Lawn Bowling, eSports and NFL Free Agency: Sportsbooks Doing Their Best to Get Creative During Coronavirus Shutdowns

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Jono Searle, Getty Images. Pictured: Aaron Wilson lawn bowls during the men’s singles gold medal match on day nine of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games at Broadbeach Bowls Club on April 13, 2018 on the Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

It has been almost two weeks since it was announced that Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the Coronavirus, stopping the sports world in its tracks.

Saddled with the obligation to continue their business, gambling operators have tried to generate action through creativity and by elevating lesser-known markets.

This past weekend, bettors in the United States turned to Aussie Rules Football for a distraction. Turns out the diversion was short-lived as the AFL announced it was postponing play after the opening weekend’s matches.

“There was significant increase in handle [for the AFL], which was expected given the lack of other sports on plus people wanting both something to bet on and a sport to follow,” said PointsBet’s Patrick Eichner.

Now it’s down to Belarussian soccer at FanDuel and, coming soon at PointsBet, lawn bowling, which is on the cusp of being approved in New Jersey.

“We expect that niche sports will draw more interest, as the desire to consume sports will continue to build during this time away.” Eichner added.

DraftKings just got approved by the state of West Virginia to offer betting on eSports and will be offering betting on professional Call of Duty, CS:GO, DOTA2, League of Legends, NBA2K and Overwatch. Most eSports tournaments and matches haven’t been canceled, but instead are being played remotely.

“The current pause on many sports has not stopped fandom at all, nor DraftKings’ creative ambitions to deliver a consistent and engaging experience on our platform,” said DraftKings’ Johnny Avello. “We’re actively innovating to bring a range of product areas, from lesser-known sports, politics, popular culture, simulated games and more, to the fingertips of our player community who continue to show their demand and support.”

Sources tell The Action Network that gaming authorities in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Indiana will not approve eSports for its sportsbook operations in the state. New Jersey is still up in the air.

Political betting is still not approved by any state, but DraftKings and FanDuel are allowed to host free-to-play games for money through their daily fantasy site. Both have done so. DraftKings also had fantasy contests surrounding reality television shows like Shark Tank and Top Chef.

Other ways to entice the gambler have come through NFL futures and free agency — last week bettors could gamble on where Tom Brady would sign and this week the books are taking bets on Cam Newton and Jameis Winston.

“Safe to say that these unprecedented times have really put fuel on the fire for books to be creative,” Eichner said. “Be it through unique futures on sports we all know and love — NFL free agency has given us a lot to work with on that front — or by getting some of the more obscure sports that are still ongoing approved and available for betting.”

But until the real sports return, the money won’t be flowing again.

For more information on the ever-changing sports calendar, check out our updated tracker.

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