The NBA’s Return Will Provide A Boon For Sportsbook Operators

Posted on July 8, 2020 - Last Updated on July 7, 2020

This summer stands as one of the most unprecedented in history.

Is that obvious? Sure. The coronavirus pandemic has shut down states; countries, even. It has infected countless individuals and, unfortunately, claimed lives. It has led to temporary, and even permanent, business closures.

The one escape for millions — sports — has remained sidelined, for the most part, since March. We have a respite with the return of UFCNASCAR and the PGA Tour, not to mention niche sports such as table tennis, soccer and international baseball.

Major sports, though, have yet to grace our screens. Emphasis on “yet.”

But within a month, if all goes according to plan, three of the four professional leagues will be back in action. And one of them, the NBA, could produce one of the biggest booms for legalized sports betting. Being the first of the major four leagues to return, the pressure is on for the NBA.

The expectations — not to mention the anticipation — are unmatched.

It’s a spike that at least one sportsbook director believes could rival football.

NBA betting is making its way back

No matter how frequently we think about it, it still boggles the mind to think the NBA shut down operations four months ago. Despite COVID-19 spreading around the globe at a rapid rate, it seems as if one positive test by a public figure is what sticks out the most.

That was Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz. His case immediately made headlines, and the NBA was quick to suspend games and, ultimately, the season.

It took three months before the league, players, organizers and health officials could come to an agreement on an NBA season restart. And now, we sit at the doorstep: The NBA tips off with 22 teams on July 30 in OrlandoFlorida.

“We thought something would happen,” said Johnny Avello, director at DraftKings Sportsbook. “We had hope they were going to play somewhere. So when news came out about them playing in the Disney bubble, yeah, there was excitement. It was a great NBA season, and the fans wanted to see this finish up.”

Avello, who has rooted himself in sports betting for some 35 years, recalled NBA futures betting picking up as soon as the league made its restart announcement. In turn, that triggered the uptick in NBA betting. Fans are looking to cash in on the NBA’s reintroduction.

Oddsmakers tweak approach to setting NBA lines

The nitty-gritty of developing lines for NBA games can lose many in the weeds. Even seasoned oddsmakers can miscalculate or misread matchups or futures.

No longer is NBA action business as usual for those setting lines at sportsbooks.

“It’s an adjustment process daily by setting the lines for those games, because there’s no home-field advantage that we can see of yet,” Avello said. “Maybe a little for teams that don’t have to travel as far, initially. But then, [there will be] no fans, so what does that mean as far as the totals are going to be concerned? So there’s some unknowns here, and I think that’s the challenge for us as this thing continues to play out.”

Oddsmakers factor in team power ratings, dominated in the NBA by the likes of the Los Angeles LakersLos Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks — three favorites to win the world championship.

During a normal season, operators then consider home-court advantage. With the NBA resuming play at one neutral site, that aspect goes out the window. And, of course, line-setters must keep tabs on the health of players — not just injuries, but also any players who test positive for coronavirus.

“Business as usual” does not exist for NBA betting. But it doesn’t matter. After all, no matter how unusual, business is back.

By the way: NBA futures

As noted, 22 teams will convene in Orlando to play eight games of the regular season (ironic) before heading into the playoffs, potentially with play-in games for the eighth seed in each conference.

At BetRivers, the Lakers sit as the favorites to win the Western Conference at +160 as of July 1, followed closely by the Clippers at +170. The Bucks, meanwhile, remain the heavy favorites out of the Eastern Conference, with a -165 line to reach the NBA Finals, well ahead of the Boston Celtics and defending champion Toronto Raptors, each at +700.

Both BetRivers and DraftKings feature identical championship futures:

TeamOdds
Los Angeles Lakers+240
Milwaukee Bucks+250
Los Angeles Clippers+333
Houston Rockets+1200
Boston Celtics+1700

As for the MVP, the Lakers’ LeBron James has received 55% of wagers at BetRivers since the NBA announced its restart. Yet Milwaukee’s Giannis Anteokounmpo still sits as the favorite to claim the individual award, his -5000 line casting a large shadow over James’ +1000.

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NBA betting expected to be massive

In a normal year, the summer is a dead period for sportsbooks. Outside of niche sports, only baseball plays on.

If it hasn’t been made clear by this point, though, nothing about this year is normal.

Operators could have major leagues such as the NBA, NHL and MLB during July, August and September, when football season is expected to kick off.

While cumbersome for oddsmakers, such a stacked schedule provides ample excitement.

“Yes, it was great to have golf and NASCAR and UFC back, and they did really well,” Avello said. He chuckled and added: “But, when you look at the games that attract the most interest, that’s basketball. Football is one, basketball’s two and then baseball. To get one of the core sports back is going to be huge for us and the betting world.”

“We’ve seen record handle on every US sport that has resumed its season,” said Mattias Stetz, COO of Rush Street Interactive, “including UFC, NASCAR and PGA golf, which has showed that there is a great appetite for sports and sports betting in the US. NBA has always been one of the most popular betting leagues, and we expect it to hit the top spot immediately once it is back in action on July 30.”

How big could NBA betting be? Think football-like numbers. Avello is.

“I think it could be huge,” he said. “It could be football-like. Because not only do you have the games themselves, but you have the in-game wagering, which will be a big part of it, too. … I saw that football is talking right now of two preseason games instead of four. Therefore, if that happens, basketball could be the king all the way through August.

“Once football hits, it will have to share with another major sport. But I could see some huge numbers here, certainly for the first five weeks or so.”

Grant Lucas Avatar
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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sports writer who has covered the high school, collegiate and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield and Oregon State athletics, the Portland Trail Blazers and golf throughout his career.

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