NBC Sports Washington is producing an interactive, alternate broadcast for the Wizards home game against the Milwaukee Bucks that will focus on sports betting

The future of sports betting in America is fast approaching, and the Washington Wizards want to be on the cutting edge. Starting Jan. 11 and continuing seven more times this season, they’ll offer a sneak peek at what TV broadcasts could look like with a gambling tint.

NBC Sports Washington is producing an interactive, alternate broadcast for the Wizards home game against the Milwaukee Bucks that will focus on sports betting, as first reported by Sports Business Daily. The regular Wizards broadcast will appear on NBC Sports Washington, while this alternate broadcast will appear on NBC Sports Washington Plus.

The alternate broadcast will feature a variety of real-time statistics, including odds and point spreads. SBD described the broadcast as looking like a cross between CNBC and ESPNews. This means you’ll see a scrolling ticker of data, along with graphics on each side. Eventually, it could display how much money is being bet on a given team, some of the NBA’s proprietary analytics, and more.

For these first eight broadcasts, there will be a “Predict the Game” contest that is free to play and will result in a $500 prize to the winner. The contest will include about 30 questions that could range from “Will player X score 10 or more points in the first quarter?” to “Will player X have Y assists in the first half?”

These sound like prop bets.

They are indeed. A proposition bet, or “prop bet,” is a bet made on an event within the game that doesn’t directly affect its ultimate outcome. The most popular prop bets for the casual bettor arrive in three weeks with the Super Bowl, when viewers can wager on rushing yards for a given running back, who will score the first touchdown, the length of the national anthem, the result of the pregame coin toss, and even the color of postgame Gatorade shower. In an NBA context, predicting Bradley Beal’s point total is this kind of prop bet.

But this contest is free. How is this gambling?

It’s not, at least not technically. However, this is a clear first step toward implementing in-game wagering.

In December, the Washington, D.C. city council approved a plan to implement sports betting in the District. It awaits Congressional approval and a finalizing of the sportsbook licensing application process, but sports betting could be live in the District within the year.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has made his interest in sports betting clear, and the new D.C. law would allow for Capital One Arena to set up shop as a sportsbook. His senior leadership at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the Wizards and Capitals ownership group, recognizes these eight broadcasts will serve as effectively a trial run.

“It’s the 1.0 version of where we’re ultimately going,” said Zach Leonsis, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the group that owns the Wizards. “This will get more advanced. … The challenge for operators will be to make sure that the game play is supportive and not interruptive of the broadcast itself.”

These free contests might remain to draw in the novice bettor, but eventually there will be another in-game broadcast contest that requires some kind of wager. Zach Leonsis told the Washington Post that, “it’s a great first step toward a much larger and really exciting rollout of sports betting in the DMV.”

Whatever they design might have a minimal buy-in, but the organization is hoping even the smallest bet will turn a non-Wizards fan into a viewer.

Once sports betting starts, what will keep players or coaches from making money on themselves?

Professional athletes, coaches, and referees are banned from betting on their particular sport (and sometimes all other professional sports as well). That will keep a player from dropping a bet at a sportsbook, though what’s to stop a relative or friend from placing a bet on their behalf?

Once sports betting is formally implemented, there is a regulatory framework to track integrity issues. The regulators will work with sportsbooks to track unusual betting, whether it be too much money coming in on a given wagering option or if a known nefarious character is betting on the game. If something unusual happens, wagering can be suspended pending an investigation.

One can never be 100 percent certain that everything is on the up and up. However, by legalizing and regulating sports betting, you bring it out of the dark of the black market and into the light of investigations, thus making it more difficult for the wrong people to get involved.

How do I play?

You have to watch the alternate broadcast on NBC Sports Washington Plus to take part in the contest. The questions will appear on a graphic overlay on the broadcast. The announcers may tease one or two of the questions, but for the mosts part, the announcers will not ask the questions.

You can submit your predictions at www.nbcsportswashington.com/predict. The contest will run through the entire game, and you can join at any point in the broadcast. However, the winner is determined by points accrued for total correct predictions, with the top scorer(s) splitting a $500 prize. That means if you join after the game is already underway, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage. It would not be impossible to win joining after the game is underway, but you are handicapping yourself.

Can I play if I am attending the game?

No. It is strictly through the NBC Sports Washington Plus broadcast. Monumental Sports is expected to apply for a license to open a sportsbook at Capital One Arena. When that happens, you will be able to make these kinds of prop bets at the arena in person or on your mobile device.

I don’t live in Washington, DC. Can I play?

You have to have NBC Sports Washington Plus on your cable package. It is a regional sports network that extends out beyond just the District, so enter your zip code here to find out if it is available where you live. If you live out of market and use NBA League Pass, this alternate broadcast will not be available.

What other games will have this alternate broadcast?

Per the Washington Post:

Jan. 11 vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7 p.m.)
Jan. 27 at San Antonio Spurs (7 p.m.)
Jan. 30 vs. Indiana Pacers (8 p.m.)
Feb. 2 vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7 p.m.)
Feb. 22 at Charlotte Hornets (7 p.m.)
March 3 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (6 p.m.)
March 18 vs. Utah Jazz (7 p.m.)
April 5 vs. San Antonio Spurs (7 p.m.)