Legal NBA Betting
Since it’s such a fluid and dynamic game, basketball enjoys a healthy share of sports wagering action. And while the NCAA’s March Madness tournament sees more betting than the NBA playoffs typically do, legal NBA betting tends to move more money on the whole than does its collegiate counterpart.
In fact, legal NBA betting does pretty well overall. In the hierarchy of the most bet-on sports in the US, the NBA seems to sit at second place. While it has zero chance to usurp the top spot from the NFL, people still love betting on the Naismith sports experience.
Indeed, in the age of the super-team, the NBA is attracting more bettors than ever before. There’s something about expecting a rout every game that makes folks take ridiculous, ambitious bets. It’s also easier – or seems easier – to pick the right props and futures when you’ve got all-time dynasties and stat-chasing also-rans on the board. Legal NBA betting is enjoying a sort of resurgence in the public eye, no doubt helped by the current sociopolitical climate both on and off the basketball court.
When PASPA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, was passed in 1992, one of its chief proponents was then-NBA Commissioner David Stern. He believed sports gambling to be the devil and characterized it as an immediate nationwide crisis. Ostensibly predicated on the “integrity of the game” or some similar emotional blather, the true motives for Stern and company are less clear.
Maybe Nevada and the casino industry had some sort of financial hold on the league. Maybe the NBA really believed that legal sports betting would cause players to throw games for money and that outlawing the activity would actually prevent people from taking part in it. Or maybe Stern simply foresaw what a giant headache Michael Jordan’s gambling debts were going to be. Regardless, increasing numbers of people have been betting on the NBA ever since PASPA passed, rendering the prohibition not only useless, but laughably so.
Ironically, while it was Stern who helped PASPA get through Congress, it’s current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver who’s now pushing back hardest in the other direction. Hopefully, with Silver brave enough to say the “taboo” things about sports betting that the other major sports commissioners won’t, PASPA will soon be overturned or repealed, and the states can get back to the business of setting up their own sportsbook regulations. (For what it’s worth, now that he’s retired, Stern also thinks NBA betting should be formally legalized. Thanks, Tim Donaghy!)
You can bet on the NBA in two places: Nevada and the Internet (which sounds like a good name for a terrible band). However, you can’t place a bet in Las Vegas unless you’re actually there, as the Wire Act of 1961 makes it illegal to bet on sports across state lines. Or rather, it makes it illegal to accept sports bets across state lines. That means that licensed bookies in Sin City won’t take your long-distance bets because they could lose their livelihoods and go to prison, even as you yourself won’t get in any trouble whatsoever for trying to place them.
If you want to enjoy legal NBA betting, you’ll need to go to the same place you enjoy everything else: the Internet. Of course, now you only have about a million options for where to go from there for legal NBA betting. But don’t worry – we can narrow the list down to something a bit more manageable. Remember, all sportsbooks are not created equal. If you expect to make secure transactions and have your payouts honored in a timely manner, your options are actually pretty limited. Seriously, there are only a handful of legal NBA betting sites that are actually worth your while.
The best legal sports betting sites for legal NBA betting are Bovada, BetOnline, SportsBetting, and 5Dimes. Period. Each offers its own signature features, and each curates its own betting lines. You’ll need to shop around to see which site most appeals to you, but here are their main differences:
Bovada is the standard-bearer for the entire online betting industry. They’ve never missed a payout, and they’ve got incredible customer service. Their lines are usually pretty favorable, too. BetOnline and SportsBetting are great services in their own rights, offering way more payment options than Bovada (with the exception of American Express, which only Bovada takes for some reason). They’ve also got competitive site designs and share similar attention to detail when it comes to doing right by their respective user bases. 5Dimes is sort of the black sheep of the bunch, but it’s built up a solid reputation as having some of the zaniest and most creative prop bets in the business. If you want real alternatives to otherwise standard lines, you can’t go wrong with 5Dimes.
You certainly don’t have to, but most professional gamblers will tell you that it’s smart to have multiple accounts across many services. That said, you need to be sure to limit your memberships to one per site, because duplicate accounts may disqualify you from collecting your winnings (and can lead to full account suspension or outright banning). Always abide by your chosen sportsbook’s terms of service, and you will have no problems betting on the NBA.
The biggest benefit to having accounts at multiple online sportsbooks is that you are able to bet on the most generous of multiple lines for a given matchup. If the Lakers are three-point favorites at one site but six-point favorites at another, you can see why having two accounts might be the difference between losing and winning a wager. Sometimes it’s even possible to use two sportsbooks to bet on both sides of the same contest, and – due to their different lines – actually win both of them. This strategy even has a term: “playing the middle.” Yes, you can play the middle at just one sportsbook if you bet early and then again after the line shifts, but having multiple accounts with multiple services helps increase those odds greatly.
Aside from specific props and futures, the most popular NBA bet types are the same as those for all the other major American sports. You can bet on the point spread of a contest, its over/under total, or the straight win/loss outcome. Each type has its own strategies, benefits, and detriments.
NBA Point Spread Bet
The NBA point spread is most folks’ go-to bet. This is simply a sportsbook’s way of “handicapping” a matchup to get more people to take a chance on the weaker club. Essentially, it gives the perceived lesser team a few extra points. It’s a head start. Let’s say that the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. (Yes, I know that’s an unrealistic and unlikely matchup, but bear with me.) The spread might look like this:
Cleveland Cavaliers +8.5 (-110) at Golden State Warriors -8.5 (-110)
In this circumstance, a bet on the Dubs to win actually requires them to win by nine points. Otherwise, the bet loses. Similarly, a bet for the Cavs to “beat the spread” means that they can lose the game by up to eight points and still win the bet. (The number in parentheses is called the moneyline, and in this context, it merely shows how much money a bettor needs to post in order to win $100. The extra $10 is baked in to provide the bookmaker with a 10% “vig,” or take.)
NBA Over/Under Bet
Another popular wager in legal NBA betting circles is the over/under bet. Also called the totals bet, the over/under (usually denoted as O/U) is simply the combined final points total for both teams. The sportsbook picks a total, and bettors place wagers on whether the final scores will add up to go over or stay under that total:
Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors 216.5 O/U (-110)
In over/under betting, no matter which team wins the game, all that matters is how many total points are scored between them. If the Warriors beat the Cavaliers 119-97, their combined point total would be 216. Thus, an “under” bet would win.
NBA Straight Bet
The straight bet requires the gambler to simply pick a winner in any given matchup. Instead of handicapping the contest like they do via the spread above, sportsbooks simply attribute a different payout to opposite sides of the wager. In this case, an underdog always has a greater return than a favorite, and those different payout ratios are how sportsbooks guarantee equal action on both sides of the bet.
Cleveland Cavaliers (+260) at Golden State Warriors (-345)
Here, a $100 bet on Cleveland to win would yield a $260 profit, while a $345 bet for Golden State would only earn $100. The underdog will always be posted with a positive number, which is how much money is won on a $100 bet. The favorite will always be posted with a negative number, which is how much must be wagered in order to win $100. Again, these figures merely represent the wager:payout ratio – you do not have to spend a minimum of $100 on any individual bet. (Sportsbooks will always publish the minimum wager amounts for all of their offered bet types.)
What Is The Best Online Sportsbook Deposit Method?
If you need to get money into your online sportsbook account right away, your only options are Visa, Mastercard, and Bitcoin. (Bovada takes American Express, but none of the other major sportsbooks seem to.) Any other method, from personal check to wire transfer to money order – all take several days to finalize, and they all come with rather hefty fees attached.
The main thing to be aware of is how long you’ve got between your account running dry and the next big match to bet on. If you’re using any other deposit method than credit, debit, or Bitcoin, you should give a minimum of two to three weeks lead time before you expect to be able to gamble with that money.
What Payout Method Should I Choose?
The beauty of legal NBA betting at an online sportsbook is that you can tailor the experience to meet your individual financial preferences. Some users will only want to bet via personal check and receive paper payouts. Others will appreciate the quickness and efficiency of pre-paid credit cards. Still others will opt for less mainstream solutions. In fact, this last group probably wants to know:
Can I Use Bitcoin To Bet On The NBA?
Absolutely. In fact, it’s probably the single most recommended method for both deposits to and withdrawals from your legal NBA betting account. Transfers happen almost as fast as card-based deposits, with the added benefit of being much less likely to be rejected on nebulous “bank policy” grounds. Additionally, Bitcoin payouts are much faster than any other method, and they usually don’t have any processing fees attached.
Bitcoin is also good for gamblers because Bitcoin itself is a gamble. Over the last 16 months or so, Bitcoin’s value has skyrocketed by around 700%. But there is plenty of volatility there, too, and Bitcoin has been known to plummet several hundred dollars over the course of an afternoon. By funding your legal NBA betting via Bitcoin, you could easily double your money. You could also lose everything. Roll the dice!
What Are The Best Legal NBA Betting Apps?
There are no official apps for legal NBA betting. In fact, Apple and Google do not allow the big online sportsbooks to sell their wares on the App Store or Google Play, respectively. This may or may not have something to do with the companies’ interpretations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), but there’s never been any official comment on the matter.
Perhaps one day, those marketplace restrictions will change. Once PASPA is overturned or repealed, there’s a good chance that the newly “approved” sports betting industry will see representation across all forms of popular media. But you can just go to the sportsbook's site on your iPhone, iPad, or android and wager on the NBA.
Can I Get Arrested For Betting On The NBA?
If you do it drunk, naked, and in public, then probably. Otherwise, there’s really no legal precedent for such an outcome. Yes, people have been arrested and charged with illegal gambling before, but this is limited to cases wherein the suspect was caught engaging in serious crimes like money laundering, embezzlement, bank fraud, insurance fraud, and so on. If you’re just minding your own business and spending a few bucks at Bovada, nobody’s going to stop you.
Unless you bet on the Brooklyn Nets. Then you’re probably going to prison.