New Jersey has moved ahead of Nevada in the realm of esports wagering, but a newly formed advisory committee could change that and make Las Vegas a tournament capital with a menu of betting options in the growing global sport.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board appointed a seven-member committee that will soon meet and ultimately provide recommendations on expanding esports wagering and streamlining its implementation. Today, casinos must seek Gaming Control Board permission to take wagers on each esport tournament, but the committee will provide guidance as to which leagues and tournaments sportsbooks should offer wagering on without special permission.
That cumbersome process has limited the growth in esports wagering, which got a boost in New Jersey last week when the Division of Gaming Enforcement allowed Esports Entertainment Group to accept esports bets, starting Tuesday, for such games as Call of Duty, League of Legends, Dota 2, and others.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board has named some heavy hitters in the esports world to serve on the new advisory committee. It’s chaired by Las Vegas resident Paul Hamilton, co-owner and CEO of Atlanta Esport Ventures (which includes Cox Enterprises) that invests in the esports teams Atlanta Reign of the Overwatch League and Atlanta FaZe of the Call of Duty League.
“I know how amazing esports are and they’re outpacing every traditional sport,” Hamilton said. “What I would like to see happen is that when people want to place a wager and they go into (any sportsbook), on one side are the NFL lines and the other is the Overwatch League. I think over the next five years, you’re going to see a lot of people feeling comfortable in the growth in that space. In 10 years, I can see them side by side without any question at all. It’s already happening, but we’re just going to open the gates and make sure it’s done right.”
Hamilton said the expansion of esports wagering would help Las Vegas draw championships that could fill Allegiant Stadium and T-Mobile Arena and attract visitors from all over the world. Sportsbook operators see the potential in attracting younger audiences to make esports wagers.
“What makes this important is the legitimacy that gambling in Las Vegas comes with, and holding events in Las Vegas is a key dynamic for esports to take games to the next level,” Hamilton said. “Any event in Las Vegas will be bigger and brighter.”
The focus on creating a Nevada esports committee came with the passage of state legislation that went into effect in July. That was welcome news to one of the biggest advocates of esports in Las Vegas: Seth Schorr, CEO of Fifth Street Gaming, which manages the Downtown Grand in Las Vegas. Schorr, a member of the advisory committee, has been behind efforts to bring esports wagering to Nevada since 2015 by working with the Gaming Control Board and partnering with betting operator William Hill.
“For me personally, this has been seven years in the making,” Schorr said. “One of the reasons why, in the past six years, there haven’t been many additional wagers is because the process to get a wager approved by the Gaming Control Board was cumbersome and inefficient. This committee working with the Gaming Control Board to pre-approve matches, leagues, and team operators will make it easier for the sportsbooks to get ahead of determining what they can accept wagers on.”
That’s important because it helps with marketing the wagering. Sometimes approvals for the handful of requests he made weren’t given until the day of the event, Schorr said. It would help to know the schedule far in advance, he added.
The biggest hurdle esports has had to overcome is integrity, preventing players from fixing matches or technology used in the play to give one side an unfair advantage.
Hamilton and Schorr said that can be addressed by accepting wagers from leagues and competitions that meet integrity thresholds, no different than the Gaming Control Board approving sports and leagues that sportsbooks can take wagers from now.
Some of the esports leagues have attracted such investors as Cox, Comcast, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and Stan Kroenke, owner of the Los Angeles Rams. Like them, game publishers also have a stake in the integrity of the matches, in which some players earn more than $1 million.
One of the advisory committee members is Brandon Snow, head of esports for Activision Blizzard, a video-game holding company traded on NASDAQ.
Becky Harris, former chairwoman of the Gaming Control Board and advisor to Oddin.gg, a European esports odds compiler looking to do business in Nevada and the rest of the U.S., said it’s exciting to see the Board take an increased interest in esports that’s being embraced by New Jersey and Colorado. Even colleges have set up esports teams, highlighting the growing interest, she added.
During the pandemic when sports were shut down, casinos offered a greater number of esports wagering opportunities, Harris said.
“You’re seeing the younger generations being more involved in esports than traditional sports,” Harris said. “This is a multi-billion industry and we’ve been told for a decade this is the next big thing. This is the next big thing, but we’re not going to get there overnight. It’s still a process to make sure we’re approaching it correctly with the right integrity protocols in place. But we need to make sure we’re not hindering the growth and development for the industry by overregulation.”
Other advisory board members are Brett Abarbanel, director of research at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute; Lovell Walker, vice president of development for Penn National Gaming; Jud Hannigan, CEO of Allied Esports, a publicly traded global esports entertainment venture dedicated to providing transformative live experiences, multi-platform content, and interactive services to audiences worldwide; and Christian Bishop, chief revenue officer for Method, an entertainment and esports company known for content creation and fielding teams.