NBA’s New Virtual Betting Game Is More Proof That The League Is On Top Of Things

Written By Grant Lucas on June 24, 2019 - Last Updated on September 10, 2020

Starting next year, NBA offseason betting will become even more action-packed.

The NBA, along with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), have collaborated with Highlight Games Limited to develop an “innovative partnership” by creating a virtual sports betting game that legalized sportsbooks around the country — and the world — will be able to offer customers.

The game, dubbed NBA Last 90, is expected to hit the regulated sports betting landscape of the US and European markets during the 2019-20 NBA season.

Legal sportsbooks in America and across the pond will have the opportunity to include NBA Last 90 within their portfolios, not only at retail locations but also in mobile apps.

And it is yet another example of how the NBA continues to embrace the legalization of sports betting. How it continues to expand its brand because of it, becoming the first major US sports league to get into virtual sports betting. And how the NBA continues to be a trend-setter among all the leagues, which should follow in the NBA’s footsteps.

“The driving factor was finding new, innovative ways to engage with NBA fans through our content,” Scott Kaufman-Ross, head of fantasy and gaming for the NBA, said in an email. “Our research shows that global NBA fans are engaging more and more with virtual sports and virtual basketball, and so we wanted to bring those fans an authentic NBA experience rather than a generic one.”

How the game works

NBA Last 90 taps into the deep archives of highlights from recent seasons. But not just single-game highlights.

The “compelling virtual sports gaming experience,” as the press release described it, pieces together reels from multiple games. Consider the demo version, for example, which pits the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Golden State Warriors.

The matchup, which takes place in California, clearly features cuts from the two franchises’ multiple showdowns in the NBA Finals. Such as LeBron James’ iconic chase-down block of Andre Iguodala that helped Cleveland take down the Golden State dynasty in 2016. This came after a highlight of Steph Curry breaking down (double-dribbling?) James en route to a lay-up from the 2017 series.

NBA Last 90 rips moments from a variety of games featuring the two teams. That’s the idea. It collects this footage from any game between the two selected teams in order to produce millions of possible overall outcomes.

As found in slot machines, a random number generator will determine said results.

Peaking into NBA Last 90

A clock counts down the start of a given NBA Last 90 matchup. During this time, bettors will face several odds on which to wager.

In the demo, for example:

  • Who will win the overall game? Cleveland +150, Golden State -170
  • Will both teams score on their first possessions? Yes +210, No -250
  • Over/under 6.5 combined points during last 90 seconds: Over -110, Under -110
  • Over/under 0.5 total 3-pointers made during last 90: Over -200, Under +150

Bets will close within the final 10 seconds of the pregame countdown.

Bettors will see the overall score during this time, a tally that will continue running along with a counter that follows scoring exclusively during the 90-second clock.

The time is always running, and highlights are stitched together in a way that skips over down time, such as dribbling up the court or players milking the clock.

As these games feature real-game highlights, real-game play-by-play also comes along, which makes these “fake” games seem all the more real.

Once the 90 seconds are up, the horn blares and betting results are displayed to show bettors if they are winners or losers.

Virtual sports: The next big market?

Wagering on not-real sporting events is not new. Virtual horse racing has become popular in Europe, along with soccer, which Highlight Games has tapped into with its SOCCERBET game.

“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,” Highlight Games CEO Tim Green said in a release. “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.”

Here in America, esports has picked up steam, as shown by professional organizations such as the Overwatch League that features teams with their own home arenas. (The NBA even has its own NBA 2K League.) Pennsylvania, as another example, boasts Xpress Sports virtual games via the state lottery. Las Vegas annually hosts the Golden Tee World Championship, which has become popular among bettors.

For the NBA to recognize the come-up and lengthy shelf life of virtual gaming is ground-breaking. The league and a game developer — not a sportsbook or a casino conglomerate — created a way in which for gamers, bettors and general fans can enjoy the globe’s most recognizable league even after the Larry O’Brien Trophy is hoisted.

“The NBA is increasingly becoming a 12-month sport and our fans are engaging daily,” Kaufman-Ross said. “With gaming serving as a core part of many of our fans’ content consumption — especially overseas — we wanted to empower gaming operators to engage with NBA fans year round.”

NBA continues to blaze trails

This isn’t even the first time the NBA has set the tone.

As New Jersey fought for state-sanctioned sports betting, the NBA sat across the courtroom as an opponent. Yet Adam Silver, the league’s commissioner, saw the upside of striking down PASPA. (Even if his agenda surrounded integrity fees.)

Last summer, when state legalization began in earnest, the NBA started landing sports betting partners (MGM Resorts InternationalBetStars and FanDuel Sportsbook), becoming the first major US league to do so.

The NBA has already seen the incorporation of betting during game telecasts (see: NBC Sports introducing interactive broadcasts). The likes of FanDuel and Fox Bet also aim to develop live streaming services within their online sportsbooks.

It seems like there are no restraints on expansion. The NBA is certainly out to prove such. Entering the virtual gaming space is just more evidence of that.

“Embracing legalized wagering creates both opportunities and challenges for the NBA,” Kaufman-Ross said. “There are significant revenue and engagement opportunities for the league in the world of legalized betting, but it also presents challenges — as expansion of wagering poses a threat to the integrity of our games — and we need the industry to help give us the tools to protect our sport.

“Of course, NBA Last 90 is not ‘sports betting’ and does not impact what’s on the court, but it provides another way for the NBA to work together with the industry to engage our fans and protect our sport.”

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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.

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