Super Bowl LV might not go down in history as one of the classics in terms of excitement, but the fact that the NFL managed to complete an entire season with minimal disruption is cause for celebration. Likewise, a condensed MLB season is in full swing, and MLS will be with us soon. All these are positive indications that sport is managing to adapt to these strange times. It is certainly very different to the situation we were facing 12 months ago.
This time last year, it was more than lockdown. Sport was going into a state of complete shutdown. International events like the Olympics and the European soccer championship were put on hold. Formula 1 cars stayed in their garages. Closer to home, the NBA and NHL ground to a halt.
Tough times to be a gambler
It was frustrating for the athletes, the locker room staff and the fans. But also spare a thought for those who love the thrill of placing a bet – and in particular, the semi-professional gamblers who rely financially on making the right calls more often than not.
When the sporting shutdown hit its peak around March and April, the TV channels were a strange sight. Most were showing reruns of classic encounters from years gone by. Nothing to bet on there. Those desperate to place a sporting wager were restricted to the handful of tournaments that continued regardless in far-flung corners of the globe. Never before had the Russian hockey league and Mexican soccer attracted such global attention!
Most of those desperate to place a wager on something decided to think a little more laterally, however. It goes to show just how flexible and widespread the modern gambling industry has become.
From the sports field to the gaming table
Bookmakers and casinos used to be very different creatures, inhabited by very different types of gamblers. In this internet age, however, they are increasingly becoming interwoven, with many online casinos offering sports betting and sports books providing casino games. In short, regardless of what is occurring in the physical world, it’s still pretty simple to play traditional games and win real money at the thousands of online casinos and that’s what many sports betting fans chose to do.
From sports-inspired slots like Hockey Hero to live games such as Football Studio (a simplified version of baccarat), there are plenty of games with a sporting theme that provide the thrill of a wager. In fact, the iGaming sector was one of the few to really thrive during mid-2020, attracting both sports fans and those who would ordinarily visit physical casinos but found their doors closed.
Online bets on virtual sports
It’s not just casino gaming that was restricted to cyberspace last year. We were also sent there for everything from shopping to movie nights to business meetings. Little surprise, then, that some sports also found a way to venture online, and the online sportsbooks were able to follow them.
The phenomenon took a couple of different forms. eSport was about the only branch of sport to be largely unaffected by the lockdown. Although the big tournaments at exhibition centers and the like had to be postponed, there were numerous online events, where top players could battle it out at CS:GO, Dota 2, Fortnite and the rest, without having to leave their homes. eSport has been attracting a growing audience and the close attention of sport betting sites over the past couple of years, so it’s no surprise this grew significantly last year.
Even more intriguing, though, was the interest shown in online versions of real sports. Some of the biggest stars of the soccer world got together and organized a charity FIFA tournament that quickly went viral on Twitter, while the inaugural virtual F1 championship proved a big hit with fans, and showed that F1 young guns like Lando Norris and Charles LeClerc really are as good at video games as they are behind the wheel of a real car.
But the most remarkable thing of all was the virtual horse racing. For the past few years, there has been a virtual version of The Grand National, the most-high profile race on the UK calendar, as a fun sideshow. In 2020, it was given center billing when the actual race was cancelled, with live coverage on BBC television in the slot reserved for the real race. Thousands of pounds were wagered and bookmakers donated all profits to charity.
When politics and bingo combine
All these outlets for betting are positively tame compared to some of the wagers that were made away from sport and gaming. Political betting is nothing new in terms of backing a particular candidate or party to win an election. However, as campaigning got underway for the US presidency, the practice went into overdrive, with a bizarre form of Biden Bingo, or Top Trump if you prefer, spreading across the land.
The way it worked was that gamblers could bet on certain politicians saying certain words during campaigning. There were different bingo cards doing the rounds, but examples included “Let’s make America great again,” “Four more years,” and of course “Fake news.”
Other bizarre bets
With sport, games and politics covered, surely there’s nothing else left to bet on. Well, you might be surprised. US sports books turned their focus to reality TV, giving viewers the opportunity to bet on who would be the next casualty in shows like Survivor. Meanwhile, a Costa Rican site turned everyone into amateur meteorologists for a while by offering odds on the maximum temperatures that will be reported in a given day in various cities around the world.
The intriguing thing is that even with sport returning to some 2021 approximation of normality, many of these betting alternatives – especially weather betting – have remained popular. Evidence, if we really needed it, that in the online era, you can never have too much choice. Be lucky!