When Stephen Curry takes the floor Tuesday night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, every facet of his game will be tracked by six strategically placed high-tech cameras in the rafters of Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena. How far did Curry run during the game? That's easy to pinpoint. How much separation did he get from Matthew Dellavedova on that pick-and-roll at the top of the key during the Warriors' first offensive sequence of the third quarter? That can be tracked too.
It is just the tip of the terabyte-rich iceberg of data collected by the cutting-edge SportVU cameras recently installed in all 29 NBA arenas.
Owned by Chicago-based STATS, the SportVU cameras owe their origin to a missile defense system, but their motion-tracking capabilities have been adapted for basketball. The data captured are utilized by the league and among individual teams in a variety of ways -- scouting, injury prevention and game strategy are just a few examples. Two years ago, Grantland's Zach Lowe offered up "Seven Ways the NBA's New Camera System Can Change the Future of Basketball."
But there is eighth way, and it involves gambling. It will be coming soon to your smartphone, tablet and laptop.
"Those NBA cameras are absolutely underutilized," Tywan Martin, an assistant professor of sport communications at the University of Miami, told ESPN Chalk. "Just think if the NBA had a smartphone app that allowed small bets or real-time fantasy picks to be made based on [camera-generated data]. The league would see increased viewership and consumer engagement, especially in terms of the in-arena experience."
NBA commissioner Adam Silver seems particularly bullish on the potential of real-time data and in-game betting. So does Mark Cuban, who said the league will "charge the casinos for information sources [and] video sources" and cryptically told Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling that "... as technology gets better, we will invent new things." Wizards owner Ted Leonsis concurred in a recent SI.com interview: "People are now going to start to make wagers in a real-time way. You know, 'I think he's going to make a pass instead of take the shot.' And you'll be able to instantly move money back and forth. So it's better to get in front of it."
It's not just the NBA, though; other leagues will be ready too. The NFL recently entered into a data deal with Sportradar. Major League Baseball unveiled its own motion-tracking system earlier this year. And both the WTA and ATP tennis tours have had real-time data deals for years.
While it seems revolutionary in the U.S., live wagering and low-limit, high-volume options are the norm in Europe.
"The regulated U.S. sports gambling market is behind the U.K. and Europe in terms of online sports gambling innovation [by] at least five years," estimated Mark Locke, CEO of Sport Integrity Monitor, a London-based technology and betting data company.
With technological advances, a considerable amount of online and mobile sports gambling -- around 80 percent in the U.K., according to Locke -- now occurs in-game. Just like high-frequency trading on Wall Street involving complicated financial vehicles such as derivatives and futures, the merger between advanced stats and technology could result in some creative hybrids. Instead of picking a fantasy team based on newspaper-era box score statistics, any number of advanced analytics could be adopted for consumers.
A fantasy baseball contest based on video-enhanced WAR? A dynamic in-game basketball wager predicated on some new version of PER? A three-player parlay based on forehand RPM and point-of-contact court position at Wimbledon? Acronym-friendly new age stats permeate across sports.
On the real-time data front, gaming-leaning consumers could place a live bet on whether the Tampa Bay Lightning score during a power play, whether Nelson Cruz gets a hit in his current at-bat or whether Peyton Manning converts this third-down pass. All in-game, as it happens.
"The options are unlimited," said John Grady, an associate professor of sport and entertainment management at the University of South Carolina. "Next-generation stats are what the younger demographics are using. If sports leagues want to find new ways to engage with fans earlier, they will need to engage them creatively."
Whether at a brick-and-mortar casino in Nevada or with a local bookie, traditional sports gambling in the United States is dominated by point spreads, money lines and totals. It is largely the same offerings William Barry Furlong wrote about in his classic 1977 New York Times piece "Of Lines, Point Spreads, and Middles." Make no mistake though: Point spreads are popular among bettors and books. They help balance the action and allow games involving heavy favorites to remain attractive. But they are almost exclusively done pregame, meaning some gamblers become detached consumers during the two- to three-hour lifespan of the underlying game.
The lack of innovation is easy to spot.
"Point spreads may be the current model, but betting using advanced real-time data is the future," Grady told ESPN Chalk.
Compared with those in the United States, how different are the gaming options elsewhere?
"Not even close," explained Martin in a recent phone interview. "When I bring up the topic of sports gambling to international students, they laugh at our system here. The issue is that the [sports] leagues have stymied development. They've played a critical role in the lack of gambling innovation. Money is to be made if they were to allow it."
A full synergy between advanced stats and gaming options has constraints, however.
"The law always lags behind technology, especially in digital rights and gambling issues," said Grady. He pointed to high-profile litigation involving a fantasy sports operator and Major League Baseball's digital media arm. The case was resolved in the fantasy sports company's favor, but considered only the right to use player names and basic performance statistics, not advanced stats gleaned from ultra-high-tech cameras capturing every swing, pitch and catch on the diamond. Another courtroom dispute about the proprietary nature of advanced stats is likely.
The other constraint is the still-pending legal case involving New Jersey's quest to offer Vegas-style sports gambling at the state's casinos and racetracks. New Jersey's efforts have been successfully repelled by the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA over the course of three years of litigation. A decision in the latest iteration of the case is expected later this month.
After the New Jersey case concludes, look for the near future to arrive quickly. Even a 5 percent increase in viewership gained from next-gen gambling options offered in a direct-to-consumer way will be profound. Sports leagues, broadcasters and advertisers know this. The pecuniary pie will be larger for unionized players as well.
Sports leagues have long been innovation leaders. Why would "inevitable" sports gambling be any different? The NBA certainly seems optimistic about the prospects. Even the NFL, chief among the big four pro leagues to be most tethered to their historical anti-gambling position, seems well-positioned. Roger Goodell was recently asked about the league's long-held position.
"[I]f changes happen, we'll be prepared for those," Goodell foreshadowed.
The once-nascent technology has arrived, and the sports leagues appear ready to activate it. Is a quarterback-focused in-game wager based on a new statistic combining real-time passing efficiency in the red zone, throwing velocity and foot speed coming soon?