Written by Chris Monti•
Nevada Handle Plummets in March, But Light Appears at the End of the Tunnel
Nevada’s sports betting handle suffered a 76% year-on-year slump in March after the coronavirus lockdown forced the state’s casinos to shut their doors. Operators took $596.8 million in sports wagers during March 2019, but that decreased to just $141.1 million this time around. Revenue fell to a mere $1.5 million, according to new figures from the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
Utah Jazz star Rudy Golbert tested positive for Covid-19 on March 11 and the NBA swiftly postponed the season. March Madness was scrapped and then all major sporting events were either cancelled or delayed. Gov. Steve Sisolak called a state of emergency, casinos were shuttered and Las Vegas became a ghost town while authorities tried to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The lack of sport had a devastating impact on Nevada’s sports betting industry. Sportsbooks made up some of the lost revenue by taking wagers on esports – the Gaming Control Board authorized betting on CS:GO, League of Legends, Overwatch and Call of Duty – but it was not enough to make up for the loss of March Madness, pro basketball, NHL and MLB.
Mobile devices accounted for 63% of the March handle. That is the highest percentage ever recorded in the state, but it is understandable, as retail sportsbooks were closed down and tourism to Las Vegas and Reno dried up. States like New Jersey, which are not as reliant on tourism and have a stronger mobile gaming sector, did not suffer quite such a steep year-on-year decline as Nevada.
A Roadmap to Recovery
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman drew widespread condemnation last week after saying she wants to see casinos reopened immediately. “Assume everybody is a carrier, and then you start from an even slate,” said Goodman in a televised interview with MSNBC’s Katy Tur. “And tell the people what to do. And let the businesses open and competition will destroy that business if, in fact, they become evident that they have disease, they’re closed down. It’s that simple.”
She urged Sisolak to “get our people back to work” and advocated a survival of the fittest reopening strategy. “We’ve survived the West Nile and SARS, bird flu, E. coli, the swine flu, the Zika virus,” she added. Goodman was panned for the interview, and another bizarre appearance live on CNN with Anderson Cooper.
Nevada has 5,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 243 deaths. Yesterday Sisolak extended the stay-at-home order to May 15. He also announced a plan called Nevada United: Roadmap to Recovery, which will see some non-essential businesses start to reopen by the middle of the month. However, Nevadans will still be advised to wear a mask, not travel unless essential, and refrain from being in groups of 10 or more, and sportsbooks, casinos and bars will not be permitted to reopen.
Wynn Resorts chief executive Matt Maddox penned an opinion piece in the Nevada Independent and called for the Vegas Strip to reopen this month. “Assuming in mid- to late-May we are still in line with the benchmarks, slowly begin to reopen the Las Vegas Strip with extensive safety measures in place,” he said. “I understand that if we incrementally reopen we might have to pull back if a spike in cases occurs that jeopardizes our health care system capacity. However, the only way to cross this river is one stone at a time, and we need to put our feet in the water before it is too late.”
Colorado Sportsbooks Cleared to Launch
Colorado’s new sports betting industry launches today, despite the lack of sporting action on offer right now. The state legalized sports wagering in a statewide ballot held in November 2019, and Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission has spent the ensuing months preparing for launch. Retail sportsbooks at casinos in casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek have been licensed, although casinos are currently closed during the coronavirus lockdown.
Most sports wagering in Colorado is expected to take place online, and several sites have gained licenses to launch today. They include BetRivers, BetMGM, FanDuel and DraftKings, according to the Department of Revenue website. Wagering options will be limited – bettors will have to contend with esports, soccer in Nicaragua and Belarus, and table tennis in former Soviet nations – but fans can place futures bets on the Broncos winning the Super Bowl if they are feeling bold.
Cause for Optimism
Yet there does appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel for sports fans. UFC will return with three fight nights on May 9, May 13 and May 16. Nascar will then host a big race at Darlington on May 17, the first of seven races during an action-packed 11-day period. Top-flight soccer will resume on in the Czech Republic on May 25 and in Poland on May 29, which should spark excitement among fans.
The Portuguese Primeira Liga is also slated to return on May 30. The standard of soccer is high in Portugal and it should attract a strong wagering handle. The news is a welcome tonic after France’s Ligue 1 and the Netherlands’ Eredivisie seasons were cancelled. Players will have to acclimatize to plying their trade in empty arenas devoid of fans, but TV audiences should be huge.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban also remains optimistic than the NBA season can resume. “Once we can determine that we can keep the players and all the important personnel required to put on a game, then we'll certainly look at all the options,” said Cuban. “I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll be able to finish a season for television, I don't expect that we'll have fans.”
This sort of optimism will be music to the ears of sports fans that have had little to keep them entertained during the lengthy coronavirus shutdown. It will also be a relief to sports betting operators, as the Covid-19 pandemic has derailed the impressive momentum the sector had built up since the federal ban on sports wagering was struck down in May 2018.