What has feathers but is not a bird, a pointy end but is not a beak and goes quickly through the air for nearly 8 feet but does not truly fly?
Here is a hint. Most people have probably laid their hands on it, and now many are using the sports void in the pandemic to bet on it.
No, it is not someone’s tipsy aunt in her ratty old boa. It is darts.
Anyone who has scrolled through a sports betting app may have gotten a chuckle seeing darts on the same menu as eNASCAR, Taiwanese baseball and Russian table tennis. But this stuff is taken seriously, especially at the sport’s hub in England.
This goes way beyond a friendly game for a warm pint in a cold pub. Long before anyone had heard of the coronavirus, darts had already arrived as a competitive sport — complete with yesteryear spectators, live telecasts and a whole lot of legal betting.
Here in the U.S., action-starved gamblers are discovering the game that is played over there. The Professional Darts Corporation and its subsidiary, the British Darts Organisation, have overseen the creation of the current PDC Home Tour, the recently completed Night at the Darts, the ongoing Icons of Darts League and the soon-to-return Remote Darts League. Originating from players’ homes, all are shown on live video streams. And there is no lack of web content to do a deep research dive before making a wager.
The basic betting options are straightforward. Anyone familiar with 501 is already ahead of the game. But for the uninitiated, here is a primer.
The board is hung with the bull’s-eye 5 feet 8 inches above the floor and 7 feet 9¼ inches from the toe line, which is actually called the “oche” (rhymes with “hockey”). Write all that down the next time the local bar opens and the dartboard looks a little too good to be true.
The object of the game is to erase all 501 points from the board with as few darts as possible. The holy grail is the nine-darter, the fastest way to get to zero. It is the equivalent of a 300 game in bowling or a perfect game in baseball.
Playing in one-on-one duels, two players alternate three-dart turns on their respective home boards until one erases the 501 points first. That player is credited with winning one leg. The first to win four legs in a best-of-seven or five legs in a best-of-nine takes the match, which usually takes no more than 20 minutes.
American sportsbooks offer basic moneyline betting on who will win each match. A point-spread bet is based on how many legs each player wins in the best-of-seven or best-of-nine format. Over-Under totals are based on how many legs of a match are played. So a 4-1 outcome means the spread was three and the total five. Futures pools also are available on overall winners each day.
Prop bets involve whether a player scores a perfect 180 in a single three-dart turn. There is also betting on whether a player scores a checkout — the exact number of points to get to zero — with a turn of more than 170 or a perfect 180. There are also Over-Unders for the exact score of the checkout.
And, yes, some oddsmakers post long odds of at least 100-1 on whether a player scores a nine-dart checkout.
Sportsbooks offering wagering on darts include BetMGM, BetRivers, Caesars, DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet, SugarHouse and William Hill.
At the game’s top level, the PDC Home Tour began April 17. It runs seven days a week starting at 2:30 p.m. EDT. Each day offers six head-to-head, nine-leg matchups involving four players in a single group. It all takes about 90 minutes. The player who finishes first in wins and losses advances to the playoffs. Because so many players started the tournament, they disappear if they do not win their group. Since the playoffs do not begin until late this month, daily winners have as many as six weeks off between matches.
Since launching April 6, the second-level Icons of Darts League digitally brings together seven players at a time in daily 5:30 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT sessions. Now in its second phase of competition lasting all this month, Group A plays Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with Group B on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Since they compete every other day, the players become familiar names and faces to those who follow the league.
Video streaming is offered live on multiple platforms. The PDC Home Tour can be seen with a free sign-up at https://pdcpayments.streamamg.com/account/freeregistration. The Icons of Darts League is available via https://dartshop.tv/live-stream-darts/.
Former world champion and fourth-ranked Rob Cross, seventh-ranked Nathan Aspinall and No. 10 Ian White, all from England, are the highest-ranked players still standing in the PDC Home Tour. Aspinall advanced by going 3-0 in his group matches 1½ weeks ago. Cross and White do not start until this week. They hope to fare better than No. 2 Peter Wright, No. 3 Gerwyn Price, No. 5 Michael Smith and No. 8 James Wade, all of whom were knocked out in their group matches.
According to Premium Dartdata, Luke Woodhouse has the top game average on the Home Tour with 113.86 points per turn, with Ryan Searle a distant second at 103.26. Each player swept through his three group matches last month.
With a 20-6 record in his matches so far, Jason Askew has been the top player in the Icons of Darts League. Wessel Nijman (18-8), Andy Jenkins (35-16), Arron Monk (42-20) and Ritchie Edhouse (17-9) have also won 65% of their matches. Conversely, Mark Webster (5-21) and Jose Justicia (6-20) have the competition’s worst records.
Three-time world champion Michael van Gerwen (rhymes with Earvin with breathy “G”) is the No. 1 player, but he is not taking part in the at-home tournaments. “It has to be quiet,” he told DartsNews.com. “But with a newborn baby, a 2½-year-old child and three dogs, it really won’t work.”
Last month Keegan Brown of England was eliminated from the PDC Home Tour when his Wi-Fi crashed in the middle of group matches. It forced organizers to call an audible and play a double round robin with the three players remaining. His only match was voided, and bettors were given refunds.
Some players had to excuse themselves for reasons that sound familiar to many people who are working from home. Saying his Wi-Fi was not very strong, sixth-ranked Daryl Gurney of Northern Ireland also told the BBC: “My dartboard is on the back of my bedroom door. I stand in the hall at the top of the stairs, and I have one foot in the bathroom and one in the hall. So if someone needs to go to the bathroom, I can’t throw.”
This was not the first time that the need for internal relief has come into play in darts — or something that rhymes with it. At the 2018 Grand Slam, two-time world champ Gary Anderson and quarterfinal opponent Wesley Harms accused one another of passing gas on stage. Presumably any such odor would go unreported, perhaps silently, in a play-at-home tournament. But for Anderson that possibility was made moot when he reported that poor Wi-Fi would not allow him to play in the PDC Home Tour. In essence, his tournament began and ended with an air biscuit.
Presuming the remaining players conquer their connectivity and gastrointestinal challenges, English darts will provide weeks of entertainment for niche fans who are starved for any type of competition. And like anything else on which bets are taken, there are countless angles to pursue.