Boxing officials plan to meet with Las Vegas politicians and casino executives in the coming days in order to formulate a plan to bring the popular sport back to Sin City. Plus poker players wait for over two hours for a seat at a Florida poker room on the first day it opened after a coronavirus induced hiatus.
Sports Illustrated’s gambling analyst, Frank Taddeo, highlights the latest news from the world of gambling.Read the full video transcript below:
Bill Enright: As Sports Illustrated continues to look at the return of sports and gambling, today’s feature is on the return of boxing and poker. Let’s bring on our gambling analyst Frank Taddeo. Frank, let’s start with the return of boxing, because right now we don’t know when it will return, but from what I understand, the officials are meeting in Las Vegas about the possibility of returning next week.
Frank Taddeo: Yeah. Bill, boxing fans have been waiting for the word and it appears that the sport is on its way back. Combat sport regulators here in Las Vegas are going to be meeting next week, next Wednesday, in fact, to discuss when the possibility of a sport can possibly come back without fans. According to legendary top rank boxing CEO Bob Arum, the sport could see a return as early as June 9th. The hopes are that if they get the go ahead from the control board to hold two events per week with no fans at Los Vegas MGM Properties. A second fight card will be held two nights later on June 11th, with ESPN airing both events, kicking off twice weekly shows in their hotels in both June and July. The Nevada State Athletic Commission has scheduled its meeting, but let’s just hope that they decide for boxing fans, we can hear the words let’s get ready to rumble real soon, Bill. Because fight fans need to hear it.
Bill Enright: So still no official word on when boxing will return, but for the state of Florida, poker did return despite concerns of the coronavirus.
Frank Taddeo: Yeah. Bill, we got a welcome sight last night as it appeared on Thursday night. It was a great thing to see on social media as the live poker industry, which was expected to be crushed amid stringent re-opening guidelines, threw us all a sight that we all need to see from the state of Florida. The popular Hard Rock Tampa opened its doors and witnessed an amazing 18 tables in action with a waiting list of more than 100 players within two hours opening its doors. Playing six handed is a marked improvement over the overtop demands of four handed play currently being proposed for Las Vegas poker rooms. What a way for us to end this year, Bill, at Sports Illustrated’s gambling today. Let’s hope that this is a sign of things to come for a popular industry that needs these kind of immediate positive results. Hopefully we can all be shuffling up and dealing real soon, buddy.
Coronavirus Shutdowns Are Driving Sports Bettors To Horse Racing, Poker And Esports
With sports leagues and land-based casinos shuttered, consumers are flocking online to alternatives … [+] such as online casinos and esports.Getty
Even as sports like UFC, NASCAR and the German Bundesliga start to reappear, the prevailing theme in the sports betting industry during the COVID-19 pandemic has been reduced options for consumers who like to wager on sports. But with most sports on hiatus, the few sports to remain active and other “non-traditional” gaming options have seen greatly increased activity in recent months.
Perhaps the most logical destination for sports bettors seeking something on which to wager during the pandemic is horse racing, which has continued at several tracks, including the delayed “spring” racing season commencing at Churchill Downs this past weekend. In a sign of horse racing benefiting from decreased competition, WDRB in Louisville reported that even without fans in the stands, Churchill Downs saw a 183.7% increase in the amount wagered on its opening day this year, as compared with opening day 2019.
It is not just Churchill Downs that has benefited from reduced competition: The handful of tracks to remain open (albeit closed to fans) in April—including Gulfstream Park in Florida and Oaklawn Park in Arkansas—have seen their wagering handles double or nearly double as compared with April 2019. And with this week’s announcement that the Belmont Stakes—normally the final race of the Triple Crown—will be run on June 20 to open the Triple Crown season, that event will almost certainly benefit from a public eager for high-profile athletic competition.
Non-sports wagering has been perhaps even more radically impacted by COVID-19. At one point during the pandemic, all 989 of the nation’s commercial and tribal casinos were closed, according to the Wall Street Journal. Although as of early this week approximately 82 casinos had reopened in some form, states that have legalized online casinos have seen a significant uptick in activity in the absence of brick-and-mortar casinos. Indeed, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, where online casino gambling is legal, online casino revenue increased by over 50% for the months of March and April, to $213 million combined, over the months of January and February ($140 million). Online poker play has experienced an even sharper increase. For example, in Pennsylvania, PokerStars, which offers online poker in partnership with the Mount Airy Casino Resort, saw its revenue in April grow to over $5.25 million, nearly tripling pre-pandemic poker revenue from February.
Beyond horse racing and online casinos, perhaps the real winner during the pandemic could be skill-based video game competitions, along with daily fantasy sports contests revolving around esports. One app benefiting from this phenomenon is Play One Up, in which gamers compete against others to win money playing video games such as NBA 2K20, Madden NFL 20, FIFA 20, NHL 20, Fortnite and Call of Duty. Play One Up may seem like sports wagering, and several of the games on the platform are sports games, but unlike sports wagering, consumers find themselves at the center of the action by playing in the games themselves.
Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Play One Up saw twice as many one-on-one cash matchups take place via its platform in March, compared with typical months. And iTunes store rankings bear this out: Play One Up ranked as low as 725th among sports apps in early March, according to AppAnnie, but has been consistently in the top 50 since mid-March, peaking as high as No. 6.
Spectator esports are also seeing increased interest during the pandemic. One upstart fantasy sports app attempting to pivot to esports is the Sleeper App, which counts Kevin Durant, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Baron Davis among its investors. Sleeper—which previously offered the ability to compete in fantasy NBA and NFL leagues with friends and family—announced last month that it was adding League of Legends leagues to its application. Prior to April 15, when Sleeper first tweeted that LoL leagues were in the works, Sleeper ranked as low as 160th among sports applications, according to AppAnnie, but following the announcement, it has consistently been in the top 50, peaking at 14th. Daily fantasy behemoths like DraftKings and FanDuel have also added esports contests in games such as Call of Duty and CS:GO to their traditional daily offerings, in addition to “simulated” contests involving the major sports.
Although alternatives such as online casino and poker and skill-based gaming have stepped up to fill the void left by the absence of most sports, there is little doubt that sportsbooks—both online and brick-and-mortar—will once again be active when sports resume. Indeed, the handful of lesser-known leagues and events to have operated since most of the world shut down have seen increased attention from bettors. Martin Lycka, director of regulatory affairs for GVC Holdings GNC and trustee of GVC Foundation US, cited table tennis as the “surprising hit” of recent months and additionally cited increased wagering activity on hockey in Belarus, along with soccer leagues in Angola, Burundi and Tajikistan.
And if last month’s NFL Draft—which set all-time viewership records with over 55 million viewers for the weekend—is any indicator, whenever the NFL resumes, it will likely regain its top spot among bettors. Without sports taking place in stadiums and arenas, the draft became a wagering event in its own right. The draft “was the major event of the month,” Lycka said. “For that very reason it attracted a lot of bettors’ attention.”
With that said, with the rise of skill-based gaming and increasing traffic to online casinos, it will be interesting to see if those alternatives can maintain momentum as sports resume.
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