by Richard N. Velotta, Las Vegas Review-Journal, October 30, 2022
No wagering breakthroughs are expected when esports betting is allowed more frequently at Nevada sportsbooks about a month from now.
Although the Esports Technical Advisory Committee did a masterful job of developing regulatory amendments that will permit wagering on major video game tournaments and competitions, one of Las Vegas’ leading sportsbook operators isn’t expecting a lot of betting action — at least initially.
And a member of the committee is also convinced that it will be a slow process for bettors and sportsbooks to take interest.
Jay Kornegay, executive vice president of sports operations for the SuperBook, which takes bets in six states, including Nevada’s Westgate, and Brett Abarbanel, director of research at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, are in agreement there won’t be a big blast of esports betting when regulations take effect.
Roots of esports betting
Nevada gaming regulators allowed some betting on esports during the COVID-19 shutdown, when the nation’s sports leagues went on hiatus as fans weren’t allowed in arenas and stadiums. The Nevada Gaming Control Board established an expert committee of esports executives who began meeting quarterly in March to develop rules for taking bets.
After testimony was received on key issues of integrity within esports competitions and how to prevent cheating, the committee guided the Nevada attorney general’s office to draft proposed regulations that streamline wagering on competitions.
From the start, the committee opted to amend existing race and sportsbook regulations to include esports rather than establish a whole new esports regulation.
That means many of the same rules that apply to betting on conventional sports will apply to esports.
Kornegay, whose son has participated in Call of Duty esports competitions, doesn’t expect the betting community to be breaking down the SuperBook door to wager on esports after the Gaming Control Board and the Nevada Gaming Commission conduct hearings on the new regulations and the commission votes them into public policy.
“It’s not going to blow the doors off. I expect it will slowly accumulate here and there,” Kornegay said. “We have so much sports betting year round with professional leagues and collegiate sports that esports probably isn’t going to move the needle.”
He does like the idea that esports betting is expected to be available here, but he equates the interest to be similar to when sportsbooks take wagers on Olympic sports or the National Finals Rodeo.
“Some will want to bet them. And, as far as Olympic sports is concerned, there’s some interest in hockey and basketball, but people don’t get too excited about betting the giant slalom or speed skating,” he said.
Kornegay explained much of the worldwide interest in esports — and there is a vast interest — is much bigger in Europe and Asia than it is in the U.S.
“In Europe, the interest is about 80 percent on soccer and 10 percent on tennis and the other 10 percent on the mix of all other sports,” he said. “It’s not like here where people are interested in football, basketball, hockey and baseball.”
Mainstream media cover the major sports, but you have to dig around on the internet to research trends in esports, he said.
Kornegay said it wouldn’t make financial sense for his company to hire an expert on esports to set lines on competitions, which means there may be an opportunity for bettors who always watch for bookmaker mistakes on setting lines.
Abarbanel, a member of the Esports Technical Advisory Committee, is happy that the group opted to position the proposed rules parallel to conventional sports, and she is convinced that as people get more familiar with esports they will gradually come around to betting on them.
“I don’t think that changing a regulation like this will immediately make the whole world interested in betting on esports,” she said. “The value is in how we look at esports and treat it more generally. There’s a broader discussion as to how it relates to sports. This will give us an interesting foundation to see how esports can compare with sports, and from there, I think there’s going to be a big element that’s connected to the books and the bettors themselves.”
In search of data
She suspects people interested in wagering on esports will mine the internet for the “tons of data” that exist on esports.
Abarbanel said despite the fact that there could be growing pains in the expansion of esports wagering, there also are “growing opportunities” for those who choose to pursue it, whether they’re betting or taking bets.
While it may take some time, the fact that Nevada is on the verge of taking more esports bets may pay off with higher gaming revenue while giving gamblers something new to play.
It may be that someday, as with other gaming regulatory questions, other jurisdictions will look to Nevada to see how we did it.