We will never know how far Obi Toppin would have led Dayton in the NCAA tournament. We can debate, dream and speculate, but we’ll never have an answer.
Four months into the college basketball season, we reached March and approached the crescendo — and then the plug was pulled on several conference tournaments and the most exciting event in sports.
Obviously, the cancellation of the NCAA tournament because of the coronavirus pandemic pales in importance to global health concerns and serious societal issues. But our sports betting world has been turned upside down, so that’s the topic here.
Late last week, when virtually every sports league and organization in America was shutting down, a Las Vegas sportsbook director texted me: “What a disaster. It’s sickening.”
The ramifications of a sports shutdown are widespread in the gaming industry. With the NBA, NHL and MLB regular seasons postponed, wagers on win totals will be refunded. The same goes for futures bets on the NCAA tournament, which will not be played. When something is paused or postponed, there is hope. When something is canceled, that’s just cold.
Two days before Thanksgiving on a warm afternoon in Hawaii, I watched Dayton destroy Virginia Tech by 27 points at the Maui Invitational. The Hokies had upset preseason No. 1 Michigan State the previous day. The unranked Flyers were on the rise, and the secret was about to get out.
I called Ron Boyles, who has made a living in Las Vegas as a professional sports bettor for more than 30 years, and asked him to shop around for Dayton futures odds and get us down on it. Boyles found 200/1 at two books and made the bets.
The next day, the Flyers fell to Kansas 90-84 in overtime in the Maui championship game. The triple-digit odds on Dayton disappeared, as most books adjusted to the 30/1 to 50/1 range.
As Selection Sunday approached, the Flyers were forecast as the No. 1 seed in the NCAA East Region. Dayton (29-2) suffered both of its losses in overtime on neutral courts and went 18-0 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Toppin, a probable a top-five pick in this NBA draft, led a complete team with national championship potential.
What if? We will never know. There would have been ways to hedge and profit on a 200/1 ticket even if the Flyers had fallen short of winning it all.
“I finally have a futures ticket where I might make a big score, and it goes up in smoke,” Boyles said. “There might be only once or twice in your lifetime when you have a live 200/1 shot. That’s the whole thing. That just doesn’t happen.”
My consolation is a refund and a bad beat story to tell for years, which is not what I wanted. The Westgate SuperBook actually opened Dayton’s odds at 1,000/1 last spring, so the beat is more painful for anyone holding that ticket.
I also held NCAA championship futures on Louisville (20/1), Oregon (50/1) and Wichita State (200/1). The Cardinals and Ducks were live. The flip side of a bad beat is getting off the hook on a bad bet, and the Shockers had no shot, so I’ll take that refund.
When the Final Four ends — the title game was scheduled for April 6 in Atlanta — Masters week begins. At least we could look forward to that, right? Not this year. The biggest event in golf has been postponed too.
Last Thursday, soon after Hideki Matsuyama shot a 9-under 63 to tie the course record at TPC Sawgrass in Florida and take the first-round lead at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour canceled the rest of the tournament. Of course, I had bet Matsuyama at 30/1 odds, as had VSiN hosts Brady Kannon and Mitch Moss.
What if? Matsuyama might not have won, but we will never know.
Westgate golf oddsmaker Jeff Sherman took down the original Masters futures board, which he had opened in April 2019, and posted new odds for the 2020 tournament that stated, “Dates TBD.”
Check the house rules where you placed wagers for confirmation on how each bet will be graded. David Purdum of ESPN reported Sunday the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement had provided guidance to sportsbooks for how to handle bets on leagues that had suspended seasons, such as the NBA and NHL. Here are two examples:
— If a wager has mathematically won or lost but the season has not been completed, books should grade the bet. For instance, if you have Team X to win over 35 games and it has already done so, books can pay out those bets. If a team has already clinched a division title, books can pay out that bet and grade all the rest as losers.
— All single-game wagers on events that have been canceled can be voided. For instance, all wagers on the NCAA basketball tournament should be voided.
As for NBA win totals, Westgate house rules state teams must play 82 regular-season games for action. As for MLB division odds and win totals, Westgate rules state teams must play at least 160 regular-season games for action.
At this point, it seems unlikely the NBA or NHL will play another regular-season game, and each league is likely to seed the playoffs as the standings look today. Refunds would be in order once those decisions are announced. The baseball season almost certainly will be shortened, and win totals will have to be reposted once the length of the season is determined.
In New Jersey, my wager on Golden State Under 48.5 wins would be paid. In Nevada, where I actually made the bet at the Westgate, it will be a refund and a bad beat. The Warriors are 15-50 with 17 games left. (VSiN host Jonathan Von Tobel has the same bet.)
Memphis (32-33) and Oklahoma City (40-24) are already Over their win totals of 27 and 31.5, respectively. Several examples of NBA win total wagers will be bad beats or bad bets that will be refunds.
After LeBron James took his talents to Los Angeles, the most popular team with the betting public was the Lakers, who were 49-14 when the season was suspended and were sure to top their Westgate win total of 50.5.
“We got a lot of Over action, so the Lakers would have been a loser for us,” Sherman said.
For me, nothing will top the disappointment of the Dayton 200/1 ticket, which can be used as toilet paper in an emergency. The Flyers were on a four-month journey from unranked to a likely No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament was canceled.
In the early 1980s, Clark Griswold packed his wife and kids into the family truckster and made a mishap-filled trip from the Chicago suburbs to the Southern California amusement park Walley World. When the Griswold clan finally arrived at the park, they were stunned to find Walley World closed for repairs. An angry Clark went berserk.
Many of us know that crushed feeling now. For some, this will be time to take a vacation.
The word “fun” is found inside the word “refund,” but it’s a lie. This is no fun at all.