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What are the odds you’d catch COVID-19 at a sporting event?

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Professional odds-makers have turned there eyes away from Vegas and towards COVID-19. What is the likelihood you’d be to be infected by the coronavirus if fan-attended sports were to begin June 1, June 15, and July 1? Are the odds in your favor?

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Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

You can bet on nearly anything these days.

NBA2k simulated games have a become popular gambling fix, and the spread on April 16’s match up between the All-Time Bucks (-130) vs. the All-Time Nets (+100) is 27½. Which organization will be the first to send humans to Mars? Space X is currently the odds on favorite at -450. Who will be the next James Bond (following Daniel Craig’s final performance in the pushed back release of No Time to Die)? If you put $100 on Ryan Gosling you’ll win a cool $20,000. (odds via MyBookie.ag)

For anyone who has taken some dough and put it on the line, you know one thing: some how, some way, you end up sweating it out. The “sure thing” bet is a rarity in the gambling world. You find yourself invested in every possession, constantly doing simple addition to project final scores, and creating far-fetched scenarios the would allow your team to cover (Ayton needs to miss this free throw, the Suns need to get the offensive board, and hit a three. Who cares if they are up 2 with 6.5 seconds left? The line is +4½!).

How does it always happen? Why is it always so darn close? Why can’t we just have piece of mind when gambling on sports?

Because then it wouldn’t be gambling, right?

The phrase, “the house always wins” doesn’t happen by accident. Just look at some of the numbers this season in the NBA (via covers.com):

  • Home favorites covered ATS (against the spread) 48.6% of the time.
  • Home underdogs covered ATS 49.9% of the time.
  • The home team won straight up 55.1% of the time.
  • In 963 games this season, when betting the over/under on total points, the over won 504 (52.3%) and the under won 459 (47.7%).
  • The Suns were 32-32-1 versus the over/under line (via Action Network)!

The odds-makers set the line. The wagering public fluctuates it. And in the end I spend more time stressing about the point total than I do actually enjoying watching the sport. And I’m not alone.

Nevada alone typically sees upwards of $500 million per month on sports betting, per Sports Illustrated. Margins are razor thin. Vegas’ end goal? They want their final number to be a coin flip. Because if you flip a coin 100 times, nearly 50% of the time you’ll lose. And when you lose, they win.

No one is winning with COVID-19.

Arena lights are low and the seats are eerily vacant. Baseball fields sit without the fresh chalk on the grass. Videos on YouTube of Las Vegas look like a mashup from Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas and Call of Duty Zombie Mode (you know, minus the zombies, thankfully):

There are no simulated clanking of coins coming from victorious slots, there are no blown dice and cheers around the craps tables. COVID-19 has halted the Bally’s Las Vegas Sports Book (a personal favorite) and the betting world has come up snake eyes.

Professional odds-makers around the world find themselves in a unique position. Typically they are using their skill set, ability, and wizardry to make every over/under a coin flip by using math computation, variable analysis, and algorithmic formulas. But no sports are being played and celebrities are self-quarantining (how can you bet on whether or not Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt are dating again if they can’t go out any where? +300 that they are).

Therefore the odds-makers have turned their attention to probabilities surrounding COVID-19.

The odds-makers at Sports Betting Dime (SBD), a portal to a plethora of different online betting sites as well as a comprehensive source of betting information, recently provided some interesting odds on the likelihood of contracting the coronavirus. If you live in the great state of Arizona, you have a 20.1% to 33.3% chance.

But what if you were to attend a sporting event? Sound like a weird thing to try to predict? Stop and take a look around you. “Weird” has an entirely different meaning these days. Joe Exotic is a part of our lives now.

This is actually rather interesting.

Much akin to models estimating the contraction, spread, and death totals of the virus, there are countless assumptions that occur when building these odds. We are dealing with the variable of the “unknown”, which turns out is quite a powerful parameter.

Sports odds are developed using home/away historical splits, injury implications, and current team performance, along with countless other variables that odds-makers utilize to set the line. In the case of determining your odds to catch a virus in a public setting like a Suns’ home game, assumptions are made given average attendance pre-COVID-19, the infection rate for the city in which the sport is being played, the estimated apex of cases for that city, the number of human interactions one would have throughout the duration of a game, and an estimate of how many people an asymptomatic individual would infect. Whew! That’s a lot of data!

SBD has provided the odds if sports were to commence on three different dates, in three different sports (which includes different stadiums):

  • Start dates of June 1, June 15, and July 1
  • MLB, NHL, and NBA

That is a lot of data to navigate. And like Plutarch Heavensbee, SBD has been crunching the numbers and seeing if the odds are ever in our favor.

Based on the numerous variables, this is what Sports Betting Dime has projected:

SportsBettingDime.com

It is of note that these models reflect the predicted outcome if we continue to assertively social distance. Clearly the curve will have flattened if we do our part, and in just one months time, you can see numbers fall drastically.

Only the teams playing in Miami appear above a 25% probability of infection if games were to begin on June 1. This is due to over 10,000 confirmed cases in Florida and a projected apex of May 3 (compared to New York, which has passed its projected apex of April 9).

But what about Phoenix?

For those Bright Siders who live in the Greater Phoenix Area, who miss heading downtown to watch the Suns or Diamondbacks play (or making the trek to Glendale to see the Coyotes battle on the ice), what are the odds of contracting the virus? At what is it safe to grab a hot dog and a beer in a public venue, sit down, and cheer for your team?

Sports Betting Dime has provided the following predictions for the Phoenix market:

The projected apex of the virus in Arizona is April 30. Using their data, analytics, and resources, if we were to go back to Suns games on July 1, there would be less than 1% chance of contracting the coronavirus.

These numbers aren’t set in stone, as daily fluctuations of data change the end results. What these numbers do represent is a timeline of hope. There is a light at the end of the self-quarantining tunnel, and July 1 may be that light.

The question then becomes this: At what percentile does society agree that the risk is worth the reward?

The skittles test has been a topic of discussion on this blog:

“Some people: The coronavirus only affects about 3% of the population. I’ll be fine.”

“Me: If I handed you 100 Skittles and told you only 3 of them were poisoned and could kill you, would you still take a handful? No. You’d avoid the whole bowl.”

By that logic, even if 1% were the number (a.k.a. - 1 Skittle), July 1 is still too soon to play any type of sporting events. Perhaps you could if no fans were in attendance. That metric is too risky. Sorry, Vegas, I wouldn’t want to attend an event if those were my odds.

We are headed in the right direction by doing our part. The curve is flattening, and the initial projections (which had the United States losing 1,635,000 people) aren’t nearly as grim as we thought.

But again, at what percent do we agree it is okay to come out of our caves and be social human beings again?

Per the CDC, at the time I write this, there are 632,548 confirmed cases in the United States of America. With a national population of roughly 330,600,000, that is 0.0019% of our citizens currently testing positive they are infected with the virus.

So what if I handed you a bowl full of 100,000 Skittles? What if I told you that you could grab a handful and you’d have a 0.000000019% of getting sick (not dying)? Would you take that chance?

Like Sam Cooke once said, “A change gonna come”.

Ah, such a great tune. This is where I zag a tad.

I know that I am not a doctor. God bless every doctor, nurse, resident, intern, specialist, and receptionist. The grueling hours they are putting in, the preventive measures they are taking to ensure we are treated if the virus affects us...it cannot go unnoticed and unappreciated.

I’m not an expert on COVID-19, nor am I an authority on disease control. I’m not a social economist or a financial risk analyst. I’m just a Suns fan. I’m aware people are dying; that fact is not even remotely lost upon me.

Given all of what I am not, I know that my opinion is an unpopular one: We are fast tracking our nation into an economic contraction because we don’t want to get sick.

Here comes Sam Cooke again...“It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die...”

Although what we are doing is preventing the spreading of the virus, other areas of our economy are disintegrating. The service industry is in shambles, unemployment is at 22 million, and small businesses are getting crushed. Families and businesses are holding on, hoping and praying that they will see the other side of this crisis.

“...cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky...”

The backbone of America is wavering and tired like a sweaty George Foreman on a sweltering October morning in Kinshasa, Zaire. The virus is rope-a-doping us into financial submission. We are so focused on the short-term medical metrics the virus produces that the long-term consequences are being lost in the shuffle.

The psychological effects of continual isolation are unknown. The added stress of trying to stay physically healthy, produce sustainable income, and be socially responsible is challenging. Depression, anxiety, and mental health are areas of concern that will tax our healthcare system long after COVID makes its exit. (If you are having troubles with stress and coping, please read the CDC’s recommendations for addressing and managing your mental wellbeing).

The rabbit hole of destruction goes on for miles. What about those seeking assistance for addiction and relied on group therapy to assist in their recovery? What about those forced to stay inside and choose substance abuse as an escape? What will the impact be on families in which physical abuse is occurring?

Arizona has a population of roughly 7.2 million. Projected COVID-related deaths will be 1,005. That is 0.00014%. Yes, that number would be higher if social distancing wasn’t the expected modus operandi. We will never know the true impact of how many lives were saved because of the preventative efforts society has taken. But how many lives will be destroyed due to economic uncertainty and mental health?

“...it’s been a long, long time coming. But I know a change gonna come.”

I know, I know, I’m being dramatic. It hasn’t been a long time coming; it’s been a damn month. And the social injustices Sam Cooke was singing about back in 1964 far outweigh the fact we’re asked to sit at home and play PS4. I’m not hear to preach or change your mind, although the last few paragraphs may contradict that statement. ‘Tis not my intent.

But still, what is the breaking point? When will the risk to function any version of normal be socially acceptable?

The odds-makers are providing us some insight into the sporting world, saying that July 1 is a date in which we might feel some routine once again. They are giving us odds on hope.

Your guess is as good as mine. This is unprecedented territory; there is no rule book for this kind of global pandemic. I’m just a furloughed-from-work Suns fan. What do I know?

When will sports resume?

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not important. But when they do, it will be sign that we are headed in the right direction. Just as the world shut down following the NBA’s queue on March 11, so too will the world begin to start back up. And sports will be the venue in which we will rediscover “social un-distancing”, with the roar of a crowd and high-fives all around. Heck, I might even do one of those lame fist-bump-into-an-explosion moves. Zeros effs given.

Flip a coin. Heads, sports starts before July 1, tails it’s after. 50/50 odds, right? In the meantime, I’ll do my part, distance socially, record some podcasts via Zoom, and wait. I’ll sweat this out like the fourth quarter of a 215½ total points bet and I bet the under.

Perhaps one day we’ll all be able to drive up to Vegas and bet on a couple of games once again. Because the alternative, betting if Carole Baskin will be found guilty of murdering Jack Lewis (-2500), is starting to sound normal.