The NBA is set to enter the virtual sports betting business in the US and Europe. A product called NBA Last 90 will debut next season offering lottery players around the world always-on access to bet on 90-second simulated games complete with actual highlights and footage from the NBA.
In a press release, Highlight Games announced it has reached an agreement with the NBA and the NBA Players Association (NBPA) to launch a new betting product allowing players to bet on the outcomes of the final 90 seconds of simulated NBA games.
The basic idea is players will be able to bet on the winning team, who will score next, the total number of points to be scored in the last 90 seconds and more. Meanwhile, the NBA and NBAPA will supply a “vast archive” of actual footage from past games and pull highlights randomly to create “millions of possible outcomes.”
Imagine walking up to a virtual sports betting terminal to bet on a fictional game between the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. You decide to bet on the winning team and total number of three-pointers made during the last 90 seconds. You place your wagers and then watch as the terminal pulls footage from past matchups between the Bulls and Pacers to create a compelling but random outcome.
You can see a preview of NBA Last 90 in action here.
The press release explains NBA Last 90 will be launched by licensed operators around the world, beginning with the European market. NBA Last 90 games will then make their debut in the US at a later point during the upcoming 2019-2020 season.
In a statement, the NBA’s Head of Fantasy & Gaming Scott Kaufman-Ross said this:
“Virtual sports betting is incredibly popular in regions around the world and we’re looking forward to giving fans another innovative way to engage with the NBA. With NBA Last 90, Highlight Games has created a new spin on virtual sports basketball and delivered an authentic gaming experience utilizing real NBA content.”
Here’s Highlight Games CEO Tim Green on the deal:
“I’m delighted to announce this groundbreaking partnership with NBA and NBPA. Highlight Games has an ambitious strategy to enter the nascent US sports betting and virtual sports market, and this collaboration is the first important step on that journey.
“NBA Last 90 features real NBA stars and real NBA highlights, differentiating it from any other virtual sports product on the market. We’re confident that players around the world will be instantly engaged with NBA Last 90.”
Virtual Sports Betting Explained
For the uninitiated, virtual sports betting is a fast-paced form of gambling based on the outcomes of fictional games. It looks and feels like actual sports betting, but new games run every few minutes and the outcomes of every game are generated by a random number generator.
In some ways, virtual sports betting is more like playing slots or keno. There is no amount of research that can be done to change the odds or gain an advantage over the house.
Naturally, virtual sports betting isn’t something strategic handicappers will find all that exciting. However, strategic handicappers aren’t exactly the most attractive target market for operators anyways. These games are for the casual gambler who likes the sporting aspect but without waiting around all day for real-world games to be played.
NBA Tapping into Big Potential
Virtual sports betting isn’t much of a thing here in the US yet, but it does have a lot of potential judging by numbers coming out of other, more mature markets overseas.
In the United Kingdom, for example, industry statistics published last year revealed virtual sports betting machines generated £170 million in revenue between October 2016 and September 2017.
That may sound like just a drop in the bucket compared to the UK’s overall £14.5 billion gambling industry, but it was still the third-largest individual betting sector behind only soccer and horse racing betting. Virtual sports are even bigger in Italy, where they account for roughly 20-25% of the country’s entire betting handle.
The fast-paced nature of virtual sports betting makes it an attractive prospect for operators and action junkies alike. Unlike traditional sports betting, virtual sports machines offer a defined and controllable risk that is not reliant upon highly-skilled oddsmakers. All the operator has to do is configure the machine, set it out and let it play through game after game every few minutes all day long.
Of course, there are some problem gambling concerns that should be addressed. If virtual sports betting is to become a high-volume business in the US, it will only happen because players are feeding many dollars into those machines.
The total market potential in the US will depend largely on how many states decide to get in on the action.
The Michigan and Oregon lotteries are also toying with the idea of adding virtual sports betting to their game lineups. Some Nevada sportsbooks have had launched virtual sports betting since 2016 as well.
As more states get on board, the market for virtual sports betting has nowhere to go but up. The NBA’s decision to join the fray may prove to be quite a savvy business move a few years from now.
This latest move from the NBA is just the latest in a series of decision showing the league’s sense of where sports betting is headed in the US. The NBA’s Adam Silver was the first league commissioner to officially call for the legalization of sports betting way back in 2014.
Last year, the NBA reached agreements with Sportradar and Genius Sports to supply official data to betting operators licensed in the US. Under that deal, the NBA grants both companies the exclusive right to sell data to in-person and online sportsbooks for managing in-play wagers and settling bets.