Betting on eSports has been slow to take off in Nevada, and gaming officials are working to streamline the process to see if that spurs further activity.
It’s been nearly three years since the Downtown Grand, in conjunction with William Hill, first took bets on League of Legend eSports matches in Oakland. The casino did the same on the League of Legends World Championships in China in 2017, and, in 2018, Boyd Gaming offered odds on the Golden Tee golf championship at the Orleans Hotel & Casino.
Speaking on a panel at the Casino eSports Conference at the Luxor, Karl Bennison, chief of the enforcement division for the Nevada Gaming Control Board, said those are the only three approvals, along with one denial of a special event license, for casinos to take wagers on particular eSports competitions.
Nevada gaming officials are working to make the application process easier, Bennison said. Eventually, the hope is that operators will be able to apply for a single license covering multiple eSports events over the course of the year.
Wagering on eSports is still in the “other events” category, he said, but at some point, it will move to the traditional sports category.
“We keep it in the other event category because of all the questions brought up. There are still some concerns about the supervision of the events. We have had very few events over the last couple of years. The operators have to drive this. There was some talk last session about being slow on the regulatory side. I think we are capable, but we’re not getting the requests.”
Bennison said the fact that eSports are under consideration for future Olympic games, and may eventually be sanctioned as a collegiate sport, will help set the standards for it.
“Regulators want to make it like every other sport in terms of betting, but there’s a ways to go, no question,” Bennison said. “There will be a point in time when the oversight is in place and everybody is comfortable, just like any other sport.”
Jennifer Roberts, associate director of gaming regulation at UNLV, said she sees it as a lack of market demand, because eSports wagering is already happening throughout the world.
“It’s so convenient to do it in other ways like (through) an app or the Internet,” Roberts said. “It’s not that it’s an inconvenience for approval, but that there’s not the demand. If consumers aren’t demanding it, there’s no interest in (casinos across the country) putting it on their boards.”
Becky Harris, former chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board and fellow at the UNLV International Center for Gaming Regulation, said people need to have confidence in eSports competitions to bet on them. The sport has recently had cases of both match fixing and electronic cheating.
Harris went on to say it’s important to have integrity safeguards in place.A tournament director determining matchup brackets, for example, could affect the outcome of a competition. Harris called that “a problem.”
Beyond that, she said, no one is yet required to be affiliated with any integrity organization, and not every tournament adheres to minimum protocols and standards.
“That becomes a challenge (to) integrity in these type of wagering events,” Harris said.
Indiana has already banned eSports wagers and there are application requirements in Mississippi and New Jersey. No wager on an eSports event can take place in New Jersey if any participants are under 18.
Puerto Rico could become a big player in eSports after recently passing legislation, Harris said.
“They are really determined to have a robust eSports business or ability to wager in Puerto Rico,” she said. “They have reduced corporate taxes on eSports groups and companies that want to offer those types of events, and they allow peer-to-peer micro wagering.
“They still have to develop their regulations, and that won’t be done in the short term,” she said. Nevertheless, “Puerto Rico has decided they want to do some innovative things to foster the eSports industry there.”
John English, a partner with Global Market Advisors, said what’s happening in the U.S. is in stark contrast to sports books in the United Kingdom, which offer eSports betting on a regular basis. There hasn’t been a new event to bet on in the U.S. since the onset of mixed martial arts, he said.
“Hopefully there will be a force that focuses in this area because the growth is undeniable,” English said. “When MMA came out, it was a mess. There were mis-matched events, and things weren’t sanctioned properly. It was a bloodbath. Once UFC implemented standards, and rules and proper matches, it became interesting and something commonly bet on.”
That has to happen with eSports as well, he said.
“You need to make sure you’re comfortable with the rules and teams,” English said. “But putting a wrapper around it is going to be a lot of work.”