Legal Betting, New Technology to Improve NBA Following in the US

Let's face it, sports betting did have its dark times.

Without enough oversight and regulation, corruption in sports was running rampant, hurting the reputation of athletes and referees (accused of selling out even when they were, in fact, totally fair) and that of the betting business as well. In the mid-1990s, the US decided to ban all sports betting (with a handful of exceptions) while at the same time, Europe and other jurisdictions decided to regulate it, strictly enforcing the rules on the market.

The history of sports betting in the United States of America

The USA has always been pretty extreme when it comes to controversial businesses. Just think of alcohol and the Prohibition, a 13-year period during which the production, distribution, and consumption of alcohol was banned across the whole Union. This didn’t stop people from buying and consuming alcohol, of course – counterfeiting and unauthorized distribution were running rampant, filling the pockets of criminal organizations. While the Prohibition did decrease the number of alcohol-related medical conditions, it boosted crime and violence, showing that a blanket ban on anything is doomed to fail.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise that the prohibition on sports betting had pretty much the same effect. When the US banned almost all betting in the US, people turned to underground and offshore online bookmakers. The US betting market grew exponentially but the government hasn’t seen a dime from this activity.

Meanwhile in Europe

In Europe, sports betting and gambling were not banned – they were strictly regulated, and the regulations were enforced. Several major betting groups emerged in the mid- to late 1990s, and they have risen to prominence around the world. Most of them are British (brands like Betfair, Bet365, Gala Coral, and others) and some of them are based in Sweden (like the Kindred group), France (like Betclic), and GVC Holdings, a major international group with several brands under its umbrella.
These major players on the betting market have formed an industry group that effectively protects the sports betting market – and the sports themselves – from unlawful influence.

The Wind of Change

At the same time, in the US, legal betting was virtually non-existent. This until a ruling by the US Department of Justice overturned the two-decade ban, giving states the right to regulate sports betting as they see fit. While specialists have been arguing that sports betting is no longer the shady business it once was (even the offshore bookies welcoming US-based bettors were licensed) and that legal betting would benefit the world of American sports, the major leagues in the US were very hard to convince.

Finally, after the DoJ's ruling, they gave in, embracing legal betting instead of fighting it. Now, the NBA - one of the most vocal opponents of legal betting in the US before - is embracing betting and combines it with new experiences and technologies to counter the decrease in following it has seen in the last few years.

Speaking at the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley this summer, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said what many have thought before: that sports (and the NBA, specifically) are competing against every other form of entertainment available today for the ever-decreasing attention span of the viewer. In the upcoming versions of the NBA app, he said, the new opportunities presented by technologies like augmented reality and the newly legalized sports betting will be implemented. This means constantly updated odds, betting advice to keep in mind, new camera views seen directly from one's smartphone, statistics, and everything else put right where the fans can reach them the easiest. "What can we do to make those games more of a lean-in experience? Providing statistics during the games, providing more information about the players, providing new camera angles, new ways to predict to produce them, augmented reality. And we’re experimenting in virtual reality.", Silver told the CNBC at the time.

We live in a world constantly flooded with entertainment of all kinds, both fictional and real - and sports are, basically, a form of entertainment. The NBA, along with all other sports leagues in the US and beyond, need to do whatever they can to stand out of the crowd, to keep their fans engaged and entertained. And the key to this is embracing the change that has happened in the world in the last two decades.