With nearly all organized sports shut down worldwide due to the coronavirus, gamblers looking to place their sports wagers through the Oregon Lottery have slim pickings. And that’s caused the number of wagers placed to drop dramatically.
The Oregon Lottery launched its “Score Board” app last fall. Gamblers could bet on the outcomes of sporting events around the world, including each of the major sports leagues in the United States.
“Score Board” was averaging more than 400,000 bets a day up until mid-March, said Lottery spokesperson Chuck Baumann. That’s when virtually every sports league across the globe shut down in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. It’s caused interest in sports betting app to plummet to roughly one-third of its previous level.
It’s also led to an apparent newfound interest in … Russian table tennis?
“Prior to the coronavirus, the NBA was the top sport that people were betting on,” said Baumann. “Now, it’s table tennis.”
In fact, Baumann said table tennis now accounts for nearly three-quarters of all the bets placed through “Score Board.” Even during the coronavirus pandemic, there are a few eastern European leagues still holding matches, including in Russia and Armenia.
“The internet being what it is, I guess if you wanted to do some research, you might be able to understand who the top players are in Russian table tennis,” said Baumann.
And, despite the fact that The New York Times once described Portland as a city "where the Ping-Pong scene never sleeps," the top Russian players aren't exactly household names in the land of Trail Blazers basketball, Ducks and Beavers football, and Timbers soccer. “You could probably ask 100 people on the street about Russian table tennis, and you’re going to get 100 puzzled looks,” said Baumann.
Other current betting options include a darts league where professional players compete in their own homes, a handful of soccer games in Belarus, and baseball games in Taiwan and South Korea, which are being played in empty stadiums.
The “Score Board” app should get a temporary boost this weekend, when bettors can place wagers on the NFL draft.
The shortage of professional sports to gamble on is one of several challenges the Oregon Lottery faces during the pandemic. The agency shut down its leading source of revenue, video lottery terminals, in mid-March. The move coincided with Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order limiting bars and restaurants to take-out service only.
Video lottery is the biggest money maker for the Oregon Lottery, and accounts for roughly 70 percent of its revenue. Baumann said there’s anecdotal evidence that some video lottery regulars are switching to other lottery games.
Still, the revenue hit from the loss of video lottery will be significant.
“We’re not going to make that up by selling an enormous number of Scratch-It tickets or Powerball tickets,” said Baumann. “Those products are very viable and important to us, but they’re not going to carry the same kind of weight that video lottery has.”
Lottery revenues form a significant portion of the state budget. In the most recent revenue forecast issued by state economists, the Lottery was predicted to bring in about $1.5 billion during the current two-year budget cycle. The next forecast, scheduled for mid-May, will offer an updated version of the state's economic outlook, one that reflect the widespread economic impact of the coronavirus.
The Oregon Lottery isn't taking bets on what that forecast will say.