NBA's foray into the world of virtual sports betting

NBA Last 60: Can Virtual Sports Betting Find Real Success In The US?

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Gamesys Group Plc, which operates New Jersey online casinos for Virgin and Tropicana, announced a content deal with Spin Games LLC this week. Along with a few new slot titles, the deal includes the virtual sports betting game NBA Last 60.

NBA Last 60 comes from British developer Highlight Games, differing from most virtual sports titles in its use of real NBA footage.

How NBA Last 60 works

Most virtual sports use digital animation to present a match simulation. NBA Last 60 instead pulls clips from a library of highlight reels from recent NBA seasons, stringing them together to simulate the final 60 seconds of a fictitious game.

Players first select which two teams they’d like to compete. The game then presents them with odds for a few different types of wagers, such as game-winner or the total number of points. Once the player finishes placing their bets, the game randomly generates a minute’s worth of highlights for the player to watch and resolves the wagers.

Highlight Games first announced a 90-second version of the game, NBA Last 90, in June 2019. The 60-second version was added later, presumably at operators’ request.

Gamesys is the third operator to strike a deal with Spin Games to offer the title. Resorts signed up for NBA Last 90 in August. Golden Nugget followed in October, opting for the 60-second version. The game isn’t available on either site yet but should be soon, as the Golden Nugget announcement specified a launch in early 2020.

NBA LAST 60 ON DEMAND from nick on Vimeo.

Soccer in Europe, hockey coming soon

NBA Last 60/90 is Highlight’s second title. Soccerbet is already available through many European sportsbooks, and it’s become particularly popular in Italy.

As the title suggests, Soccerbet functions similarly to NBA Last 60. Instead of portraying the final minute of a fictitious game, however, it presents the clips as if they were the highlight reel for a full match, including goals, near misses, and yellow or red cards.

Highlight is also working on an ice hockey title that is along the same lines. It does not have a deal in place with the NHL, though, so it currently relies on international hockey footage.

Highlight building on European success

Soccerbet’s reception in Europe provides some cause for optimism about the NBA title. Since making its Italian debut in 2019, it has been adopted by many of the country’s sportsbooks and displaced more traditional virtual sports to become the number one product in the category.

Greece looks to be Highlight’s next target. In December, it announced a deal with the Greek Football League to use its footage for virtual sports betting.

On the surface, basketball seems like an even better fit for this type of product than soccer. The game’s pacing means highlights can occur several times in 60 or 90 seconds. Compared to Soccerbet, NBA Last 60/90 manages to feel a bit more like the dying seconds of a close game than a postgame recap.

No guarantees for the US market

That said, the level of immersion is far from perfect.

Naturally, the players on the court (and sometimes even the colors of the uniforms) change from clip to clip. Also, there is a pronounced fade to black between each. Still, Soccerbet’s results suggest bettors prefer live clips to computer-generated footage, even with these flaws.

The bigger problem in the US will be a lack of familiarity and visibility. The European sports-betting market is mature. Punters are used to betting online, and seeing virtual sports alongside real ones is not uncommon among sportsbooks.

This is not yet the case in the US, where no sportsbook offers virtual sports betting at the moment.

Where the option exists, it’s invariably alongside online casino games (and usually buried). Golden Nugget offers virtual soccer and five types of virtual racing, for instance, but they appear on the 14th of 15 tabs. They’re not even visible without scrolling for anyone not using a high-resolution display.

A superior product might not be enough

It’s not clear whether it would even be possible to include virtual sports in a US sportsbook. That depends on lawmakers and regulators, and whether they deem betting on a simulated match to be more akin to sports betting or casino games. As it stands today, no US sports betting law includes provisions for virtual sports.

The demographics for sports betting and casino gambling are quite different, of course, but the market for virtual sports is arguably more similar to the former than the latter.

With official league branding and real footage, NBA Last 60/90 certainly stands a greater chance of success in the US market than generic simulations. The success of live dealer casino games also suggests the demand for products that blur the line between live and virtual gambling.

Nonetheless, there’s no established market for this specific type of product. A lot depends initially on how well it can be cross-marketed to conventional sports bettors. That, in turn, hinges on regulatory discretion, and on how much operators and the NBA are willing to invest in promoting the product.

Top photo: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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