Rash Of COVID-19 Cases Sends Sportsbooks Scurrying On Tennessee Titans’ Wagers

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During the initial phase of COVID-19 testing for the start of the 2020 NFL regular season, the league produced encouraging results with only five confirmed positive tests among more than 50,000 tests administered to players over a three-week period through Sept. 13.

Even with the small number of cases, not a single team reported an outbreak that befell several MLB clubs such as the Florida Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals at the early stages of the abbreviated season. On Tuesday, though, the NFL suffered its first setback when the league announced that the Tennessee Titans suspended all in-person club activities immediately. The NFL made the announcement after the Titans reported three positive tests among players and five additional positives among team personnel. The Vikings, the Titans’ opponent in a 31-30 Week 3 defeat, also suspended all in-person club activities on Tuesday.

In response, a bevy of sports betting operators pulled the lines for Sunday’s Week 4 matchup between the Titans and Steelers in Nashville. Before the announcement, the Steelers held steady as a 2.5-point favorite on the consensus Vegas line (total 47). At other books, the news moved the line in favor of the Steelers with a one-point adjustment to Pittsburgh -2 at Parx, while FanDuel pushed the line to Steelers -3, the Action Network reported.

As of 1 p.m. CT, BetMGM also removed this week’s Vikings-Texans matchup, featuring a pair of winless teams.

House rules for COVID-19 postponements

The once-in-a-century global pandemic has challenged the most astute bookmakers, especially when it comes to futures, props, and season win-total bets. At DraftKings, the company has devised several contingency plans in the event of a truncated season. Under a scenario in which the NFL cancels the entire season due to COVID-19 concerns, DraftKings will refund all futures bets, said Johnny Avello, director of sportsbook operations at DraftKings.

However, if the regular season lasts a minimum of 12 games and a Super Bowl champion is crowned, DraftKings will award customers with payouts on the future wagers, Avello told TN Bets. Avello made the comments earlier this month prior to Tuesday’s announcement.

DraftKings is waiting to see if the NFL will announce a schedule update before issuing a statement on the two affected games, a company spokesperson told TN Bets.

In Nevada, Circa Sportsbook has a specific house rule on the timing of an event. For a football event to be valid, all games must be played within eight days of the originally scheduled date and must take place within a 100-mile radius of the originally scheduled venue/site, according to the rule. As a result, there appears to be a strong likelihood that wagers for the Titans-Steelers tilt, scheduled for 12 p.m. CT at Nissan Stadium, will be graded as “no action,” if the game is delayed.

For the moment, certain ticketholders of props featuring star running back Derrick Henry may be feeling a sweat. Through three weeks, Henry leads the NFL in rushing yards with 319. Henry, the league’s reigning rushing leader, opened at Caesars Sportsbook with an over/under of 1,199.5 rushing yards. Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy Winner, finished last season with a league-high 1,540 yards.

Season-win totals

Entering the season, oddsmakers gave all four teams affected by Tuesday’s news – the Titans, Steelers, Vikings, and Texans – a strong chance to make the playoffs. The Titans had a season-win total at most top books of 8.5 wins, except at PointsBet USA, which had them at 9 total victories. The Steelers, meanwhile, had a win total of 9 at most sites while PointsBet and FOX Bet had them at 9.5. The average season-win total hovered around 8.5 for the Vikings at most shops, about one game higher than the total for the Texans.

The outbreak at Saint Thomas Sports Park, the Titans’ practice facility, comes at an inopportune time for an upstart team that is off to its first 3-0 start since 2008. On Monday, the Titans named BetMGM as the team’s first Official Sports Betting Partner, marking the state’s first official partnership between a professional sports team and sports betting platform.

Although BetMGM removed Super Bowl futures from its online platform Tuesday afternoon, the website still had odds on the team to win the AFC South. The Titans remained clear -176 favorites, ahead of the Colts (+185) and Texans (+1100). The Jaguars are a distant fourth with odds of +3000.

For this week’s slate, if individual games are postponed, as per BetMGM’s rules, the book will refund bets on the games. On a macro level, BetMGM Spokesperson Elisa Richardson indicated that it is still too early to determine the impact the cases will have on season bets or totals.

“The sentiment and expectation from our trading team is if games are canceled, they will be made up later in the season,” Richardson said in an email.

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Matt Rybaltowski

Matt is a veteran writer with a specific focus on the emerging sports gambling market. During Matt's two decade career in journalism, he has written for the New York Times, Forbes, The Guardian, Reuters and CBSSports.com among others. In his spare time, Matt is an avid reader, a weekend tennis player and a frequent embarrassment to the sport of running.

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