The havoc caused by the outbreak of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus seemingly knows no end as each new day brings with it more and more shutdowns for professional sport. The shutdown specifically relates to public gatherings, and as such will impact badly on just about every avenue of service and leisure that one can think of, although sport will be one significantly impacted industry.
As a knock on effect, gambling, especially live gambling, is set to take a massive hit as the shutdown of the global sporting calendar, in an effort to slow the spread of the disease, continues to cause disruption. While last week’s Cheltenham Festival went ahead, it did so under fire and under pressure and the almost inevitable fallout from 251,684 attendees will remain unknown.
One week later, and festival organisers The Jockey Club have pulled the plug on this year’s Grand National. This announcement was followed a day later by the British Horse Racing Authority announcing the suspension of all horse racing in the UK.
English football has closed down, albeit much later than comparative league’s overseas. Italy, Europe’s most affected nation so far, was the first major league to close down but has since been followed by other events as borders shut and barriers go up.
Last Tuesday, Spain was quickly emerging as another European viral hot spot, particularly in Madrid where everything came swiftly to a halt. Despite not enjoying freedom of movement within their own borders, so slow was the response from the UK government that thousands of Atletico Madrid fans were free to fly into Liverpool on Wednesday to watch their side knock Liverpool out of the Champions League. Again, while it is immeasurable, there were almost certainly infected vessels in the Anfield crowd, passing on unwanted germs in the bars and on the concourse before and after the match.
These germs could easily have found their way to the M&S Bank Arena in the same city where, 24 hours later, the Premier League of Darts Night Five took place, quite possibly drawing in local sports fans who had been present at Anfield a night earlier.
Out in Sri Lanka, England’s cricket tour to has been called off, while Rugby’s Six Nations, one of the first events to be interrupted, was already in a mess this year owing to the original outbreak in Italy long before the RFU suspended all rugby activity in England. The Super League has also suspended play, as, at last, has the darts.
Across the pond, all major sporting leagues in North America have now been suspended, while the Formula 1 Grand Prix has done the same. The French Open tennis now hopes to take place in September, while the US Masters golf has been postponed and the Players Championship was cancelled after the first round. Now, all PGA Tour events for the next three weeks at least have also been cancelled.
In the case of the English Premier League, the tipping point seemed to come after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea player Callum Hudson-Odoi both tested positive for the disease. As recently as Thursday, the Premier League had stated that all matches would go ahead as planned this past weekend, but later announced it would reconsider this decision.
When the football will return is anyone’s guess, and there is a whole lot to sort out. Disappointingly, West Ham vice chairman Karen Brady saw the increasingly fatal endemic as an opportunity to get her under-performing and relegation threatened team off the hook by abandoning the season in its entirety. This unpopular opinion would hardly be fair to the likes of Leeds and West Bromwich Albion who have both been counting down the days until they would return to the top flight.
In the Premier League, nothing is yet decided, even accounting for Liverpool’s 25 point lead at the top. If simple abandonment will not do, then perhaps, as is being discussed, the option of finishing the season later in the year would be the best possible outcome for all. And, while this will impact on future seasons, so too will the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar which is due to interrupt the European season in two years’ time anyway. The authorities were happy enough to shoulder this inconvenience so I’m sure something similar could happen here too.
The finishing of the current domestic season was a major contributing factor to UEFA’s announcement that Euro 2020 will now become Euro 2021, taking place all over Europe in the summer 12 months later than planned. The sensible outcome, then, would be to finish domestic campaigns over the upcoming summer if things have returned to normal by then.
Impact On Gambling
Given all of the above, what will the extent of the coronavirus’ impact on gambling around the world truly be? The obvious answer is that the impact will be long and hard felt, especially for the high street betting shops and perhaps the most concerning thing is that there is no predictable end in sight for this current nightmare.
Not only will punters be feeling the pinch as industry after industry takes a hit and the entire economy in general is forced into a deepening crisis, but they will also and understandably be loath to go out and mingle in a shop for something that they can do online. Remember too that bookmakers are still reeling from the enforced FOBT stake reduction that was introduced last year, so these will be tough times indeed for the high street bookmaker.
Live casinos and bingo halls should also brace themselves for impact. On a local scale, there has been silence in the main from the UK’s two leading local casino operators, Genting and Grosvenor, while bingo halls, a traditional hot spot for the elderly, are sure to suffer as UK residents over the age of 70 are warned to stay away from such places and remain at home in self isolation. The casinos on the other hand are merely delaying the inevitable even if, like pubs and restaurants, they are waiting on instructions and closure orders from the UK government that really should have been issued already.
In the nearby Netherlands, however, Holland Casino has closed all of its branches across the nation, while neighbouring Belgium will also close all of its casinos, gambling halls, cafes with gaming machines and betting shops for most of the next month.
In Asia, where the outbreak broke first, Macau had been forced to shut down 41 casinos for two weeks in February but 38 of these have since reopened, albeit with the mandatory use of face masks, as enforced precautions are relaxed. While in lockdown incidentally, the huge reduction in the number of people visiting Macau from Mainland China saw casinos’ gross revenues plummet 87.8% year-on-year to $388 million USD, compared with 2019.
But what of Vegas? The end of May should herald the start of the World Series of Poker (WSOP). This year’s event, which would have been its 51st, is now unlikely to run, even if the organisers remain publicly optimistic. This event runs into July and draws in professional poker players from every corner of the world. Once seated, multi table tournaments (MTTs) can run for days with players cramped eight or nine to a table, each fiddling with their chips and cards, all of which will have passed through many, many hands.
Factor in their all you can eat buffets, and it’s no wonder that casinos are known as petri dishes of communicable diseases. In 2017, the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino where the WSOP takes place, seven people contracted Legionnaires disease while playing in their rooms making the WSOP’s stance even more ridiculous.
Conversely, as people are forced to stop in, online poker could enjoy a bumper year. Poker legend, Daniel ‘KidPoker’ Negreanu, has called for online poker to be widely regionalised in the US as a counter balance the fact that casinos across the United States have closed, both voluntarily and by law.
Incidentally, Negreanu also took time to publicly shame a new poker betting market on Twitter after the site unbelievably and inconsiderately opened a book on how many people would contract the deadly virus in the United States.
Online Boom Offsetting Sporting Shutdown
It’s not just poker that should enjoy life online over the next few months. Online casino games will surely benefit as gambling activity rises as people are stuck at home with little to do. Sports betting faces a less certain few months. How can you bet on an event that isn’t taken place? One contingency plan, and one that was utilised during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, is to bet on computer generated sporting events, virtual racing and e-sports too.
On the downside and unsurprisingly, share prices across the gambling industry are plummeting. William Hill have announced that they are predicting a negative impact on revenue and earnings due to the pandemic and as such have suspended their 2019 dividend to retain financial resources in house.
Elsewhere, GVC Holdings have revealed that their pre-tax earnings for the current year and grimly predicted their figures are likely to be reduced by up to £150 million due to the cancellation of global sport. Flutter Entertainment, the parent company of Paddy Power Betfair and FanDuel, saw its share price fall, as did Unibet operator Kindred, 888 Holdings and The Rank Group.