Juan Soto's last-minute positive coronavirus test changes odds, signals a new reality for sports bettors too

·3 min read

Thursday night’s game between the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees was going to be the first game among the four major professional American sports in more than four months.

It didn’t take long to realize a new reality, for sports and the sports betting markets. Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, one of the best players in MLB, tested positive for COVID-19. That news broke roughly four-and-a-half hours before the game.

There are many layers to that story that are much more serious than sports betting, but it is also a reminder to gamblers that this year will be much different.

Yankees’ odds shoot up after Juan Soto news

Anyone who bet the Nationals as a home underdog on Opening Day and did so before 2 p.m. Eastern time suddenly had a ticket on a team missing its best power hitter. They also had questions about if any other Nationals players were exposed and would have to sit out.

The odds were adjusted, of course. The Yankees shot up to a -162 favorite at BetMGM shortly after the news. A parlay BetMGM promoted for the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers to win on Opening Day went from +150 to +125. An MGM spokesman said there was a $40,000 bet on the Nationals at +115 and a $10,000 bet on the Nats to win the first five innings, also at +115. There was also a $25,000 bet on the Yankees at - 135.

Aside from MLS, NASCAR and the PGA Tour, there have been very few American sports to bet on during the pandemic. In that way, the first game of the MLB season was a big one for everyone, including bettors. We’re already reminded that coronavirus will be a part of the sports discussion in all ways possible.

Washington Nationals' Juan Soto will sit out the season's first game against the Yankees. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
The Washington Nationals' Juan Soto will sit out the season's first game against the Yankees. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Betting early might not be as advantageous

NBA and NHL are set to restart soon, and the NFL is still planning to start the season on time in early September. What happened with Soto could repeat itself in other leagues, of course.

Many sharp bettors want to bet early if they feel the point spread or odds will move. Getting ahead of a shift in the point spread is one of the basic tools veteran bettors use. Those bettors who want to get ahead of point-spread moves by betting early might think twice about that now. Part of the process this year has to be concern about late-breaking tests. In football, betting early in the week to get the best value on a line has always been sharp. This year that will include betting and hoping teams don’t have positive cases forcing key players to sit out.

The most important thing is Soto and his health, as well as the health of his teammates. But one of the first major games in the return to sports, featuring the defending World Series champions and one of the favorites to win the title this year, was a stark reminder that things will be much different in 2020. That includes the sports gambling world too.

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