Pandemic Ping Pong: Pa. sports fans double down on table tennis during shutdown

“Desk tennis is a distraction from the boredom of the pandemic.”

  • By Miles Bryan/Keystone Crossroads

(Philadelphia) — For Matthew Nelson, March 12 will all the time be the day that sports activities died.

The night time earlier than, the NBA suspended its season. The MLB adopted swimsuit the subsequent day. So did the NCAA, scrapping March Insanity. Sports activities have been now canceled: one other sufferer of the coronavirus outbreak.

“It was like D-Day or one thing,” stated the 29-year-old, who lives in South Philadelphia together with his fiance.

Nelson, who performed baseball at Drexel College, has all the time been a large sports activities fan; when Pennsylvania launched on-line sports activities betting final yr he began dabbling in that as nicely. He slid $200 he received enjoying fantasy soccer right into a sports activities betting app account, and since then has been making a number of bets per week, solely wagering his winnings. Placing $15 on a university basketball recreation amped up the stakes, he stated, and was a great way to remain related together with his buddies.

“All my buddies have been doing it. They textual content within the group textual content about who they acquired,” Nelson stated. “It makes it extra attention-grabbing.”

When sports activities shut down, Nelson moved on. However one night time, unable to abdomen extra videogames and uncertain what else to do, he determined to drag up his FanDuel app, simply to see what was there. He discovered an expert table tennis match, broadcast reside from Russia. Two gamers, one in pink and the opposite in blue, swatting the ball backwards and forwards, alone within the room aside from a scorekeeper working an old style, mechanical flipboard.

Nelson didn’t have a lot expertise with the sport apart from enjoying in his basement rising up, however that didn’t matter. It was a sport, it wasn’t cancelled, and he and his buddies may guess on it.

“Desk tennis is a distraction from the boredom of the pandemic,” Nelson stated. “[But the players] have some severe talent. They maintain the paddle the other way up of their palms, they do trick pictures, they’re diving throughout the ground. It’s actually entertaining, actually.”

Nelson is considered one of 1000’s of sports activities followers throughout Pennsylvania who’ve begun inserting bets on table tennis, darts, and the opposite obscure competitions which have soldiered on whereas the remainder of the world is on pause.

“I believe there are individuals which might be curious about sports activities betting, and are curious about no matter content material they will get,” stated Melanie Gross, vp of on-line on line casino and sportsbook at Caesars Leisure, which runs Harrah’s Philadelphia On line casino.

“It’s a studying lesson for all of us.”

‘Like tennis, however smaller’

Pennsylvania betting operators have watched in astonishment as ‘fringe’ video games have rocketed to the highest of their sportsbook listings over the past month.

“A hundred percent of the betting motion we’re taking is on jap european soccer and table tennis,” stated Matthew Cullen, senior vp of interactive gaming and sports activities at Parx On line casino in Bensalem, Pa.

“If you lose all the key core sports activities…you need to do one thing completely different,” stated Johnny Avello, director of race and sports activities operations at DraftKings. “You will get used to it, you’ll be able to handicap it.”

State regulators have additionally been scrambling to react to the shutdown of mainstream sports activities: the Pennsylvania Gaming Fee Management Board has rushed to confirm sporting leagues like Belarussian soccer and Russian table tennis over the previous couple of weeks, stated spokesperson Richard McGarvey. The PGCB has to substantiate leagues are organized and have guidelines earlier than Pennsylvania gamblers are allowed to guess on them.

For Rush Road Interactive, which runs the net platforms for Rivers On line casino (previously Sugarhouse) in Philadelphia and Rivers On line casino Pittsburgh, greater than 75% of April’s betting quantity was on ping-pong. President Richard Schwartz stated his firm has been working advertisements on the radio and social media to get the phrase on the market are nonetheless some sports activities left to guess on.

Its ping-pong pitch? “Like tennis, only smaller.”

The corporate has additionally been livestreaming the matches. “That’s been a giant a part of the success,” Schwartz stated. “it provides [people] much more consolation, and confidence, and delight, to be betting on one thing they’re watching in actual time.”

Some sports activities bettors say the livestream is a giant a part of why they maintain inserting bets — although not for the explanation Schwartz gave.

“My buddies have been speaking about [table tennis] and we thought it was hilarious that it was even a factor you would guess on,” 21-year-old Temple pupil Alex Zelger wrote through Instagram. “However then we came upon you’ll be able to really watch the matches by way of the FanDuel app. And the manufacturing high quality is so unhealthy, it’s simply comical.”

A sport of final resort

Whereas table tennis and some different lesser-known sports activities are having fun with a flip within the highlight throughout the pandemic, most Pennsylvania sports activities betters aren’t partaking.

The whole amount of cash wagered on sports activities on-line in Pennsylvania fell by about 60% from February to March.

These losses are significantly painful for state authorities, which raises more tax revenue from commercial gambling than any other state in the country.

“[Table tennis’] ‘reputation’ doesn’t rival any US sports activities that it’s changing,” stated FanDuel spokesperson Kevin Hennessy.

Specialists anticipate ping-pong’s newfound followers to show fairweather when mainstream sports activities resume.

“That is simply one thing to attempt to maintain some stage of curiosity going with clients till they will reopen main league sports activities,” stated Clyde Barrow, a gaming business guide.

Probably the most lasting legacy of the pandemic ping-pong peak in curiosity might find yourself being extra individuals enjoying.

Ken Weinstein is the founding father of the Trolley Automobile Desk Tennis Membership in Northwest Philadelphia, which he claims is the one full-time table tennis membership within the area. There’s a giant distinction between batting round a ping-pong ball, he stated, and what occurs on the membership.

“If you play in your basement, it’s a recreation,” stated Weinstein, 56. “If you prepare 5, six, seven days per week, and play in tournaments frequently… it’s a sport.”

Weinstein stated curiosity in table tennis has been trending up in the previous couple of years within the space. However with solely fifty full time members on the membership, it has loads of room to develop. He’s hopeful that focus from starved sports activities followers will assist with that.

“Betting on table tennis is perhaps an effective way to let individuals know there’s one other stage to this recreation,” Weinstein stated.

Matthew Nelson stated he might place an occasional guess on table tennis as soon as main sports activities re-open, however he expects his viewing habits will return to regular.

He does, nonetheless, plan to play extra table tennis. “Betting on it has jogged my memory of how a lot enjoyable it may be,” Nelson stated.

That should wait, although, till Philadelphia’s stay-at-home order is lifted: Nelson’s ping-pong table is in his mum or dad’s basement.

Keystone Crossroads is a statewide reporting collaborative of WITF, WPSU and WESA, led by WHYY. This story initially appeared at

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