miami Marlins +30,000
Baltimore Orioles +30,000
Kansas City Royals +30,000

Odds courtesy The SuperBook

MLB picks and predictions for Opening Day

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It was a long and scary road, but we finally get MLB betting back on Thursday, July 23. Opening Day of the pandemic-shortened 60-game baseball schedule is headlined by a pair of matchups, with the New York Yankees visiting the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers rekindling their rivalry with the San Francisco Giants.

Like we do each MLB season (COVID-19 or not), we’ll be taking a swing at today’s baseball odds and giving our best MLB picks and predictions. Up first: Opening Day 2020.

MLB picks for today

New York Yankees vs Washington Nationals

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge was supposed to miss the start of the season back in the spring, but the delay to the 2020 campaign allowed the outfielder to heal up from broken ribs and return to his longball-launching self.

Judge looked great in New York’s warmup games, albeit for a limited number of at-bats. He went 3-for-7 with all three hits leaving the ballpark. And he wasn’t alone, with the Yankees’ other power bats providing plenty of pop around him in the order. He’ll get a chance to go yard again on Opening Day.

PREDICTION: Aaron Judge home run (+210)

San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers

The Giants are no strangers to Clayton Kershaw, who has long dominated the Dodgers’ divisional foes. In 49 career appearances against San Francisco, The Claw is 23-12 with a 1.74 ERA and has allowed just 0.71 hits per innings pitched in those starts.

The Giants don’t pose much of an offensive threat, averaging 8.22 hits per game in 2019. San Francisco has managed 45 total hits in its last eight starts against Kershaw – an average of 0.86 hits per inning faced. Given the Dodgers’ ace looked ready for work in his tune-up efforts, we could see him go seven innings or more on Thursday, panning out to a little over six hits for San Fran.

PREDICTION: Giants between 6-7 total hits (+235)

Mookie Betts has reportedly landed a whale of a contract extension with the Dodgers after joining the ballclub this offseason via a trade with the Boston Red Sox. And what better way to lock down that deal than an impressive effort on Opening Day.

Betts recorded 313 total bases in 2019 (30th) and 353 in 2018 (fourth). He’s been swinging well in training sessions this offseason: in 27 at-bats during the spring/summer schedule, he has 13 total bases, including two doubles and a home run, while hitting leadoff during Summer Camp. We like that to continue into Opening Day.

PREDICTION: Mookie Betts two or more total bases (-182)

Top MLB consensus for today

Want to know who today’s biggest MLB betting and consensus bets are right now? Check out our top MLB consensus picks.

Opening Day betting card

  • Aaron Judge home run (+210)
  • Giants between 6-7 total hits (+235)
  • Mookie Betts two or more total bases (-182)