Arizonans are only days away from being able to place legal bets at a sportsbook or on a mobile device, but the raging Covid pandemic coupled with the low-vaccination rate of the Arizona Cardinals could complicate matters for bettors.
The 2021-22 National Football League kicks off on the same day legal off-reservation betting in the state will begin – on September 9. Three days later the Arizona Cardinals will begin its season, which for the first time in history will consist of 17 games rather than the usual 16. And for the second consecutive season, the pandemic will be a factor.
The NFL already announced it has no plans to postpone any games due to players testing positive for the virus. In fact, it’s the opposite. Teams will be forced to forfeit if not enough players are healthy to perform on gameday.
The Cardinals are one of the worst teams when it comes to the Covid vaccination rate, which means they are at a disadvantage to teams that have reached the suggested 85% threshold and even more so for away games.
Players who receive the vaccine can go about their business as if it’s a regular season. Those who do not are required to take tests every day and practically cannot leave their hotel rooms while traveling. Unvaccinated players also will be required to wear masks, social distance, and can’t participate in full team activities with teammates.
Cardinals’ star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins publicly announced his intention not to receive the vaccine and even left open the possibility to retire at the peak of his career if the league forced him to get his shots.
“Never thought I would say this, but being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the NFL,” Hopkins said in a now-deleted tweet.
There’s some irony to the Cardinals being one of the worst teams in the league for receiving the vaccine, given that Arizona’s widely recognized state-run facility operated at the team’s home venue State Farm Stadium for several months this year.
In terms of proposition bets (picking an over or under for stat projections) Hopkins’ decision could be a bad look for Arizonans who want to cash in on one of the best NFL players.
Johnny Avello, director of race and sports operations with DraftKings, one of the most prominent fantasy sports betting companies, talked to Arizona Capitol Times about what new and amateur bettors should know about placing bets during a pandemic.
Avello said the 2020-21 NFL season had a couple of workaround games where teams played a few days after they were supposed to or some had to move around to different weeks altogether, which became challenging. However, he said DraftKings is user-friendly and will work with the gamblers to help them maximize on winnings when circumstances are out of their control.
“Our rules state that [professional athletes] have to play a specific amount of games for you to have action on that bet. They have to play them all. But here’s the way we handle it. Let’s say that the Cardinals win total is nine, and the Cardinals had 10 wins [as the prediction] and there’s two weeks to go and because of COVID the last two weeks get cancelled … we would go ahead and pay that bet off,” Avello said, as an example.
In that scenario if the team won six games the bettor would lose because it would be impossible to win 10 games even without the cancellations, he said. And if there was seven or eight with cancellations, the bettor would receive a refund, Avello added.
“That’s gonna’ be a refund because you never had a chance to get there,” he said.
A spokesman for DraftKings would not provide how much the company refunded during 2020 because it would put them “at a competitive disadvantage.”
“We always try to do what’s right for the customer,” communications director Stephen Miraglia said.
For betting on player stats, it’s a little more complicated, but Avello said they take everything into account. So, if Hopkins would miss multiple games for Covid-related reasons he may not hit the over on his projected 1,350.5 receiving yards or 7.5 touchdowns, as DraftKings currently has projected.
Avello said it’s all on a case-by-case basis, but if they think the bettor “is not getting a fair shake” then they would likely refund the bet.
His advice for those looking to get their feet wet with sports gambling is to make sure the rules are being followed. That’s the top issue that comes up from patrons causing the most confusion, Avello said.
“If the rules state that a team has to play all their games for you to have action, know that, and use that when you’re making your wager,” he said.
For baseball, Avello said, know how many innings need to be completed for a game to count. Four and a half innings (or 15 outs completed with the home team leading) must be completed for a game to be official.
“If you’re a new bettor you might not realize that there even is a set of rules out there that we have to follow that is authorized by the state’s gaming board,” Avello said.
His final piece of advice for new bettors: “Start off slow,” he said. “Crawl before you walk and walk before you run.”