How coronavirus is impacting betting market as NCAA empties arenas for tournament

Practice for an NCAA Tournament game in Pittsburgh (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Practice for an NCAA Tournament game in Pittsburgh (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Concerns over the spread of the coronavirus has led to cancellations and postponements of sporting events across the world. In the United States, it’s now a reality that events this spring, including the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, will be held with restricted attendance policies.

On Wednesday, NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the tournaments will be played as scheduled, but with no fans in attendance. Only essential employees and limited family attendance is allowed.

Also, the NBA suspended its season until further notice after Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. The G-League followed, and many more leagues are expected to be suspended in order to prevent large gatherings of people inside arenas in the best interest of public health.

The list of events held in empty arenas is likely to grow by the day, but how does playing in an empty arena impact the sports betting market?

“The games will be treated with less home advantage emphasis without spectators on site,” Westgate vice president of risk management Jeff Sherman told BetChicago in an email Wednesday. “We have already seen an adjustment in European soccer matches, accounting for about 20 cents away from the host team.”

Sherman believes having no fans in the arena has more of an effect on college basketball players than NBA players (if it occurs). CG Technology risk analyst Will Bernanke agrees.

“Impact is much worse in college basketball as by nature there is more emotion involved,” Bernanke opined in an email to BetChicago. “NBA players are professionals who for the most part have seen it all.”

Bookmakers and professional bettors will be watching the market for a possible blueprint on price discovery for basketball sides and totals for games played in empty arenas.

“I’m going to monitor the games this week that are going to impact the ideas of what these totals are supposed to be and how they get moved in the markets by both the bookmakers and the professional bettors,” another veteran Las Vegas bookmaker said in a voice message.

“Where they open, where they close, where the action is, how heavily it gets bet, how aggressive the bookmakers are at moving the lines,” he continued. “In this case there is a lot of uncertainty around, so there might be aggressive moves on totals that wouldn’t be so aggressive if we knew they were playing in front of full capacity.”

Bernanke believes empty arenas could lead to more points scored and favor more experienced teams.

“I would look at a couple of factors that will come into play,” he wrote. “An experienced team will adapt well as they usually perform well on the road. I will look at the leadership and that will give me an indication as to how poised they will be in the unusual circumstance.

“The games could see more scoring as players will be less distracted at the free-throw line with the quiet arena. Teams that shoot well from (beyond the arc) and the free-throw line could benefit as well.”

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