NBA to launch virtual sports betting game

A virtual sports betting game featuring NBA highlights and footage will debut next season in U.S. and European gaming and lottery markets, the league and NBPA announced Wednesday.

"NBA Last 90" will drop contestants into the final 90 seconds of a simulated matchup between two NBA teams and offer wagering propositions on what transpires during the ending of a fictitious game.

NBA partner Highlight Games Limited, a specialist games supplier, stiches together highlights from recent seasons to tell a story of what plays out during the 90 seconds. Contestants will be able to wager on several outcomes, including which team will win, who will score on the first possession and the total points scored by both teams. A random number generator, similar to what's used in slot machines, will determine the outcomes.

Betting on virtual sports is new to the growing U.S. sports betting landscape, but it's already established in European markets. In the United Kingdom, £771.4 million was bet on virtual sports from April 2017 to May 2018, according to the U.K. Gambling Commission. That's three times as much as was wagered on golf during that time period in the U.K.

The interest in virtual betting in Europe caught the NBA's eye, said Scott Kaufman-Ross, the NBA's head of fantasy and gaming.

"We've been looking at this the past couple years and were really surprised to see how popular this was," Kaufman-Ross told ESPN. "In Europe, we're especially excited about using virtual as another way to engage with our fans with alternative content, especially given the time-zone challenges we have in the region."

The NBA will become the first major U.S. sports league to enter the virtual sports betting market, as it continues to look for ways to embrace and profit from the gaming industry.

"We are extremely excited about this partnership and the potential future opportunities for our players in the virtual gaming space," Josh Goodstadt, executive vice president of licensing for THINK450, the commercial arm of the NBPA, said in a release announcing the virtual betting game. "We look forward to working with the NBA and Highlight Games to create a unique gaming experience that will help to grow the popularity of the players and the league worldwide."

In July 2016, bookmaker William Hill U.S. launched virtual horse racing in Nevada. New Jersey and Pennsylvania also allow betting on virtual events, but it has yet to catch on in the U.S. Virtual horse racing is available at 19 William Hill sportsbooks in Nevada.

Horse racing is believed to be the most popular sport for virtual betting in the U.K., although there are also multiple virtual games for soccer, including Highlight Games' SOCCERBET.

Now, the U.K. company hopes to find success with the NBA.

"Highlight Games has an ambitious strategy to enter the nascent US sports betting and virtual sports market, and this collaboration is the first important step on that journey," Highlight Games CEO Tim Green said in the release. "NBA Last 90 features real NBA stars and real NBA highlights, differentiating it from any other virtual sports product on the market. We're confident that players around the world will be instantly engaged with NBA Last 90."