Sports gamblers finding alternatives during COVID-19 pandemic

With a gap to be filled by the absence of major sports, betters have found new ways to satisfy the urge during the pandemic.


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Picking up a big marble concept for choice or advantage

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

Although PGA Tour golf has been back in action for nearly a month after a forced 11-week hiatus from tournament play because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many other major sports that are usually competing at this time of year are still waiting to resume or begin their playing schedules.

This has led to a complete lack of mainstream sports to broadcast live, which, in turn, has impacted a large industry related to sports entertainment: sports betting and gambling.

Despite its popularity, betting on sporting events is not legal in every state in the U.S. According to The Action Network, 22 of the 50 states, including Iowa, have legalized sports betting. Several other states are projected to legalize the practice over the next few years.

In the states where sports betting is allowed, the absence of normal American sports to gamble on, such as the NFL, NBA, or MLB, has forced some lesser-known sports to be thrust into the minds of those who enjoy having money on the line.

According to Sports Illustrated, the people who frequently put monetary wagers on major sporting events have turned to other alternatives such as pro table tennis, Belarusian football, simulated NFL games, and even the stock market.

But one of the biggest “sports” to come to light as a result of the need to bet during the pandemic has been marble racing. Watching marbles roll down a track with money on the line has become such a phenomenon that Jelle’s Marble Runs even made it onto HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

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Oliver had such a blast presenting the story on his show that at the end of the segment, he announced that the show would be the sole sponsor of the 2020 Marble League.

Jelle’s Marble Runs, the premier marble racing page online, was a YouTube channel created by Dutchman Jelle Bakker. The channel features various marble races and competitions. The events even have a play-by-play commentator.

“This isn’t just a YouTube distraction,” Oliver said on his show. “It’s a beautiful competitive event and the world needs those more than ever right now. Unfortunately, with times being hard, the league was struggling for money. This beautiful thing is in danger of going away just when we need it most. Or rather, it was in danger because it turns out, they’re not actually looking for a sponsor anymore. And the reason I know that is you are looking at the new sole sponsor of the upcoming Marble League tournaments. We are proudly sponsoring all 16 events over the next few months.”

Whether it’s gambling on video game simulations of major sports, soccer from halfway around the world, or putting money down for all the marbles, the adrenaline junkies that fuel sports betting around the U.S. have found ways to work around the absence of normal circumstances.

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