BetMGM expecting record digital numbers for UFC 249, as live mainstream sports betting finally returns

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On May 1, legal sports gambling was open for business in Colorado. And bettors who had been waiting for the opportunity to place a wager for years looked at the BetMGM app menu and saw ... table tennis, darts and not much else.

It’s obvious that when live sports comes to a halt due to coronavirus, sports betting is affected too. That’s why Saturday is a big deal.

UFC 249 is scheduled for Saturday in Jacksonville, and that will mark the first mainstream American live sporting event on the schedule since mid-March, not counting horse racing. Nothing against the NFL draft, but this feels like a milestone.

It’s a milestone in the sports betting world too. Bettors have gotten creative the past few months, breaking down baseball in Korea and NFL draft props, but it’s good to have something familiar back. BetMGM vice president of trading Jason Scott said the company expects to have a record digital handle for the UFC card.

“It’s fantastic to be talking about it in the office again,” Scott said. “Things are starting to head the right way. It’s starting to bubble up.”

UFC 249 will get plenty of attention from bettors

One UFC card doesn’t mean everything is fixed, of course.

While the digital handle will be very good, and Scott said the bets have come in consistently through the week, the overall numbers will still be down because casinos are not open. There’s no walk-up traffic for the fights, even if the BetMGM app is open. Still, Tony Ferguson vs. Justin Gaethje is an attractive main event for sportsbooks because Ferguson is a consistent draw, Scott said.

[Check out the best bets for UFC 249 from Yahoo Sports combat columnist Kevin Iole]

There are other sports returning. The German soccer league Bundesliga is slated to restart May 16, a golf event with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will fill a void, and NASCAR has a series of races starting on May 17.

Still, Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL haven’t announced when they will have games again, and there’s concern about the NFL season starting on time even with the schedule being announced on Thursday night. The biggest concern, Scott said, is what happens with college football. There are different questions with college sports because campuses might not be open by fall. And college football is big part of MGM’s sports betting year.

“It feels everything else will be back in one way or the other,” Scott said.

Small steps first. UFC 249 might be a sign of change, with a few other sports planning to follow shortly after. Progress.

Tony Ferguson will headline UFC 249 with a fight against Justin Gaethje. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
Tony Ferguson will headline UFC 249 with a fight against Justin Gaethje. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Sports betting numbers predictably down

Sports betting has been down, certainly. The Nevada Gaming Control Board’s numbers for March showed that sports books won $1.45 million in the month, down 95.5 percent from March of 2019. The cancelation of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, an enormous annual event in Las Vegas and elsewhere, was a huge blow. Then April saw virtually no live sporting events in the United States.

But there has been action. Scott said the sports that are going on have broken records, taking in double or triple their usual volume.

“People are playing Belarus soccer, Asian baseball,” Scott said. “It’s a time for them to try out things they never would have thought about.”

The biggest event in American sports since mid-March has been the NFL draft, and that ended up being a revelation for BetMGM.

“The draft broke our record, more than any other previous drafts,” Scott said. “It’s probably a record that will never be broken.”

These events have filled the void to a degree, but betting on the KBO Doosan Bears or how many running backs will be drafted in the first round isn’t the same as betting a UFC fight. No matter which side of the window you’re on — or more accurately, which side of the app — having UFC 249 on the schedule is exciting.

“Wagering aside, it’s just good to have sports back,” Scott said.

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