Nevada starts process for esports wagering expansion

August 18, 2021 10:04 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
August 18, 2021 10:04 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

Nevada gaming regulators moved Wednesday to start the process for opening up esports wagering to a wider array of events to match the growing popularity of the video-gaming sport across the world.

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The Nevada Gaming Control Board held a workshop to start building the framework for an esports technical advisory committee, in accordance with Senate Bill No. 165 passed in the Nevada Legislature this year.

Nevada currently handles esports betting by requiring sportsbooks to submit an application that is reviewed and subject to approval by the Control Board. The next step for esports backers is for it to be considered a sport that would allow wagers to be taken without approval.

The Nevada Gaming Commission is expected to review esports advancements at its October meeting.

The move was applauded during the workshop by Seth Schorr, CEO of Fifth Street Gaming and chairman of the Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, one of the first casinos in Las Vegas to host esports tournaments.

“I think incorporating esports wagering in Nevada is critically important for our industry to keep (ahead of the game). We’re seeing other states in other jurisdictions take this approach. We have an opportunity to not only stay relevant, but do it in the right way of how we know to do things here in Nevada.”

Schorr said expanding esports opportunities in Nevada “has been a work in progress for six or seven years.” The “patience and thoughtful approach that Nevada has taken is a good one. Now’s the time to take the necessary step to give operators a path to accept wagers on esports. There’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to continue to be the type of sport that our current and future customers will want to bet on.”

Nevada allowed more wagering on esports during the pandemic that shut down regular sporting events.

Control Board member Dr. Brittnie Watkins, who wrote a gaming-law thesis on esports, said she’s happy to see Nevada developing this framework for esports and supports it.

“This is definitely going to be the wave of the future,” added board member Philip Katsaros. “It has a lot of momentum and it’s going to continue to grow, in my estimation. I’m glad we’re getting ahead of it as much as we can, since it’s already been a train running down the track for a while.”

Before supporting it, however, Board Chairman J. Brin Gibson voiced concerns over the integrity of events and asked Schorr how he saw esports working in the future.

Schorr said a majority of esports tournaments are on Twitch, a streaming platform, and YouTube to a lesser extent.

“I think it’s much easier to maintain the integrity of a digital game than a stick-and-ball sport,” Schorr said. “The player history is there and data is there and red flags are much more obvious. Initially, we should only be approving (the top) events. Throwing the finals of an esports event is as unlikely as throwing the Super Bowl.”

Schorr said it’s important to know who the owners are. Many are owners of major league sports and their reputations are on the line.

“The Overwatch league is something we should be completely comfortable betting on each game and not just the winner of the league,” Schorr said.

For Las Vegas, it’s about betting on big tournaments and events that Schorr said he hopes can be brought to the city.

“While a majority of esports will be watched online, it’s a sport that is more exciting in real life with tens of thousands of fans, which we have done here in Las Vegas over the years, most notably at the Mandalay Bay Events Center,” Schorr said. “I do see a future where we can be an epicenter for live events.”

That could mean a League of Legends world final or gaming operators even holding their own tournaments, Schorr said.

“Six to seven years ago, we saw esports as a thing and a few of us took a leap of faith. Others tried things as well, but the path was a little funky.” This move in Nevada would open the door for a growing industry, Schorr said.

“We did see things pick up around COVID. People around the world were betting on esports and ping pong. That was the only choice they had. What we’re doing here today is giving operators a clear path to incorporate esports into their strategy. Operators have dipped their toes in the water, but haven’t gone all in.”

Brendan Bussmann, director of government affairs for Global Market Advisors, said afterward that this is one of many steps that Nevada is taking to modernize their regulations, from esports to sports betting and igaming.

“It’s not just brick and mortar anymore,” Bussmann said. “If Nevada wants to stay on the cutting edge, it needs to modernize with these additional offerings and technology. Today was one of the first steps toward doing that. I think there is an opportunity with esports.”