Casino's new sports book feels effects of virus: no games, no bettors

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Detroit — The MotorCity Casino's pristine new sports book had everything a fan could want Friday afternoon, except sports.

Sixty-seven televisions, including one wide enough to kick field goals over. Fifty-four touch-screen betting kiosks. Dozens of overstuffed chairs. Six closed betting windows where a helpful FanDuel Sportsbook staffer would have stood ready to help, if only there were something live to help with.

The sports book's comfortable chairs sat empty on their second day of service.

But in a classic case of atrocious timing, the NBA and NHL had hit the pause button, conceding at least a temporary defeat at the microscopic hands of COVID-19. The weekend's pro golf tournaments had been canceled.

Down the empty road, the NCAA basketball tournaments had been scrubbed, and baseball's spring training was suspended. No balls, no bats, no pucks, no pompons.

Bets could still be made on a mixed martial arts event Saturday, to be held at an empty arena in Brazil, and also on the eventual champions in college football and the major professional leagues.

With no games to show on its many televisions, the only action on screen at the MotorCity Casino's new sports book Friday afternoon was President Donald Trump's coronavirus news conference.

At about the time the second quarterfinal in the cancelled Big 10 men's basketball playoff should have been racing to a conclusion, though, the only television with a picture was tuned to President Donald Trump's coronavirus press conference.

A seven-figure, two-level betting parlor than had opened barely 30 hours earlier had exactly one occupant. She was checking Facebook on her phone.

"I don't gamble," said Audrey Hooke, 59. A retired nurse from Detroit, she also doesn't pay much attention to sports.

Retired nurse Audrey Hooke of Detroit had the FanDuel Sportsbook to herself Friday afternoon.

With most everything else she had planned to do over the weekend ruled out by pandemic precautions — Detroit Symphony Orchestra, "Fiddler on the Roof," library, Charles H. Wright Museum — she had come to inspect the changeover from a dance lounge called Chromatics.

She made her way to the bar area of the sports center on the main floor at the back of the building — past the roulette wheels, past the three-card poker table with the big guy wearing a "Polka Fever. Catch It!" T-shirt, past the video blackjack with a flat-screened woman in a shimmery gown saying, "Don't you want to play with me?"

Detroit Lions legend Barry Sanders had been there Thursday morning to place the first bets, $20 apiece on the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions to win championships.

There had been pomp and circumstance and heavy investment at all three Detroit casinos, taking advantage of a change in state law that OK'd what used to be the province of bookies, offshore websites or Las Vegas vacations.

Friday, there was quiet.

Big screen televisions and comfy seating areas are seen at the BetMGM Lounge located inside the MGM Grand Casino in Detroit on Wednesday,  March 11, 2020 the first day for sports betting at the Detroit casinos.

Two employees in dark suits came out of a back room near the unstaffed betting windows. "It's wild," one of them said, referring to the fact that it wasn't.

They said they expected some customers on Saturday, when the UFC matches from Brasilia begin at 3 p.m. Otherwise, the coronavirus is the ultimate referee, deciding when the world goes back to playing games.

On the enormous television, after the press conference, an announcement popped up on the screen:

"Live on CNN. Biden vs. Sanders."

Turns out it's a debate, not a prize fight. No wagers accepted.

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn