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How Sports Betting is Reshaping the NBA

It is fair to say that this trend has fundamentally changed the league and how we as viewers consume the product, which may not necessarily be a good thing.
Adam Silver has long advocated for the NBA's integration with the betting industry, and it's finally paying off

Adam Silver

For better or worse, we are in a massive period of change in the American sports world. The rollout of legal and licensed online sportsbooks on a state-by-state basis since the Supreme Court lifted the federal ban in 2018 has led to an explosion in the online betting industry.

According to a recent survey from SportsbooksOnline.com, more Americans are legally betting on sports than ever before. The advertising is completely inescapable on NBA broadcasts and adds to even more revenue for the league and teams.

It is fair to say that this trend has fundamentally changed the league and how we as viewers consume the product, which may not necessarily be a good thing.

A Major Revenue Stream

The NBA, under Adam Silver’s regime, has been quick to adapt to the changing landscape of the sports world in this regard. Silver was an advocate of legal sports betting before it was allowed, and there has been no shyness in embracing this trend leaguewide.

Why was the league so quick to hop on the bandwagon? Money, of course. There is an insane amount of money to be made in this space for individual teams and the entire league.

It was estimated by the American Gaming Association (a pro-betting lobbying firm) in 2018 that the NBA would stand to increase revenue by almost $600 million per year if betting was legalized. Given the amount of advertising you see for sportsbooks on any given NBA broadcast, that number feels like it may have been a conservative estimate.

This all means the betting is here to stay, and it would be hard to imagine the NBA taking its foot off the pedal anytime soon.

This has fundamentally altered how the league operates and how the product is presented to consumers. It’s like fantasy sports in the sense that it’s a new side game that adds more interest to the games. But at the same time, it is also gambling which unleashes a whole other can of worms.

Despite generating a ton of revenue for teams, many are concerned that the rampant promotion of these products could have a negative effect on the public at large, especially young fans.

The New Newsbreakers?

For NBA junkies, the Draft is one of the highlights of the calendar year. You barely have a week to catch your breath after the NBA Finals, and the Draft officially kicks off the start of NBA summers filled with drama, trades, and photoshops of every player in the league in a Lakers jersey.

This year, the NBA Draft had a wild subplot in the days leading up to the big day. For weeks it looked like Auburn’s Jabari Smith was a shoo-in for the top spot with the Orlando Magic. Chet Holgrem was set to go second to the Thunder, and it seemed Paolo Banchero would drop to the Rockets at No.3. NBA insiders like Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania had made it seem like the only thing left to do was have Adam Silver step up to the podium and announce the picks.

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But then something interesting happened. The odds started shifting drastically regarding who the Orlando Magic would select with the No.1 overall pick about two days before the draft. Major bookmakers like Caesars Sportsbook and PointsBet had Paolo Banchero seem like a distant third option to the odds-on favorite seemingly overnight. Up until minutes before the draft was set to start, the major NBA reporters were adamant that the top 3 would go as projected: Smith-Holgrem-Banchero.

Lo and behold, Vegas was right on the money with this one. Banchero ended up going first overall, and Caesars scooped Woj.

While this may seem like a funny subplot, it’s fair to ask what this means for the future of the sport. A drastic shift on a major event like this is borderline unprecedented without some solid public reporting out there to back things up. But here, it seems as if the oddsmakers were breaking the news right under our noses.

It will be interesting to watch how this goes moving forward and if bookmakers become de-facto news sources like they were for this year’s Draft.

Too Close for Comfort?

On March 9th, NBA superstar Kevin Durant replied to an angry heckler on Twitter, saying, “When them parlays don’t hit. This is for years of slander from NBA fans; I'm grateful I have this much power now.” Durant’s tweet was obviously a joke, but it raises an interesting point.

One of the old anti-betting arguments was the idea of players, coaches, and other personnel getting too involved, and then the integrity of the game is called into question. From the Black Sox Scandal to Tim Donaghy, there is reason to be cautious when huge sums of money are on the line.

Just this offseason, the NFL suspended Atlanta Falcons Wide Receiver Calvin Ridley for the entire upcoming season after he was found to have bet on his team while he was out injured. Again, no foul play is known to have occurred, but it’s likely not the last time we’ll see something like this occur.

Ideally, the legal structure the industry now operates within should stop any real wrongdoing, but in the age of social media, how connected we are to athletes makes this field even more of a possible slippery slope.

How Much is Too Much?

It really can’t be overstated how much of a culture shock it is now to see just how much gambling-related advertising is ever-present on NBA broadcasts. If you traveled in a time machine from 10 years ago, it would be shocking to see the radical shift that has taken place.

Many NBA teams have gambling sponsors on the court, while broadcasts have their own partners that actively get promoted during the game.

A few years ago, the gambling regulatory agencies in the UK (where this has been a mainstream part of the sporting culture for much longer) sought to curb the effects of problem gambling by banning any sort of advertising for sportsbooks during Premier League matches being broadcast in the UK. More recently, the Premier League has looked to ban shirt sponsorships featuring gambling companies.

We’re still in the growth phase of sports betting in the US, with many more growing pains set to come along the way. It is possible that in a few years, we’re in a place where advertising of these companies will have to be reined in a bit more, just like it’s been across the pond.

Whether you’re pro or anti, there is no denying the profound effect that the rise of online sports betting has had on the NBA. For now, it looks like this trend will only grow stronger in the coming years, so we better all get used to it.

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