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Limited action changing sports betting landscape

William Hill's Joe Asher talks on cancellations, obscure sports props and keeping up distractions

The Lakeside Casino in Osceola, home of one of four William Hill sports books in the state of Iowa. With limited sports action, and all of the major professional sports in North America sidelined, William Hill has gone as far as listing table tennis as a betting option while COVID-19 sweeps through the country and keeps professional and collegiate sports in limbo.
The Lakeside Casino in Osceola, home of one of four William Hill sports books in the state of Iowa. With limited sports action, and all of the major professional sports in North America sidelined, William Hill has gone as far as listing table tennis as a betting option while COVID-19 sweeps through the country and keeps professional and collegiate sports in limbo.

With the United States' sports universe shut down for the foreseeable future, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have gone beyond cancellations and suspensions and having no live sports to watch.

For some, the need for a distraction that comes within sports betting has come almost entirely to a standstill, but is still alive and pumping out props for bettors to find a way to get their mind off the regular news cycle.

"We're doing [what we can] frankly to give them (customers) a distraction from masks and gowns and quarantine and ventilators," said William Hill CEO Joe Asher. "We've got our guys scouring the globe for what might be appropriate to bet on."

With nearly the entire sports universe shut down, the search has gone as far as games and sports you would never consider.

"I'm blown away at the number of people who are actually interested in Russian table tennis," said Asher. "I never thought about it until two weeks ago. There's soccer from Belarus, Nicaragua, there's baseball that just started there. There's Japanese sumo wrestling, ... E-Sports is another one. ... It's all small."

With major North American sports now lacking entertainment, the "remote" aspect has picked up.

The NBA has created a video game tournament with NBA stars playing in against one another in NBA 2K20, while NASCAR has created a weekly race through iRacing in place of its regularly scheduled events. MLB has also done the same with its flagship video game licensee, MLB: The Show, and hosted a tournament for players in the league.

Madden has also come into play as a football substitute with Counter Strike: Go and Rocket League also gaining screen time for E-Sports league teams. Counter Strike: Go has been one addition to the William Hill sports book that has garnered some attention, said Asher.

With key future betting events such as The PGA Tour's 'The Masters' tournament, tennis' Wimbledon, (as of Monday) the NBA playoffs, the Kentucky Derby and the 2020 Olympics being either postponed or canceled, all prospective bettors are now left with a voided ticket stub or funds on hold.

For events that are suspended or postponed (NBA and NHL playoffs, MLB regular season and select horse racing and golf future bets) those tickets are still live, said Asher. Tickets for events that have been canceled, like the NCAA's March Madness tournament, have been refunded.

Physical stubs are able to be mailed in to William Hill, which can be refunded by check. Bets placed online are directly deposited into the account of the bettor. Due to casinos being closed statewide in Iowa, the ability to open a new account is not possible due to the need to create the account in person.

"For those who already had accounts, they can continue to bet, albeit on some pretty obscure stuff," said Asher. "Not what they would have imagined a month ago. ... Right now it's about being in touch with our customers and giving them something to bet if they want the distraction. But, we also don't want to be over the top, either. There's a lot of serious stuff going on in the news, and I think it's important to be very delicate in what we do at this time. "

Asher said cancellations of sporting events, especially the NBA, helped draw attention to how severe the COVID-19 pandemic can be.

"The suspension happened so quickly that it got a lot of folks much more focused on the virus, perhaps than they had been previously," said Asher. "It happened very quickly, and when it did, it seemed pretty apparent that this wasn't a 24 or 48 hour issue and was going to be something for a sustained period of time."

Asher added his reaction to the virus has been to do what he can in the best interest of his employees while also making smart business moves. William Hill's United States headquarters are located in Nevada with sports books present in 10 states, employing over 16,000 people worldwide.

As of Monday, there has been no official return date scheduled for the NBA or NHL seasons. The MLB's Opening Day, originally scheduled for March 26, has been pushed back to an undetermined time.

For more information and updates on William Hill's book, visit www.williamhill.com/us.

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