Nevada Suddenly Interested in Esports Betting Amid Coronavirus

Nevada State Graphic With a COVID-19 and Esports Background

Nevada has remained the world’s premier sports betting market for decades. Home to Las Vegas, the Silver State handles over $5 billion worth of bets annually.

Popular American sports, including basketball, baseball, football, and hockey, are the bread-and-butter of this market. But bookmakers also make sure to offer lines on plenty of other sports and competitions.

However, Nevada has largely ignored esports up until this point. As I’ll cover later, complications have scared sportsbooks off from diving into esports betting.

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) in full effect, though, Nevada bookmakers are suddenly interested in professional video gaming. Below, you can read more about the Silver State’s past dealings with esports along with how sportsbooks are now embracing this type of wagering.

Nevada’s Past With Esports Betting

Esports gambling certainly isn’t a new thing. It has been growing in popularity for the past several years.

Many offshore bookmakers cover prime gaming events, such as the Fortnite World Championship, League of Legends World Championship, and Dota 2’s The International.

The Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC) quickly realized that esports was a rising force in the betting world. They sent a committee to discuss the matter with former Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2016.

Sandoval and the committee agreed to put esports in an “other” category for betting purposes. They wanted to keep this type of gambling alive in the market.

Encore Las Vegas Sportsbook

However, bookmakers don’t have many liberties with competitions relegated to the other category. They must obtain permission from the state before offering lines on any of these sports.

The same holds true for esports. Any bookmaker that wishes to run lines on video game events has to contact the Nevada Gaming Control Board (GCB) beforehand.

Up until the spring of 2020, the GCB has only approved three competitions for betting purposes. This limited amount isn’t due to board rejecting numerous requests either.

Instead, they simply aren’t receiving many requests. Most operators don’t feel like jumping through hoops when they’re already making enough off of staples sports, like football and basketball.

Why Is Nevada So Hesitant to Accept Esports Gambling?

The Nevada sports betting industry as a whole has been extremely slow to accept esports. Multiple reasons exist behind this current situation.

First off, bookmakers have difficulty finding a way to monetize esports betting this time. They can’t just roll out lines on a whim.

Instead, sportsbooks need to obtain approval from gaming regulators. This process is quite a hassle compared to offering NBA, MLB, or NFL betting without such approval.

The esports fan base presents a unique dilemma. Competitive gaming in its current form is relatively new compared to traditional sports. As a result, many fans are younger than 21 years old. The same fans can’t legally bet at a Nevada sportsbook.

Bookmakers don’t need to worry about this problem with hockey or the UFC, for example. Fans of these sports and many others are largely 21 or older.

Both the GCB and NGC have their problems with esports as well. They worry that the professionals are more susceptible to match-fixing than athletes in other sports.

The salaries for esports pros range greatly. Those who aren’t receiving much money are more likely to throw matches due to gambling purposes.

Compare this situation to the NBA, for example. NBA salaries start at $582,000 and go as high as $40.2 million (Steph Curry).

A player who’s getting at least $582k annually is much less likely to accept bribes than an esports player who scrapes by on $25,000.

The Coronavirus Has Changed Everything

You can see that valid reasons exist for why esports betting hasn’t taken off in Nevada. However, the Silver State betting industry has changed drastically ever since the coronavirus hit.

Gov. Steve Sisolak originally forced casinos throughout the state to shut down on March 18th, 2020. Nevada gambling establishments have now mostly reopened, but many casinos are still stuck in limbo.

The state’s gambling industry has taken a major hit as a result. According to numbers from the GCB, Nevada casinos at one point were losing anywhere from $42,000 to $700,000 per day.

Las Vegas Strip During COVID-19

These declines in revenue have forced operators to lay off thousands of workers. Employees who manned everything from blackjack tables to casino bars now find themselves in the unemployment line.

COVID-19 has hit many areas. But few places have been hit as hard as Nevada and its ailing casino industry.

The iconic Vegas Strip is no longer the bustling street it once was. Even smaller gambling locations, such as Mesquite, don’t see quite the same traffic as they once did.

Nevada Quickly Approves Betting on Four Esports Events

Nevada bookmakers have had more time to analyze other betting markets during the coronavirus pandemic. Most notably, they’ve given esports a longer look.

Various sportsbooks have since requested to run lines for esports competitions. The Gaming Control Board has approved requests for four different events/leagues, including the following:

  • Call of Duty League
  • League of Legends European Championship
  • North America League of Legends Championship
  • Overwatch League

Bookmakers are banking on esports to bring in some revenue while their normal offerings have diminished. Table tennis actually became a big moneymaker for sportsbooks.

“Ping pong is the star of the show,” noted William Hill director of trading Nick Bogdanovich. “The games are one on top of one another. Guys are playing three or four times a day.

“Everyone is probably betting the same guy or against him all day. People are betting five-, six- and seven-teamers [parlays].”

Will the Esports Interest Continue Beyond the Pandemic?

As covered earlier, Nevada has had very little interest in esports betting in the past. The regulators have too strict of requirements on esports, while bookmakers don’t want to deal with this red tape.

However, sportsbooks need the options right now.

Esports is one of the few games in town. Nevada bookmakers have jumped at the opportunity to feature more lines on something during this pandemic.

Esports Gamer Playing a Match

But will their interest continue beyond just the coronavirus scare? Bookmakers could stay interested if they have success with their current offerings.

Esports gambling has become a hit around the globe. Asians especially like wagering on professional video gaming.

Many younger Americans also pay attention to competitive gaming. But sportsbooks aren’t able to fully cater to these fans yet.

Nevada bookmakers have largely ignored esports when considering how they’re already successful with traditional sports betting. They’ve only now become more interested after the impact of the COVID-19 shutdowns.

I doubt that they’ll maintain as much attention to esports since the MLB and NFL have become options again. After all, they still need to rely on Gaming Control Board approval before offering odds.

But they’re at least getting more acclimated to esports betting. Meanwhile, fans who might have previously overlooked video game gambling have been introduced to it as well.

This enthusiasm for esports will subside to a large degree when the pandemic is over. But it’ll also have a positive effect by causing more bookmakers and fans to embrace pro video gaming.

Conclusion

Esports haven’t made much of a dent in Nevada’s gambling market yet. However, they have a chance to shine now amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Casinos are struggling across the state, and tourism numbers have plummeted.

Sports leagues have been facing difficulties across the globe. Therefore, sportsbooks are eager to offer lines on ping pong and other obscure games.

They’re finally putting more focus on esports under the circumstances. These bookmakers need more options to make money.

Esports gives them an opportunity to bring in revenue from competitions that are far more relevant on a global scale than table tennis.