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March Madness canceled, dealing $4 billion blow to sports betting industry

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With coronavirus COVID-19 concerns and precautionary measures continuing to mount, it was only a matter of time before the NCAA Tournament was canceled. That time came Thursday afternoon, when the NCAA announced March Madness would not take place. Even before the decision came down, sportsbook operators were bracing for it and the impact will be extensive.

Nevada Gaming Control Board senior research analyst Mike Lawton told Covers that basketball betting handle for March 2019 was a whopping $498.7 million. In previous years, it’s been estimated that 70 percent of March basketball handle was on NCAA Tournament games, which would equate to $349 million last year.

Sportsbooks held $36.5 million of the total March 2019 hoops handle, or 7.3 percent, which is a solid if not spectacular number. If there’s no March Madness, recovering from such a blow would be difficult.

“I think we were all expecting the tournament to be canceled at this point,” said Jay Kornegay, who oversees operation of The SuperBook as vice president of race and sports for Westgate Resorts. “It’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, events of the year for us. It’s really difficult to quantify what it means to us, because there are so many parts of that revenue stream.

“There are so many incremental benefits of the tournament, not just for sportsbooks, but for the entire city.”

Indeed, Las Vegas as a whole gets a huge boost from March Madness traffic. Sportsbooks are the focal point, but food and beverage, shows, and all the other casino gaming options reap benefits from those traveling in to wager on the NCAA Tournament.

And with the expansion of legal, regulated sports betting, 15 other states are impacted, as well. That would include Illinois and Michigan, which just went live this week and anticipated heavy March Madness turnout.

The American Gaming Association is closely monitoring the situation, not just from a sports betting perspective but across the broader gaming industry. At this time, though, the AGA does not have impact estimates.

However, a 2019 AGA survey found that 47 million American adults would wager a total of $8.5 billion on March Madness. While the majority of that sum – $4.6 billion – was in the form of bracket pools, that still left a hefty $3.9 billion wagered through either legal sportsbook operators or online, with a bookie or with a friend.

Coronavirus implications extend far beyond the NCAA Tournament. The NBA suspended its season Wednesday night (two players have tested positive), the NHL followed suit Thursday, and Major League Baseball announced Thursday that it is delaying the start of the season – initially March 26 – by at least two weeks. If the NBA and NHL don’t resume, that adds to the impact on sportsbooks’ bottom line.

But the NCAA Tournament is far more significant, even more so than the Super Bowl, as the tourney stretches across three weekends. The 2020 Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs posted Nevada handle of $154.7 million, and annually the game is the largest single-day sports betting event by a mile. But as Nevada Gaming Control board statistics show, March Madness handle dwarfs the Super Bowl number.

Kornegay stressed that while March without the Madness is hugely disappointing, there are much more important matters at hand as coronavirus is dealt with at the local, state and national levels.

“Just like everybody else, we’ve really enhanced our safety protocols,” Kornegay said. “It’s unfortunate what we’re dealing with. But at this point, it’s really about protecting our guests and team members.”

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.