Normally, the Olympic Casino is open 24 hours a day, but now it closes at midnight as part of its safety protocols related to the coronavirus pandemic. Fans had been watching the Mavericks and Sacramento Kings inside the casino's sports betting space. At closing time, casino employees turned the TVs around to face outside, allowing customers to watch the conclusion of the game on the big screens through the exterior windows.
Similar indications of increased interest in the NBA since its return in late July have been seen across the globe, some of it fueled by the spaced-out schedule featuring earlier tipoffs. In France, at Francaise des Jeux, the national lottery that is one of the NBA's sports betting partners, the average amount wagered weekly on the league since the restart has been up 300% compared with the regular season. Bookmakers in the United Kingdom and Australia also have reported increased betting interest in the NBA, including wagers placed during games.
"Our NBA in-play numbers in Europe have more than doubled since the return of the sport," Tony Kenny, spokesperson for bookmaker William Hill in the U.K., told ESPN in an email. "I think fans are delighted to see it back -- and the timings are very customer-friendly."
Since resuming its season in Orlando, Florida, some NBA games have tipped off in the early afternoon on the East Coast, which have produced prime-time viewing -- and betting -- opportunities in European time zones. Prime-time East Coast NBA games air in the middle of the night in Europe.
"Given our new schedule, while there are fewer total games, we will see more live-game windows than with our traditional schedule," Scott Kaufman-Ross, NBA senior vice president of fantasy and gaming, said. "We estimate there will be between 5% to 10% more hours where live NBA basketball is on the air than with our traditional schedule."
The afternoon tipoffs have been popular with bettors in the U.S. as well, providing almost a March Madness-like feel with games on throughout the day. The NBA restarted its season six days after Major League Baseball began play in July. Despite fewer games, the average daily amount bet on the NBA at FanDuel sportsbooks has been 1.5 times greater than the amount bet on baseball. In addition, the NBA games that are singled out, with no overlap, are attracting 30% more betting action than the games played simultaneously with others at some sportsbooks.
The NBA says it's too early to speculate whether the success of the new schedule with earlier start times will lead to more afternoon tipoffs in future seasons. The coronavirus, arena availability and TV ratings would all have to be considered before deciding to add more afternoon games, but for now, at least, the NBA is looking to capitalize on the spike in interest.
Last week, the NBA launched an alternate broadcast stream centered on betting that is available on select games through its app and League Pass subscription service. NBABet Stream showcases odds and point spreads, along with betting analysis, during the games. Internationally, bettors can watch games and place their bets on some sportsbooks' websites. A same-screen, watch-and-bet option is not currently available in the U.S., but NBABet Stream is a step in that direction.
"Since many fans are watching the game through a sports-betting lens, it was a natural fit to create a telecast focused on betting," Kaufman-Ross said. "We're excited about the possibilities around Bet Stream, and while this is an experiment for this season, it's something we look to improve and iterate on moving forward, because we do think this is where the nature of the telecast is heading.
"Right now, it's a second-screen experience," he added, "where people are watching the game on their primary device and then betting on their secondary device, and I do think you can expect there will be steps taken to bring those experiences to one integrated platform."