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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, sportsbook operators, like businesses around the world, are facing challenges they’ve never considered before, including: What if there are no games to bet?

On Thursday, the NCAA canceled the men’s basketball tournament, the biggest betting event in U.S. sports. Billions of dollars are estimated to be wagered on March Madness annually through brick-and-mortar and online sportsbooks, as well as office bracket pools.

The NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer have suspended seasons, and Major League Baseball is halting spring training and delaying the start of its season. On Thursday, after many college basketball conference tournaments were canceled, only a handful of events remained listed on oddsboards at sportsbooks.

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In a statement, the NCAA said the decision to cancel the basketball tournaments, both men’s and women’s, along with all remaining winter and spring championships is “based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to the spread of the pandemic, and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities.”

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament had been played uninterrupted since 1939.

Sportsbooks and casinos around the nation remained open heading into Friday, and operators were not expecting any stoppages, but they also acknowledged the unpredictability of the situation and the reduced number of sporting events.

Nevada Gaming Control declined to comment when contacted by ESPN, and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement did not respond to a request for comment on any guidance being given to gambling licensees.

Losing the NCAA tournament, at least for now, is the most costly blow to the sportsbook business. March has routinely been one of the most lucrative months of the year for bookmakers. Sportsbooks compare the betting handle on the first four full days of the NCAA tournament to how much is wagered on the Super Bowl. More than $154.6 million was bet at Nevada sportsbooks on Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers, with the books winning a net $18.8 million.


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