Bruno (he asked us to use his nickname) woke up on March 12 expecting it to be a glorious day. After all, it was his 50th birthday, a milestone in anyone’s life. The sun had a brilliant presence and the waves from the Pacific Ocean pounded along the beach. For a Jersey kid now living …
Bruno (he asked us to use his nickname) woke up on March 12 expecting it to be a glorious day. After all, it was his 50th birthday, a milestone in anyone’s life. The sun had a brilliant presence and the waves from the Pacific Ocean pounded along the beach. For a Jersey kid now living in Orange County, Calif., life couldn’t get much better.
It was also the dawn of March Madness. Conference tournaments were getting underway, and to someone like Bruno, a sports bookie for nearly 20 years, postseason college basketball meant money. Yes, March 12 was a promising day when it started.
“Everything was rolling,” Bruno told The Post in a recent telephone interview. “We were coming into March Madness, which makes a third of the money for the year. Everybody is betting. It’s the Super Bowl for the whole month.”
Before Bruno could start celebrating, his world changed, as it did for millions across the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic hit hard. The PGA Tour canceled the Players Championship; the Big East Tournament was canceled at halftime of a game between St. John’s and Creighton; and soon the Big Ten, SEC, ACC and the Atlantic 10 had all canceled their tournaments.
By the next morning, the upcoming NCAA Tournament had been canceled and the PGA Tour suspended. The NHL and Major League Soccer also suspended their seasons, and Major League Baseball training camps closed. The UFC and Top Rank Boxing canceled all of its upcoming events.
“March 12, 2020: The Day the Sports World Stopped,” was how the NY Post chronicled the historic day.
By the end of his 50th birthday, Bruno was out of a job.
“I looked at the computer and basketball was done, and then every sport after that followed suit,” he said. “It was like dominoes. I knew something was probably going down because of the virus. But I didn’t think they would postpone every sport. All of sudden, I realized, I’ve got no money coming in.”
His birthday wish was that the suspension of sports would be brief and the impact of the Coronavirus be minimal. It hasn’t worked out that way. The sports world stopped six weeks ago, impacting a multitude of people who rely on sports for their income, including bookmakers.
Legal online sites and apps like BetMGM are offering unique wagers on the upcoming NFL draft in states like New Jersey, where it’s legal. Bets can also be made on table tennis taking place in the Czech Republic. That’s about it.
“There’s nothing going on right now,” Bruno said. “Some books are putting up lines on the weather, and virtual racing. But everybody’s sports book is f—-d. Nobody is making money.”
Bookmakers can’t file for unemployment or a small business loan even though it’s not the seedy business it once was. Hosting an offshore betting site is the other side of sports betting that doesn’t require placing a bet with a clerk at a casino or racetrack where sports gambling is permitted.
Offshore sports gambling began to surface in the mid-1990s, when on-line books started to surface in Costa Rica, where it was legal as long as the server originated from there. Bruno acquired his book about 16 years ago when 40 clerks were used to answer telephones. Today individuals can place bets on their personal cellphones at sites like Perhead.com
Times were good until COVID-19 hit and crippled the sports gaming industry. New Jersey sports books alone lost nearly $370 million in sports wages in March, according to PlayNJ.com estimates.
“Nobody is making money now,” Bruno said. “We’re just hoping something picks up. Baseball, even if they play with no fans, that’s something. I’m worried about college football starting on time. Football is the bread and butter.”
According to the American Gaming Association, of the 26 million who bet on Super Bowl LIV, nearly 5 million placed their bet on an online or mobile platform either through a legal operator or an illegal offshore book. It represented a 19 percent increase from last year.
With several sports leagues planning to start or resume their schedules as early as May without a live audience, Bruno and every other bookmaker is hoping the good old days will return soon.
“We’re all sucking wind right now but what else can we do?” he said. “Everybody is in the same situation. We’re hoping something picks up. Anything.”