New Jersey Sports Bettors Searching For Exotic Alternatives During Shutdown

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What’s a sports bettor to do without American sports activity such as the NBA, NHL, MLS or – starting with Thursday’s postponed Opening Day – regular season MLB?

Sure, some may take up a new hobby, catch up on some reading, or do some hiking in uncrowded hills.

But others – well, they’ll find other alternatives – exotic alternatives.

Australian Rules Football ruled the day on Sunday in New Jersey on the Play SugarHouse platform, a website spokesman said, with more than 60% of the handle.

Next up was the National Rugby League, another Australian sport, with 22% of the handle. Then there’s soccer – in Belarus, of all places, that finished third on that site.

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Problem for most of those gamblers, though: Both Australian competitions suspended play/came to their senses earlier this week. But the Vysheyshaya Liga, as they call it in Belarus, defiantly plays on – good news for backers of teams such as Minsk, Slutsk, Vitebsk, and Torpedo BelAZ.

Of note, “live action betting” produced more than 70% of the handle on Play SugarHouse.

Pennsylvania bettors found a different outlet

On the Pennsylvania version of the same site, nearly 80% of the handle came on – remarkably – the TT Cup Men’s Singles table tennis event in the Ukraine and the Russia-Moscow Liga Pro version of the same sport.

Why the disconnect compared to New Jersey? In Pennsylvania, you can bet on table tennis (which does sound more serious than “ping pong”) in the middle of the match (game?).

Sister site BetRivers in Pennsylvania, which also is part of the Rush Street Interactive corporate umbrella, had nearly identical in-game numbers. Australian Rules Football did better on this site, at 17% of the action on Sunday.

The Indiana version of BetRivers drew about half of its handle, meanwhile, from a pair of AFL games.

“People are betting more sports than usual and because of this unique time, we are seeing strong interest in some new areas,” said Rush Street Interactive executive Mattias Stetz in a statement.

“With major events being postponed, we can really showcase our broad offering of sports around the world. We have rugby, soccer in Hong Kong and basketball in Turkey, along with others. For any sports going on anywhere in the world, we try our best to have it.”

FanDuel, DraftKings get creative

The recent Democratic Party Presidential debate between Senators Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders induced FanDuel to offer a free-to-play contest – and RotoGrinders (a sister site to njonlinegambling.com) even handicapped the salary cap field.

It would have cost you 50 units – or half the salary cap – to choose either candidate to say “coronavirus.” Either using the phrase “stock market” cost a mere 35 units, while the clear value was on Sanders saying “billionaire” at a mispriced mere 5 units.

DraftKings had its own version, with questions such as “Will coronavirus be the first topic?”

Both companies also offered “Survivor” reality TV show pools, with the DraftKings version asking “Will an immunity idol be played at tribal council?” and “Will any player cry in the episode?” among its questions.

DraftKings also has a free contest of the show Top Chef! and is now touting soccer in Nicaragua, where the games continue.

Best sports for minimizing virus risk

The problem for the NFL, NBA, and MLS was immediately obvious – the players from the opposing teams spend the entire game in close contact, sometimes falling to the ground (or ice) tangled up together.

Boxing, mixed martial arts, rugby, and the Australian version of football are in the same boat – or should be. April UFC matches can still be found.

NASCAR at first looks more promising, but there is no way to run a competitive race without an extensive pit crew team – and having individuals take rotating tires during a pit stop wouldn’t exactly make for riveting television.

Golf and tennis also might seem promising – at first. But one issue is the global reach of each sport, as competitors from nearly every first-world country comprise each tour. That could create issues even at a spectator-less event, which is why all those major tours shut down this month as well.

Horse racing’s biggest advantage is that the stars of the show – the horses – are immune from COVID-19. But the virus somehow infected a Yonkers Raceway trainer with numerous North Jersey connections, leading to closures at the Meadowlands Racetrack and Freehold Raceway as well.

Aqueduct – racing without an audience – got in an extra weekend of racing this month, but another positive COVID-19 test sidelined that sports as well.

Still more betting options

New Jersey also allows betting on bowling, cycling, and darts, among other exotic sports.

On Thursday, the DraftKings card featured – yes, Belarus soccer. But also high-level soccer in Germany, which has somehow kept COVID-19 very well contained (so far).

The same site offered NFL Draft futures and “QB Next Team Specials” – such as for now ex-Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (50-to-1 to the Giants or Jets, among the longshots) and ex-Buccaneers signal caller Jameis Winston (same odds with Jets, but 80-to-1 for Giants).

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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