Betting on competitive video casino sign up bonus games was once an exotic concept, but in 2020 it’s become the newest sports engagement for sports fans including competitors, spectators and bettors.
Marco Blume who is the trading director for global online bookmaker Pinnacle, has been around long enough to see the pendulum swing. “When we started with e-sports in 2010, we got maybe $100 in wagers in a week and got excited,” said Blume. “We would watch the screen and cheer as each individual bet came in. When I first pitched e-sports wagering to my board, they either said, ‘What are you talking about?’ or they laughed.”
Now who’s laughing? The coronavirus pandemic has put a halt to traditional sporting events. Online sportsbooks are able and willing to take wagers but on what? Turns out that esports can fill the gap. Sports bettors are looking for competitive events on which to bet and these days, there’s nothing more competitive and excitement-producing than virtual gaming events. There may be a bit of a learning curve to understand the digital simulacrums of football, basketball and soccer but everyone’s got lots of time to learn the new deal.
Video game publishers are trying to keep pace with the surge. In Europe, half of all wagering since mid-March has been on e-sports and some bookmakers are reporting that they are experiencing increases of more than 40 times the betting of last year. “E-sports is king now,” says Blume. “Since March, e-sports has been our No. 1 category globally, and the overall majority of total wagering for us. Every significant bookmaker now offers e-sports. If you didn’t before, you certainly do now.”
Observers predict that worldwide, esports gambling revenue will double this year to approximately $14 billion. In the United States, sports betting is not yet available in all 50 states but it is being legislated by increasing numbers of states. Individual states may now legislate sports betting in their own jurisdictions thanks to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to such legislations. Almost one third of American states now offer some type of sports betting, either retail, online or both, and sportsbooks in several of the states are pushing ahead in their eagerness to be among the first to offer esports betting.
In Nevada, America’s gaming capital, online betting is not yet available. But bettors can place wagers on selected esports at the state’s retail sportsbooks when the event has received approval from state regulators. From 2016, when the first Nevada esports bet was placed, through 2017, there were only a few tournaments that state regulators approved for esports betting. However, since March, the regulators have approved 13 esports tournaments and leagues for betting.
Chief of the Nevada Gaming Control Board enforcement division James Taylor said “People out there want to bet on something, and our licensees want to offer betting opportunities for their customers, and by the nature of how e-sports work, the players can sit in their house and still compete.”
Taylor said that since mid-March, casino operators have been filing wagering applications at the rate of “almost one a day” for esports events. Most applications are approved – those that haven’t been approved were for leagues that didn’t satisfy regulators’ concerns about placement of proper anti-corruption protocols. Taylor commented that, “As a regulator, we want to make sure things are done properly with the correct oversight so the entire industry can grow.” Taylor noted that many of the applications were submitted by the Nevada subsidiary of British gaming giant William Hill. William Hill operates over 100 sportsbooks in Nevada.
Joe Asher, chief executive of William Hill’s United States operation, said “E-sports are here to stay, e-sports betting is here to stay, and now we can just see that more clearly.” Fifth Street Gaming chief executive Seth Schorr concurred. “I expect that within the next five to 10 years in North America, e-sports will be third after the N.F.L. and the N.B.A. in terms of total wagering.”
Esports offerings have expanded tremendously in the last few months. No longer are the bets placed solely on whether one hot-shot gamer can beat another. At some global sports books, there are now options to bet on computer-versus-computer events such as on the FIFA automated soccer matches in games produced by Electronic Arts. In the United States, FanDuel and DraftKings feature free contests based on Electronic Arts’ automated games of Madden NFL 20 and paid fantasy contests with cash prizes based on traditional esports such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends. According to a DraftKings spokesman, paid e-sports contests now attract more than 50 times the number of entries and 20 times the number of customers than they did prior to March 2020.
Cory Fox, vice president for government affairs at FanDuel said, “As with so many things, these trends that have existed for a long time, especially on the internet, are being accelerated by coronavirus.”
Some observers believe that, as states struggle with huge deficits, online gambling will become more widely accepted as the states see it as a source of taxable income.
Bill Pascrell III represents the lobbying interests of gambling technology companies and bookmakers for Princeton Public Affairs Group. He said, “I was originally hopeful for three or four more states coming online for sports betting this year. Now I think you could double that as we see legislatures come back.”
Pascrell expects Nevada to take the next big step in granting regulatory preapproval for wagering on specific leagues – say the NFL or the NBA – rather than require case-by-case petitions. Blaine Graboyes, who sells esports data to bookmakers for GameCo, notes that “This period has cemented e-sports as part of the core conversation and offerings for casinos and sports books.”
All eyes are now on New Jersey which had been giving Nevada a run for its money in sports wagering ever since sports betting was given the go-ahead by the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2018. Now, New Jersey is playing catch-up due to its late start with esports offerings in the state. But it aims to catch up.
Initially, wagers on video games were banned under New Jersey’s 2018 sports betting legislation. The casinos pushed for leniency and lawmakers in New Jersey changed the wording of the bill to allow betting ONLY IF all players were 18 or older.
Since many esports competitors are not yet 18, New Jersey hasn’t been able to keep up with Nevada in the esports sector. Now Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo has introduced a bill that will allow betting on e-sports events in which at least half the competitors are 18 or older. If that bill passes, it’s assumed that New Jersey will continue to serve New York’s sports bettors (New York has not yet legislated sports betting for the state). That may allow it to reclaim its position as Nevada’s strongest competitor in sports betting revenues earned.