We’ve come a long way regarding gambling in the NBA. Talking about gambling was frowned upon for decades, but things have changed recently. Sports wagering has become legal in numerous states over the past 10 years, and the NBA has capitalized on the nation’s interest. FanDuel and DraftKings became official partners with the NBA a few years back, and sports betting is more prevalent than ever.
Betting History in the NBA
In 1931, sports gambling became legalized in Las Vegas, Nevada. That was the case for over 85 years, but the first sportsbook wasn’t opened until 1975. Delaware was the first state to completely legalize sports gambling in 2018, and we’re up to 30 states over the last five years. While simple wagers on sporting events of all kinds have been a part of history, the scale and complexity have grown in recent years.
What Percent of Games Go Over and Under the Total?
The total (or over/under) is the predicted points scored between both teams. Sportsbooks set these numbers, and they do so with great accuracy. That plays out in the historical data, with the over winning 49.7 percent of the time since 2003 and the under hitting 50.3 percent. It’s been slightly different over the last five years, with the over hitting at a 50.3 percent clip and the under at 49.7. It’s interesting to see those totals flip-flop, but it’s easy to understand why when looking at the style of play.
Betting Total Trends in NBA
It’s fascinating to look at the data over the last 20 years when evaluating the totals of NBA games. While it was relatively split from a league-wide standpoint, the under was the better bet for individual teams. Only 10 teams are above 50 percent for overs since 2003. Eight of those are in the Western Conference. There’s always been a notion that the Western Conference has been the more free-flowing, faster-paced conference compared to the East. The trend toward the over affirms that, even if the variance is relatively small. Denver has been the league leader since 2003 with a 52.1 percent clip towards the over. Memphis is the lowest with a 47.8 percent mark towards the over. That shows just how thin the margins can be and how accurate oddsmakers have become.
Why Have Totals Changed So Much Over Time?
The average NBA total in the 1990s and 2000s would sit below 200 points. It wasn’t surprising to see most playoff games be near 180-point over/unders. That’s not the case in today’s NBA, with the average total sitting closer to 220-230. We saw numerous games get above 240 this season, and these totals will presumably continue to rise. The reason for the massive bump is the style of play. Teams are playing faster than ever, with increased three-point shooting and free-throw attempts leading to huge scorelines.
Will That Trend Continue?
It’s hard to see the game regressing to what we saw 20 years ago. But it would also be surprising to see another spike in scoring. The NBA is trying to add more physicality to the game by cracking down on flopping and making rule changes to give some advantage back to the defense. Offense is fun, and players becoming more skilled naturally leads to increased scoring, but striking a balance on both sides of the ball is also important. For now, it’s challenging to see totals regularly in the 240s.
Against the Spread Trends in NBA
We can’t talk about NBA betting without mentioning the spread. That’s the most popular wager among basketball bettors, and there have been some fascinating trends from that perspective. The unpopular teams always seem to do better in this market, as evidenced by the Oklahoma City Thunder having the best record against the spread over the last 20 years. They’re the newest franchise, covering at a 52.2 percent clip since being founded. It would stand to reason that the Lakers would have the worst record against the spread with their popularity, but they are the second-worst. Minnesota takes the wooden spoon, winning just 46.6 percent of the time for their spread bettors.
What is the Gambling Landscape in the NBA Moving Forward?
It’s hard to see anything but growth for betting and the NBA. The increase over the last five years since legalization has been monstrous, and it feels like a matter of time before it’s legalized in all 50 states. Advertisements are prevalent, and in-stadium sportsbooks are popping up with significant frequency.