A strong argument could be made that NBA betting provides more heart-stopping action than any other combination of pro sports and real money wagers. Between the speed of the game and sudden changes in momentum, basketball provides more ups and downs for bettors in a single game than just about any other sport.
The NBA and sports betting have been linked to one another for longer than most care to admit, but now NBA betting is expressly legal in a growing number of states right here in the United States. No longer is it necessary to book a flight out to Vegas or deal with questionable underground betting sites; legal online betting has finally come to the USA.
Taken as a whole, the NBA can be considered an early adopter among sports leagues when it comes to the legalization of sports betting in the United States.
The league itself maintained a staunchly anti-legalization stance up until the Supreme Court issued its fateful decision to overturn the federal sports betting ban, but individual league officials were among the first in pro sports to acknowledge the merits behind pro-legalization arguments.
In fact, the first post we ever published here at BettingUSA.com addressed that very topic. In November 2014, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver surprised the nation with an op-ed he penned for the New York Times that called for sports betting to be legalized, regulated and taxed.
The NBA’s official position as an organization remained opposed to sports betting, but having the league’s commissioner support legalization in such a public manner was a big deal. In those early days, having such a well-known personality endorse legal sports betting was both surprising to and welcomed by legalization proponents.
The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down PASPA prompted the NBA to change its position on sports betting from one of adamant opposition to one that acknowledges the reality: legal sports betting is here to stay.
States with Legal NBA Betting
Multiple states have legalized sports betting since the Supreme Court’s decision in May 2018 and more are in the process of doing so. Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Rhode Island were among the first states to pass sports betting laws and additional states have introduced legislation to follow suit.
States with legal sports betting
- Blue: Online/mobile betting is legal
- Green: Land-based sportsbooks only (no online betting)
- Red: NBA betting coming soon; legislation fully passed but waiting for implementation
You can also see our state-by-state guide to sports betting for more information and updates where you live.
If you live in a state that does not have legal NBA betting, you may want to look into daily fantasy sports (DFS). Daily fantasy contests are not quite the same as sports betting, but they do serve as a worthy alternative because you draft a team of players, earn fantasy points based on your fantasy team’s performance in the real world and can earn significant money if you’re good (or lucky).
Like traditional betting, fantasy sports contests add a layer of excitement to the viewing experience because there is real money riding on the outcome. Every basket, block, assist, steal and turnover has a direct impact on your team’s score and how much money you stand to win. Most importantly, fantasy sports sites are legal in most states.
The two largest and most reputable DFS sites are:
How the NBA Benefits from Legal Sports Betting
As one of the nation’s major pro leagues, the NBA stands to capitalize on the legalization of sports betting in a major way. Although the NBA was originally opposed to sports betting, the league has now embraced the significant financial opportunities presented by legalization
A study conducted by The Nielsen Company on behalf of the American Gaming Association estimates that the NBA alone stands to earn an additional $585 million in annual revenue if and when legal sports betting becomes “widely available” in the United States.
Nielsen arrived at that number by considering the financial impacts of increased fan engagement combined with money paid directly to the league by operators in the form of sponsorships, advertising and data rights agreements.
First, Nielsen considered increased fan engagement as a result of widespread legal sports betting. Surveys conducted by Nielsen have shown that when people bet on sports, they tend to tune in longer and more often. This includes watching sporting events on TV, checking websites and so on.
Increased fan engagement results in the NBA being able to charge more for advertising rights, sponsorships, merchandise and ticket sales. If sports betting becomes widely available in the US, Nielsen estimates that would generate an additional $425 million in revenue for the NBA every year.
Sports betting operators and gambling companies are expected to further add to that revenue by purchasing sponsorships, reaching advertising deals with NBA teams and purchasing official data from the leagues in order to provide in-play betting markets to sports bettors. Nielsen estimates those investments will provide the NBA with an additional $160 million per year.
In all, it adds up to well over half a billion dollars in additional income for the NBA alone.
Official NBA Stance on Sports Betting
Even after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver published his New York Times op-ed in 2014, the NBA itself did not hold an official position on sports betting. The NBA did join the NCAA and other sports leagues in suing to stop New Jersey from legalizing sports betting, but the organization never released a formal statement detailing its exact opinion on legalization.
The NBA finally explained its position in November 2017 while the New Jersey sports betting case was still working its slow way through the court system. Even while that case was still pending – and with the NBA still opposing New Jersey – NBA Senior VP and Assistant General Counsel Dan Spillane made a surprise announcement: the league would begin lobbying Congress for federal sports betting legislation.
In a statement, Spillane said this:
“Our general position on sports betting is that it should be legal and regulated, pursuant to a federal framework that has minimum safeguards. We have advisors in DC, we have legislation that we’ve been pulling together, talking with other stakeholders in this area. It’s a slow process…”
Dan Spillane later explained the NBA’s position in more detail during the 2017 Sports Betting USA Conference in New York:
“Our view has been that if it’s illegal [at the federal level], that’s not the right way to start off legal sports betting in the United States — under a cloud, doing it in violation of federal law. At the same time, we agree with New Jersey on the ultimate policy outcome: that having legal, regulated sports betting in the United States is the best place to end up. The disagreement is just on how to get there.”
To summarize, the NBA did not oppose all sports betting. The NBA simply wanted federal legislation rather than a state-by-state approach.
After the Supreme Court issued its decision on May 14th, 2018, the NBA issued a statement once again clarifying its position in light of the decision. Here’s what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, this time as a part of an official NBA statement:
“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court opens the door for states to pass laws legalizing sports betting. We remain in favor of a federal framework that would provide a uniform approach to sports gambling in states that choose to permit it, but we will remain active in ongoing discussions with state legislatures. Regardless of the particulars of any future sports betting law, the integrity of our game remains our highest priority.”
Why does the NBA want federal sports betting legislation?
The NBA’s support of federal legislation likely derives from two key desires. First, it does make sense from the league’s point of view to have a clear set of regulations that are the same across all fifty states.
This would simplify things such as monitoring for suspicious betting activity across state lines, make it easier for the NBA to develop nationwide policies for its players and employees, assist in marketing deals and more.
However, national integrity organizations such as SWIMA have formed already even without federal legislation. The state-by-state approach may actually end up proving just as effective at addressing some of the NBA’s key concerns.
Secondly – and remember this is all just speculation on our part – the NBA probably feels more confident that it can extract certain concessions from federal lawmakers than it can from lawmakers across the various states that are in the process of legalizing sports betting right now.
The NBA and some other sports leagues have made it clear they want certain provisions to be include in any sports betting law, whether at the state or federal level:
- Integrity fee: The NBA has lobbied state and federal lawmakers for a 1% fee to be taken off the top of all betting handle and paid to the leagues. The NBA has at times justified the integrity fee as necessary to offset the costs of protecting the league from corruption, and at other times as a sort of royalty fee for hosting the games people bet on
- Data rights: The NBA wants any sports betting law to mandate that sports betting operators purchase data directly from the leagues. Data is used to settle wagers and to provide bettors with in-play betting markets
- Control: The NBA wants to be able to have control over which types of wagers may be offered on its games. Specifically, the league wants to be able to tell sportsbook operators not to accept wagers it believes are more susceptible to corruption – such as the first pitch of the game or other things that rely on the performance of a single athlete
The NBA has had a tough time convincing lawmakers to acquiesce to these demands at the state level so far. Even in West Virginia, where the NBA had a sympathetic ear in the form of Governor Jim Justice, the league’s requests were denied. So, it is no surprise to see the NBA pushing even harder for federal legislation.
The odds of federal legislation grow longer as an increasing number of states legalize sports betting, but there is still some desire among certain members of Congress. Amid that uncertainty, the NBA has wisely chosen not to put all its eggs in the federal basket.
Even though the league has failed to convince lawmakers to force sports betting operators to use league data, the NBA has still found ways to capitalize on its unique position by striking data rights deals with major gaming companies in the free market.
For instance, a deal between the NBA and MGM Resorts International established MGM as an “official gaming partner of the NBA.” The deal includes not only advertising rights, but also gives sportsbooks managed by MGM access to real-time data straight from the NBA and WNBA.
The NBA made two more important data deals in November 2018 by teaming up with Sportradar and Genius Sports. Both companies specialize in providing data to sports betting operators, and the deal gave both permission to deliver official NBA data to licensed sportsbooks in the United States.
Best NBA Betting Sites
One of the nice things about having legal NBA betting in the USA is that finding a quality sportsbook has become so much easier compared to the old, offshore days. If you live in a state with legal sports betting, the best thing you can do to get started on the right foot is make sure you know which sites are licensed and which are not.
First of all, you can always consider our recommendations. We are strictly focused on legal online betting in the USA. We do not work with offshore providers or unlicensed NBA betting sites of any type. You will only find legal, licensed sportsbooks here.
Another thing you can do is visit your state’s gaming regulator online. Most states’ regulators publish a list of licensed betting sites for the public to see. For example, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has a list of licensed operators published here.
Once you find a site that is on your state’s list of registered online sportsbooks and visit, one last thing you can do is check to see if the site has the state’s logo printed somewhere on the front page. To use New Jersey as an example again, all NBA betting sites registered there display the logo you see here.
For the most part, all licensed betting sites are quality places to bet on the NBA and other sports. Laws that have been passed in various states so far have all been quite restrictive in terms of who may be licensed to accept wagers, both in-person and online. It’s almost impossible to go too far wrong as long as you stick with legal, licensed NBA betting sites.
However, there are exceptions to every generalization. We have found in our experience that some sportsbooks are better than others when it comes specifically to betting on the NBA online.
There is also the occasional odd exception such as Golden Nugget Online, which is prohibited by law from accepting wagers on any NBA games involving the Houston Rockets due to the owner also having an interest in the Houston Rockets.
This restriction is not due to anything the Golden Nugget has done wrong; it is simply a function of New Jersey gaming law that any person with a significant ownership stake in a sports team is not allowed to accept wagers on that sport.
The law actually prohibited Golden Nugget from accepting any wagers on the NBA at all at one point, but it was relaxed in 2019 so that the sportsbook may now accept wagers on all NBA games except games in which the Houston Rockets are playing.
Lawmakers tend to put these sorts of restrictions into legislation out of a desire to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest and to avoid any repeats of unfortunate scandals such as the one involving former NBA ref Tim Donaghy.
How to Bet on the NBA Online
If you have ever placed wagers at a retail sportsbook in the real world, you won’t have too much trouble getting situated the first time you bet on the NBA online. Everything is the same for the most part aside from the obvious difference that it all takes place online.
If you do not have any experience, that’s fine too. Sportsbooks purposely make it as simple as possible to learn the ropes because they want your business. We’ll start with an explanation of how NBA betting odds work and then move on to describe the various types of bets you’re likely to encounter.
How NBA Odds Work
The main thing to know up front is how the odds work. Here in the United States, all odds are displayed in the moneyline format by default. Whenever someone talks about “the line,” they’re usually referring to the moneyline odds offered for one team or another.
What the odds represent is how much money you stand to win for betting on one team or the other. In almost every NBA matchup, one of the teams is bound to be considered the favorite over the opposing team. Your sportsbook’s oddsmakers are paid good money to set the odds for each team so that both sides of the bet attract action.
For instance, let’s say the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers have a game scheduled tonight and the general consensus is that the Trail Blazers should easily win this game. If your betting site offered even money odds on both teams, everyone would bet on the Trail Blazers and put the sportsbook in a position where it is at risk of losing a bunch of money.
So in this case, the oddsmakers might decide that odds of +300 for the Suns and -500 for the Trail Blazers are fair. If the oddsmakers get it right, they’ll find customers lining up to bet on each side of this game. Then, the sportsbook can pay the winners with the losers’ money and hopefully book a small profit with anything left over.
Mind you, this is a basic example, but it works for illustrative examples.
Now, the thing to understand is what those odds mean. Let’s look at how that wager might be displayed at your favorite NBA betting site.
- PHO Suns: +300
- POR Trail Blazers: -500
We can see straight away that the Suns are pretty heavy underdogs because they’ve been given odds of +300. The plus sign means you stand to win a payout larger than your original wager. The +300 means you will win $300 for every $100 risked. Or, you could say you stand to win $3 for every $1 risked.
If you were to bet $100 on the Suns and win, you would be paid back a total of $400. That would include $300 in winnings plus the return of your original wager.
Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers have been priced as heavy favorites at -500. The negative odds tell you that your potential profit will be less than your original wager. In this case, betting $500 on the Trail Blazers would yield $100 in profits. You could say that you need to risk $5 for every $1 in potential profit.
If you were to bet $500 on the Trail Blazers and win, you would be paid back a total of $600. That would include $100 in winnings plus the return of your wager.
By setting the odds in this manner, the sportsbook has created a wager in which an argument could be made for taking either side. The Suns may be underdogs, but the juicy payout is tempting. On the other side, the Trail Blazers should win the game, but you’ll have to risk more for a smaller payout.
Moneyline odds work nicely when you bet in nice round numbers, but it’s not always intuitive exactly how much you stand to win when you bet odd amounts. Today’s NBA betting sites make it easy by providing a digital betting slip that shows how much you are risking and how much you stand to win before you submit your wager.
Below is an example of the betting slip in action. Here, we have chosen a bet of $40 on the Utah Jazz at odds of -114:
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the -114 means you need to risk a little bit more than you stand to profit. In this case, betting $40 at -114 means you stand to win $35.20 for a total payout of $75.20 once the return of your original wager is counted.
Types of NBA Bets
Online sportsbooks are quite creative when it comes to designing basketball wagers. If you visit an established betting site, it is not uncommon to find upwards of 100 different wagering options. Many of the wagers are just variants of one another, but there are several main types of bets to be had.
- Moneyline Bets: A straight moneyline bet is a simple wager on which team will win the game. This is the type of bet described in our examples above.
- Point Spreads: Point spreads tend to have odds that are closer to even money, but make up for the skill disparity by specifying one team must win by X points in order for wagers on that team to be considered winners. For example, if the Suns are priced at +12.5 points, this means they can lose the game by up to 12.5 points and your wager on them still wins. If the Trail Blazers are priced at -12.5, it means they need to win by 13 points or more for any wagers on them to win. Half-points are often used to avoid ties.
- Point Total: The point total is just a wager on how many points in total will be scored in the game. The bookmaker might set the total at 211 points and you would place a bet on the combined score being more than 211 or less than 211.
- 1st Quarter / Half Time Wagers: All of the wagers described above can also be constructed for just a quarter or half the game. For example, you might want to bet on the Suns being up after the first quarter. In that case, you would win if the Suns are ahead at the end of the first quarter no matter what happens in the rest of the game.
- Race to X: A race wager is you betting on which team will reach 5, 10, 15 and so on points first. If you bet on the Trail Blazers to be the first team to score 15 points, you win if they reach that total before the Suns do.
- Props: This category serves as a catch-all for everything else not involving who will win or how many points will be scored. Sportsbooks come up with all sorts of proposition wagers on a regular basis. You might find props for which player will score first, how many free throws will be made and much more.
- Parlays: Parlay wagers take two or more individual bets and then wrap them into a single wager with a higher payout. For example, you could bet on the winners of three different NBA games, select the “parlay” option on your betting slip and then win a big payout if all your predictions are correct. You can win substantial payouts with parlays, but the catch is that the entire bet is lost if you get just a single prediction wrong.
In-Play NBA Betting
In-play betting differs from traditional betting in that wagers can be placed during games. They may last as long as however much time remains in the game or they may last just a few seconds depending on the bet in question.
For most of us here in the USA, our experiences with sports betting were limited to doing it the old-fashioned way until recently: we had to get our bets in before tip-off and then passively watch the game to see how our bets performed. This is how it has been done in Vegas for years and it’s still how most people in the US bet on sports today.
In-play betting, by comparison, is an action-heavy game because the tip-off is when the action begins. As you watch the game on TV, you can place an almost unlimited number of short-term wagers on all manner of things such as next team to score, whether or not both free throws will be made and much more.
There are two main purposes of in-play betting. First, it’s just a lot of fun. In-play NBA betting completely changes the game by giving you action from tip-off to buzzer. As you watch with smartphone in hand, you’ll have a huge number of bets to choose from that change constantly throughout the game.
Secondly, in-play betting can be used as a hedge option. If you bet on the Trail Blazers to win the game but halfway through you just don’t like the way they’re looking, you can place an in-play wager on the Suns and try to unload some of your risk. Just beware – the odds change constantly while a game is in progress, so you have to choose your spots carefully.
If all this still sounds a bit odd or foreign, just check it out sometime the next time a game is on. Truly, the NBA and in-play betting are a match made in heaven. With new wagers opening constantly and basketball being such a quick, back-and-forth game, you’ll probably find in-play betting quite thrilling.
And on that note, keep in mind that it is very easy to go through a lot of wagers during a game. If you plan on doing any in-play NBA betting, it would be wise to set a budget and stick to it so you don’t accidentally blow through a big chunk of your bankroll in a single game.
Daily Fantasy NBA
If you’re still waiting for your state to legalize sports betting, that does not necessarily mean you have to sit on the sidelines in the meantime. Daily fantasy NBA contests are legal in most states today and offer a very close alternative to actual sports betting.
In fact, the daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry played an important role in helping sports leagues such as the NBA become more comfortable associating with sports gaming. FanDuel and DraftKings went on a major spree reaching partnerships with NBA teams back in 2014/2015 and proved pro sports could actually coexist with gaming companies and still maintain the integrity of their competitions.
Best Fantasy Basketball Sites
Daily fantasy basketball sites provide the platform for short-term leagues contested among fans. In short, your goal is to draft an NBA or CBB team capable of racking up stats and smashing the competition for a real money payout. You can pit your team against a single opponent heads-up style, compete for millions of dollars in large tournaments and everything in between.
Many fantasy websites offer professional and college basketball DFS, but new players are best served starting with the largest fantasy sites:
Starting with DraftKings or FanDuel is a safe bet because both are reputable, financially stable and open to customers from most US states. Additionally, both offer beginners-only contests that allow total newbies to get a taste of the action without having to deal with highly-skilled players.
Are Daily Fantasy NBA Contests Legal?
In most states, yes.
Real money fantasy NBA contests are legal in all but a handful of states here in the USA. You can see a full list of states where DFS is legal here, but the odds are good you live in a state with legal daily fantasy.
Is Fantasy Basketball A Worthy Alternative to Actual Sports Betting?
This is somewhat a matter of opinion, but we think daily fantasy sports are actually quite a nice stand in for full-fledged sports betting while you wait for your state to legalize. Some of the skills you learn in daily fantasy (namely research and emotional control) will serve you quite well when your state joins the party.
Daily fantasy contests take up a bit more time than singular sports wagers because in DFS you have to pick an entire lineup. This involves making numerous picks and more research than is typically employed by people placing traditional sports wagers. On the other hand, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.
The research skills and habits you pick up in daily fantasy will carry over to sports betting quite nicely. Although most sports bettors do not conduct much research prior to placing their wagers, the skilled bettors most certainly do. Getting into the habit of in-depth research while playing daily fantasy will most likely result in better results when you make the switch to real sports betting.