How NBA Protests Could Affect Sportsbooks Throughout The Season

Last week in Kenosha, Wis., Jacob Blake was tazed, then shot seven times in the back by police. He was unarmed and trying to get into his SUV with his three kids in the back seat before a police officer grabbed his shirt and shot him point-blank. His shooting inspired protests across the state.

Two days later, Kyle Rittenhouse shot three protesters in Portland, Ore.. Two died. One was in critical condition. While onlookers pointed at him and yelled, “that’s the shooter,” police officers drove past him. He had his hands up, rifle slung across his chest, and the police passed him by without a second glance.

The differences between these two cases intensified protests and fundamentally changed the dialogue surrounding these two shootings.

The professional sports world made its voices heard in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting. The Milwaukee Bucks led a boycott on August 26. The Bucks refused to leave the locker room to play against the Orlando Magic to protest Jacob Blake’s shooting. This was shocking to many fans and commentators. However, the wave of similar sports protests from other professional leagues and individual sports stars showed how widespread and powerful professional sports protests can be.

But sports bettors may wonder whether their bets will remain secure throughout the season. Canceled games mean refunded stakes. Bettors avoid a loss but lose the chance to win. There are a few ways the rest of the NBA season could end. Here are some of the ways we think it’ll go and how sportsbooks will be affected.

Where The NBA Season Stands Today

As of this writing, NBA players have agreed to resume playoffs. As part of the deal, NBA stadiums are going to be used as polling places. That will create measurable impacts for players concerned about their protests’ impact. Playoffs are expected to resume with an adjusted schedule to make up for the delayed games during the height of the NBA boycotts.

However, the settlement’s details remain hidden. But there are a few clues about what was discussed and how seriously the players were taken. Coaches have spoken out in favor of Black Lives Matter in a way they hadn’t before even before the boycotts. From the outside, it seems like these talks were productive for the players.

But these initial talks only give sportsbooks short-term stability. Incidents like Jacob Blake’s shooting are common and systemic change to address them is often superficial or non-existent. These player protests have every chance of returning.

And they could return in a few different ways.

All Remaining NBA Teams Could Refuse To Play

Although the teams have agreed to play now, there’s nothing we know of preventing them from walking off the courts again. The NBA Championship game isn’t until mid-October. That’s plenty of time for another racially motivated shooting to inspire a fresh wave of protests. The players have a platform, and they know how to use it.

That scenario would create the most losses for sportsbooks. Another round of walk-offs would force sportsbooks to delete entire game lines. But if the NBA didn’t have a championship game, that would wipe out futures, too. Bettors would get a lot of money back, but sportsbooks would lose a lot of revenue. This would be their worst-case scenario.

Individual Teams Could Refuse To Play

This would be less of an issue for Colorado sportsbooks. If a few teams decided not to play, then sportsbooks would only lose a few game lines. Then the Championship game could make up for lost playoff wagers. Even futures on award winners would be available. That would leave a major Championship game and several types of bets for sportsbooks to offer.

This is the most likely scenario. The fight for social justice is ongoing and includes a wide range of issues, each with near-infinite breadth and depth. Making NBA stations voting places addresses voter suppression by increasing the number of available voting stations. It’s not the only change demanded by players. However, it’s a concrete impact that each team can be a part of.   

Individual Star Players Could Refuse To Play

This would only create blips in the odds. Futures and prop bets that depend on individual performance were already risky because of the coronavirus. However, individual choices to sit out could also jeopardize those bets.

But individual sit-outs would impact game lines slightly. Some teams can afford to lose a teammate without impacting the outcome of the game. The Nuggets are probably going to beat the Timberwolves no matter who sits out. But if Lebron James sits out, that could move moneylines and point spreads around.

However, it’s unlikely that only a few star players would sit their games out. The frustration and grief that led to the initial protests are shared across teams. The NBA teams also stood together during the boycotts. After the initial protests, teams are unlikely to leave one or two members to take the heat alone. Although this would impact sportsbooks the least, entire teams will follow the few players who decide to protest next.

How Secure Should Sportsbooks Feel?

On the one hand, players have agreed to play the season out. However, that agreement is likely contingent on terms hashed out between players and the league. If the league doesn’t meet one of its terms, the teams wouldn’t be obligated to play through the season.

If there are many teams in play, sportsbooks have a chance at an uninterrupted NBA season. However, a few protesting teams will likely be supported by much of the league and beyond. Most teams don’t need to protest to halt the NBA season. It only takes a few to make the rest of the league feel obliged to protest too. And that’s before the other leagues take a stand with them.

However, sportsbooks aren’t the victims here. Losing NBA games is a loss, but sportsbooks are flexible. They can adapt to the sporting environment as they did during the height of social distancing. No matter how the NBA season concludes, sportsbooks will adapt. 

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