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The NBA Gives Sports Betting an Alley-oop

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It has been a little over a decade since the much-publicized Tim Donaghy scandal where the then veteran referee was investigated by federal officials for allegedly betting on NBA games. Now, the league has gone full circle, becoming the first professional league to completely embrace legalized sports betting.

But NBA Commissioner Silver is pushing the envelope further so to speak, signing off on the NBA distributing real-time data for betting odds. This decision means that “real-time, official NBA data will be used to generate in-game betting odds and then be distributed to licensed sportsbooks in the U.S.” Said data will be provided by two sports data providers which the NBA has worked with closely for several years now: Genius Sports and Sportradar. This arrangement, like the league’s decision to embrace legalized sports betting, is a first among major American sports leagues.

The NBA, according to vice president and head of fantasy and gaming Scott Kaufman-Ross, recognizes the value of official data feeds provided in real time in growing live, in-game betting. This type of betting, in which odds are given for wagering all throughout a game is extremely popular in the UK, in particular. But it is fast gaining popularity here in the U.S., and will likely continue its rise given two factors. 

The first reason, obviously, is the NBA’s decision to provide real-time data for its games. The second is the Supreme Court declaration last May legalizing sports betting in the U.S. To date, sports betting is now legal in seven states, including Pennsylvania. Several others — Michigan, California, Connecticut, Illinois, and Iowa, to name five — are all but ready to follow suit, with full-on discussions already happening. This is certainly welcome news for Americans who want to bet on sports online. Most likely, NBA games will have their fair share of bettors, on account of The Association’s popularity and its standing as the premier basketball league in the world. The NBA’s protracted season and its long-drawn-out playoff format also means more betting opportunities — a minimum of 2,460 games in the regular season alone, plus more in the postseason.

Curiously, the man in the center of 2007’s betting scandal — disgraced former referee Tim Donaghy — believes that the league he once served for so long so this future coming; so, instead of playing the waiting game, the NBA jumped the gun so to speak to maximize betting-related revenue. But betting on NBA games (and legalized sports betting as a whole) can be a slippery slope warns Donaghy. In particular, Donaghy believes that eventually, “someone is going to get themselves into some trouble” because “there’s going to be more avenues to gamble.” 

So far, though, things are smooth sailing as of the moment. Reaction to the NBA’s decision to “assist” betting on league games has been ambivalent, if not muted. Then again, sports betting in the U.S. has been legal for all of six months only. The NBA’s foray to it, on the other hand, is still in its infancy. Nothing is certain just yet, though the hope is that the league made the right decision on this matter.

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