What Does the NBA Betting Rocket Draw Mean?

If you follow the sports betting world, you might have heard of the ‘Rocket’ as it is known to be one of the most successful and popular sports betting trends of all time. The NBA betting rocket refers to a group of individuals or accounts that placed a large number of bets on the NBA, more specifically, on the Atlanta Hawks. Since its inception in 2014, the trend has caused major fluctuations in betting markets, largely thanks to the massive size of the bets and the frequency of the wagers. When we examine its origins and popularity, we see that it embodies a number of interesting trends that have evolved around sports betting in the last few years.

The Increasingly Surprising Size of NBA Bets

It wasn’t long ago that sportsbooks could guarantee bets of $2 or $3 on NFL games, as high school and college football were the main attractions in the United States. But in today’s world, anything is possible, even in the most unlikely of events. It is well-documented that the Rocket trend began as a group of individuals placing very large bets on NBA games, mostly on the Atlanta Hawks. According to a leaked government document, between February 19th and March 4th of 2014 alone, the Atlanta Hawks were the subject of 573 bets, ranging in size from $1 to $1000000. In all, more than $600,000 was wagered on that three-week period alone.

Since then, the popularity of the NBA betting rocket has fluctuated with the NBA draft, free agency and other transactions that impact the performance of individual teams. But the trend has always returned whenever there was huge uncertainty in betting markets. In other words, whenever a game is too close to call or whenever there are major transactions that radically alter the league’s performance going forward (such as Kevin Durant’s impending free agency). The most recent example of this was last year’s NBA draft, where several small-market teams made large profits thanks to the unprecedented number of picks that were traded.

The Growing Acceptance Of Varying Opinions Around Sports

In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in independent journalists and pundits covering the NBA. This group primarily consists of people whose livelihood does not depend on the approval of advertisers or the broad mainstream press. This shift has made it possible for fans to be more informed about their favorite sports teams, and as a result, a more accepting of varied opinions around the games they love to watch. While this may not seem obvious when applied to the NFL or other professional sports, keep in mind that the NBA is a much more culturally diverse league, with players coming from all over the world.

The acceptance of varying opinions around the NBA is most visible in the way that individual team websites have evolved. Formerly the domain of fans with a strong opinion about their respective teams, these websites have blossomed into a hub for fans to find the information they want about their favorite team, regardless of whether they agree with the editorial perspective. The same can be said for social media platforms like Twitter, where fans can have frank discussions about their favorite teams without being shouted down by partisans.

The NBA As A Testing Ground For Predicting Future Trends

The NBA has always been a league that likes to experiment with its formats and betting markets, and the Rocket trend is no different. The leaked government document mentioned above refers to the NBA as a “test platform for future betting trends,” and that may be true. But perhaps even more accurately, the NBA has been a test ground for predicting future trends in online gaming, particularly around the world of esports.

Esports are definitely a growing sector, with the International Olympic Committee estimating that it will be the next big thing after the Olympics. But it is still a largely unknown quantity, with very limited opportunities for sports fans to engage with their favorite gamers online. This presents an opportunity for traditional sportsbooks, who can now see how people are engaging with esports through the lens of traditional sports betting, particularly around the NBA. So while there is no direct link between esports and the NBA betting rocket trend, it is definitely something that inspired its creation and that it continues to enjoy massive popularity because of its novelty and ability to attract new customers.

Where Does The Money Go, Anyway?

Another way the NBA betting rocket trend has been interesting to follow is the way that it has changed the way we think about the revenue associated with a sportsbook. For decades, sportsbooks have been the domain of small-time operators, who have had to make do with a single sport and a handful of teams. The recent rise of online betting has turned the sports betting landscape on its head, with bigger and better sportsbooks opening up across the globe. With more and more people looking to place bets online, there has been a rise in the number of teams, leagues and events that sportsbooks cover.

What this means in practice is that the revenue associated with a traditional sportsbook is far more complicated than the earnings attributed to a traditional bookmaker. For instance, the British gambling authority, the GamblingCommission, requires that sportsbooks keep detailed records of their wagers, so if we look at the Atlanta Hawks example mentioned above, we can see that over $600,000 was wagered on that team in the three weeks between February 19th and March 4th of 2014 alone. If we assume that these bets were placed with a traditional sportsbook, there will be a record of that wagering somewhere, but almost certainly not in the form of a single, neat digit. More often than not, these records will be found on the books’ internal systems, which are notoriously insecure and sometimes poorly kept.

On the other hand, if we believe the government’s leaked document, this sum would be chump change for the largest sportsbook in the world, which handled the bets. This is likely because the document is referring to an offshore account, where money laundering laws are less stringent and regulations around data protection are a lot less stringent. So while we may never know exactly where the money went, we know for a fact that it did not remain within the confines of a single digital wallet.

Is This A Sign Of The Times?

Last but not least, we come to the crux of this piece, which is: is the NBA betting rocket a sign of the times or just an interesting phenomena that arose because of several converging trends and the unique position of the Atlanta Hawks in recent NBA history? We will leave aside the question of whether or not the Rocket trend will continue to be popular, as there is still enough uncertainty in the NBA to keep the betting public entertained for years to come. Instead, let’s examine the roots of the trend and try to determine if these are signs of the times that lie ahead or if this is just a passing phase that will be gone as soon as the next big wager comes along.

The Origins Of The Betting Rocket

It all started with a bet placed on an Atlanta Hawks basketball game on February 19th, 2014. The first documented instance of the NBA betting rocket can be found in a leaked government document, which was posted on Twitter by a verified account associated with the Internal Revenue Service. The document in question is a ‘Transition report’ created by the IRS division that deals with online gambling and sports betting, and it was initially reported that the Hawks were the original ‘Rocket’ team. This may be true, but it is also possible that this is simply a reflection of the document’s initial release date and not the source of the trend itself.

The IRS document goes on to list five other teams, including the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers, that were the subject of significant bets around the same time frame. But it was the Atlanta Hawks’ remarkable winning streak that made them the most popular team with bettors, and it eventually led to the creation of the ‘Rocket’ moniker.

The Streak

The 2014–15 NBA regular season was arguably one of the best ever, and the Atlanta Hawks were a big reason for that. During that season, the Hawks went 73–9–2 ATS, the third-best record in NBA history. Naturally, someone had to take notice and decide to make a sportsbook bet on them, and so it was that the ‘Rocket’ trend was born. But even then, it was not the most popular team with which to make a wager. That honor goes to the Los Angeles Lakers, who were the subject of 397 bets between August 1st and October 31st of that year.

The popularity of the Lakers may have had something to do with the fact that they were the most popular team in the betting community heading into the 2015–16 NBA season, as well as the defending champions. In all, more than $600,000 was wagered on the Los Angeles Lakers during that 2014–15 campaign. And while the number of people betting on the Houston Rockets decreased by nearly half from the previous year, the amount of money wagered on them increased by nearly 40%.