US Bookmakers and casinos taking esports betting with caution

In the past few weeks, the Nevada Gaming Control Board (GCB) approved wagers on four different esports tournaments, adding to the slowly growing betting options for competitive gaming. Adding wagering options is now critically important to casinos given their gambling halls have been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has also forced the major sporting events shutdown across the world.

Esports, with a steadily growing audience, particularly in the age 18-34 demographic, offers an appealing alternative, but casinos are proceeding with caution.

Recent research from global consumer research agency 2CV and market researcher ProdegeMR has revealed that esports gambling revenue is set to double from $7 billion in 2019 to $14 billion worldwide in 2020 as gamblers seek new alternatives for betting during the sporting events shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The recent esports betting exemptions issued by the Nevada regulators include League of Legends, Dota 2, eNASCAR, Overwatch, Call of Duty League and different Counter-Strike: Global Offensive competitions. “In terms of what sports are left, there’s Russian table tennis and Japanese sumo wrestling,” said Joe Asher, the CEO of William Hill, as reported by the Washington Post in a recent analysis on the sector. “We were talking about Nicaraguan baseball, there’s some soccer in Belarus.”

The slow growth for esports betting interest in Vegas has to do both with the approval process for adding offerings to sportsbooks and the uncertainty from Finnish casinos and oddsmakers around what is still an incipient field, where machines necessarily filter the actions of players before results play out on screen.

Images leaked of Xiang talking about match-fixing in two March matches in which Xiang’s team won one and lost the other. A few days after the second match, Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends and operator of its esports leagues, suspended Xiang for two years and fined his team 3 million RMB ($425,000). “Match-fixing is definitely an issue [in China],” said Rahul Sood, the CEO and founder of Unikrn, an esports betting company competing against all the esports betting sites worldwide and backed by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, among other investors.

Schorr has been pushing esports betting forward in Vegas for five years. He worked with Asher to get William Hill into ESL’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) back in 2017, but esports were never a primary focus of the sportsbook. For an example on how stringent those caps could be, Asher said the maximum amount William Hill would accept on a bet for the winner of the ESL Pro League: North America in CSGO would be “a few thousand dollars.”

However, some oddsmakers believe even that relatively small amount could expose casinos to significant liability. Someone who knows how the esports system works can still stretch betting limit restrictions into a decent payday, according to Billy “Krackman” Krakomberger, a professional sports handicapper and founder of Krackwins. A recent scandal has also brought attention back to match-fixing. In China, Wang “WeiYan” Xiang, a player for the Rogue Warriors in the League of Legends (LoL) Pro League, was exposed for match-fixing.