LAS VEGAS – In the course of 24 hours, Las Vegas went from being one of the top places for sports betting in the world to having no sports to bet on.
It started Wednesday night after the National Basketball Association announced it would suspend the season indefinitely in the wake of a player from the Utah Jazz testing positive for the novel coronavirus, which has become a global pandemic infecting at least 128,343 people across 108 countries, resulting in over 4,720 deaths so far.
By Thursday, Major League Baseball followed suit canceling spring training and postponing the start of the regular season for at least two weeks. The National Hockey League suspended its season, and then one-by-one NCAA men’s and women’s basketball conference tournaments were canceled, including “March Madness.”
“I mean, not being able to host the NCAA Tournament is, you know, a big blow for us,” Jay Kornegay, executive vice president of Westgate Resort and Casino Superbook told Fox News.
To put it into perspective, an estimated $346.6 million was wagered at Nevada sportsbooks on the NCAA Tournament in 2019 according to the Review-Journal. Compare that to the $154.6 million wagered on Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers and it’s clear how vital the month of March becomes for sportsbooks.
“The only thing that would compare to this would be 9/11 because we know the world of sports really stopped for a couple of weeks there as well -- but it also had a rippling effect for months, an entire city, entire nation,” Kornegay said. “So, you know, we've seen it before, we dealt with it before and we’ve rebounded before and that's what we expect to do this time.”
COVID-19 has effectively shuttered the sports world, at least in the foreseeable future, with leagues and tournaments canceling or suspending seasons in an attempt to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
And while Kornegay remained optimistic, pointing out that “we still have the PGA playing, we still have NASCAR going” as well as some soccer leagues in other countries and UFC fights in Vegas for people to place bets – the news about COVID-19 seemingly evolves every hour.
For example, shortly after speaking with Kornegay, who highlighted the remaining sports that are still active for bettors, the PGA Tour canceled The Players Championship and issued the following statement Thursday night:
"It is with regret that we are announcing the cancellation of THE PLAYERS Championship. We have also decided to cancel all PGA TOUR events – across all of our Tours – in the coming weeks, through the Valero Texas Open."
As of early Friday morning, both NASCAR and UFC events were still slated to move forward, however, no fans will be allowed to attend.
Gamblers who already placed bets on the NCAA conference tournaments games will get refunded, at least at the Westgate Superbook, Circa sportsbook, Wynn and Caesars.
Kornegay said conference tournament bets and main tournament bets will be refunded at the Westgate SuperBook, however, “the NHL and the NBA have suspended their season, they canceled their seasons -- so until they do that, those tickets are still alive and they play them out, you know, in May or June.” If the leagues ultimately decide to cancel their seasons those tickets would then also be refunded.
For bets placed at the Circa Sportsbook, “we will be refunding any 2020 NCAA basketball, baseball and hockey championship futures. If any were included in a parlay, the parlay will be reduced to its remaining legs,” the Circa sports team told Fox News in a statement.
Caesars and Wynn sportsbooks will also refund any associated wagers with the tournament cancellations.
‘Futures’ wagers will remain active at Caesars until leagues make a final determination on how leagues currently in suspension will conclude, and wagers made prior to the suspensions are still considered action at Wynn.
“We are currently not taking future wagers on the NBA and NHL until a determination has been made on the format in which they would resume play,” a spokesperson for Wynn told Fox News in a statement.
While Nevada sportsbooks don’t account for nearly as much revenue as other gaming operations for resorts and casinos, gaming historian and University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor David Schwartz says the impact will still be “significant.”
“In Nevada, sportsbooks are about 2.5 percent of the total gaming wins. So, it's not a huge amount. It's not like slot machines, but it still is very significant, especially for the people who work there,” Schwartz told Fox News.
Nearly one-third of people in Southern Nevada work in the tourism and hospitality sector, which could soon face the brunt of COVID-19 as more and more people opt to stay home rather than travel.
“It's about 29 percent of employment is in tourism and hospitality,” Dr. Stephen Miller, Professor & Director of UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research told Fox News. “So that's a big percentage. And, if we have a problem in the tourism sector, that's a problem for the southern Nevada economy.”
There have been 14 cases of COVID-19 so far in Nevada.
Miller added, “we just don't know how big it's going to be, how long it's going to last. Is it going to be just a month? Three months? Is it going to come back in September? Is it going to die out in the summer? Those are questions we don't know the answers to yet, and each of the answers will be reflected in the effect it has on the economy.”
As for the Nevada sportsbooks, you can bet on one thing, said Kornegay.
“We will be open to a certain degree in just a matter of what, you know, the sports world is giving us that time … you know, we don't know what's going to happen, but there's plenty of future bets, plenty of other events that could take place down the line or make sure that we're here to service,” Kornegay said.