Could Basketball Betting Become a Problem Now That It Is Legal?

Not too long ago, sports betting was largely banned in the United States. While some other countries allowed their residents and sports fans to place wagers on their favorite teams, things were a bit stricter back at home.

About three years or so ago though, things changed. Some believe this change was for the better, and many others think it was for the worse. The change was that the previous law banning sports betting was swept aside.

Many of the sports bodies were against this change. The rationale being that allowing money to be wagered on a sporting outcome could tempt nefarious dealings such as match-fixing. It could also tempt players to bet on games they are involved in and lead to other issues, such as problem gambling. 

Basketball is one of the most-viewed sports on the planet and is played in multiple countries. It is also one of the most bet on games in the US. How could the sport be affected by these new laws?


How popular is basketball right now?

Depending on which list of statistics you care to read, basketball is either the second or third biggest sport in the USA. This is judged largely on viewing figures.

Unfortunately for basketball, viewing figures are in decline.

According to Statista, there was a 17 percent decrease in the number of people watching the NBA during the 20/21 season compared to the year before. Over 1.3 million viewers still tuned in, but the loss is worrying.

Around the world, the sport is still popular in many countries and is regarded as the tenth most followed sport on the planet. Note the word ‘followed’. This is because the NBA is still the most prestigious basketball league in the world, and most fans’ eyes are on the big names in the states.


Why has basketball lost viewing figures this last season?

When looking at the overall picture of a sport in decline it would be easy to pick one reason and say bingo. However, there are many factors involved with the drop in viewing figures.

For those interested in numbers and figures, the decrease in viewers amounts to somewhere around 40% over the last decade, give or take a few percent. That is a hefty chunk of viewers to lose.

The reasons that may have caused it are outlined below:

  • Political activism
  • COVID-19
  • The internet
  • Too many games
  • Meaningless games
  • Morning games

Some fans have turned their backs due to fans being allowed to express their political views. Some people simply believe that there is no place for this in sport, but it is a growing movement in many different games including soccer in the UK.

Clearly, COVID had a big impact on games with the suspension of the 19/20 season, and travel restrictions.

The internet allows viewers to stream games live, or watch highlights on YouTube later on. This is particularly handy when you consider the bottom 3 factors on the list above.

The season is too long for most people, and there are too many games that mean nothing. Also, morning games? Never going to be as popular as prime-time showdowns.

However, basketball is still one of the most popular games to bet on. Combine the decline in viewers and betting, and there could be problems ahead.


Today’s sports betting laws in the USA

Back in May 2018, everything changed in regards to sports betting. The Supreme Court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was in violation of the US Constitution. Or more specifically, the 10th Amendment.

The removal of this act meant that states were able to impose their own rules regarding sports gambling. It was already legal in the state of Nevada to place bets on basketball and football, but now the rest of the country could follow suit if they wished.

Sure enough, many states did indeed join in once they considered the benefits of extra tax dollars. After all, many people were already using online betting with the money flowing out of the states so why not make it legal and keep the cash here?


What are the implications of allowing legal betting on basketball?

Some countries are against any form of sports betting or limit it to certain events such as horse racing. India in particular seems very against allowing sports betting, and is concerned that it would lead to match-fixing.

Cricket is sacred in India, and many government officials believe betting on it can only lead to problems for the game.

Looking around the world, there have been many incidents of individuals in sports betting against their own team, or wider betting scandals. The Black Sox scandal is maybe the biggest in US sports, and in Europe, Juventus shocked Italy by being found guilty of match-fixing.

Match-fixing rings do still exist, and with the advent of legal gambling, it could now be possible to have a scandal along the lines of the Black Sox again. Especially with declining viewers and lower revenues.


What other countries watch basketball?

Many other countries enjoy the game, and viewers there also bet. However, when it comes to betting, most European sports fans would choose football (or soccer) over basketball.

With the advent of internet sportsbooks, fans can do their football betting online instead of going to a brick-and-mortar bookmaker.

Russia, Spain, China, Brazil, and the Philippines, are just some of the countries that enjoy playing and watching basketball.


So will the new laws and online betting lead to gambling problems?

Dozens of countries around the world already enjoy basketball and legal sports betting without any problem. It seems unlikely then that there will be a surge in basketball problem gambling due to the change in the law.

What might change is how and what a bettor can gamble on. With internet sports betting available, there are more markets than ever to choose from. For instance, after Sean Miller was fired earlier in the years, you could have speculated on who would be Arizona’s next coach. It is very normal in the UK to bet on sackings and hirings of football coaches, as well as the results of games. 


How widespread are sports betting now?

Over half the states in the US now have some form of sports betting allowed, or they are in the process of producing legislation proposing it.

Some states are anti-gambling and may stay this way for longer. Hawaii for instance doesn’t even allow gambling when it is for charity.

But with internet sports betting and sites such as Paddy Power or, it is easy for anyone to place a bet on basketball wherever they are, even in Utah.


Players gambling on themselves and their teams

It is unlikely that basketball would ever see a match-fixing scandal comparable to Juventus or the Black Sox. However, when sports and money are combined bad things sometimes happen, as the investigation into the Rio 2016 boxing results shows.

The most likely problem with sports betting being allowed may be from the staff or the players themselves. This isn’t to suggest any wrongdoing or match-fixing, just using their knowledge to give themselves an advantage. 

There are ways to benefit from your college basketball knowledge or NBA know-how. If you were a player and you knew you were playing well you could bet on yourself. Is this morally ok to bet on a game you are involved in?

What if you reversed that knowledge and bet against your team because you knew there was an issue with the squad? 



Sports betting by and large is enjoyed by many fans and as long as it is done responsibly there should be no problems.

Fortunately, basketball shouldn’t be affected by any scandals just because sports betting is now legal across the states. If it is lucky, it may even bring more viewers back, at least for the bigger games.