Bookmakers have seen their share prices fall dramatically this week after a number of key sporting events were cancelled over coronavirus fears. All major football leagues are suspended, the Masters is off, Six Nations fixtures were cancelled and the new F1 season has been delayed. In the US, March Madness has been scrapped for the year, while the NBA and NHL are suspended indefinitely, and golf, cricket and tennis events around the world are postponed.
William Hill shares plummeted by more than 24% on Thursday and they are down 56% since the start of the year. Paddy Power Betfair owner Flutter Entertainment and Ladbrokes Coral owner GVC Holdings have also suffered double-digit share price declines this week. “There is severe selling across the market given the COVID-19 outbreak – the level of uncertainty is unprecedented,” said Gavin Kelleher, a gaming and leisure analyst at Goodbody. “Investors are worried about whether we have a long period of time with sporting cancellations, so that would obviously impact revenues because there would be nothing to bet on.”
Retail betting shops and sportsbooks across the world have been turned into ghost towns as punters hole up indoors. Online bookmakers have also been also decimated by a lack of sporting action to offer betting markets on. The Cheltenham Festival went ahead this week, but now the sporting calendar has grown quiet. A few National League football and rugby league games took place this weekend, while Liga MX is still being played in Mexico, so those matches received a tremendous amount of attention.
Bookmakers have also been taking bets on the top divisions in Russia and Turkey, while horse racing is going on behind closed doors in the UK, France and South Africa. The Gibraltar Open snooker has garnered plenty of attention, as has the US presidential election battle. Online casinos are also in for a boon, along with virtual sports and esports, the latter of which can be played online without the need for live play in stadia.
Another headache for bookmakers and punters involves the settlement of ante-post futures bets. “We have rules to cover almost all eventualities, primarily if events are cancelled then bets would usually get voided,” said Alan Alger at Betway. However, these are unprecedented times and we will need to consider the fair and pragmatic approach depending on how the relevant associations, leagues and ruling bodies decide to act to declare winners – competitions may be shortened, changed in format or abandoned completely. It really is too soon to comment further. Although we paid out on Liverpool to win the league before Christmas, so backers of Jurgen Klopp’s men have already got their money.”
Coral spokesman John Hill added: “This is obviously an ever-changing situation but we need to see first how each sporting governing body will reschedule or alter their season or competition. As we gain more information we will be in a better position to address individual betting markets, although ideally each competition will be played to a conclusion.”