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Vegas interested in taking bets on esports — but not yet

State law does not prohibit casinos from taking wagers on esports events

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Nevada's casinos, theoretically at least, could begin taking bets on esports competitions right now, a top gambling regulator in that state said at a meeting of its gaming policy commission on Friday.

It's unlikely they will do so anytime soon, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. But A.G. Burnett, chairman of Nevada's Gaming Control Board, said there is nothing in state statutes that would prohibit wagering on top esports events like the StarCraft League Championships, Dota 2's The International, or the new World Esports Association announced two days ago.

Esports was the subject of the state's Gaming Policy Committee meeting on lucky Friday the 13th, with its ability to expand Las Vegas' business and audience foremost in mind. Casinos there already are hosting esports events, such as the Mandalay Bay did for the North American LCS Spring Finals in League of Legends a month ago.

This meeting seemed more about how to handle esports as a wagering matter, and what hazards that may present to the house.

One committee member noted the difficulty esports presents to two critical areas of bookmaking: setting odds and monitoring play. Traditional sports have no shortage of experts to set an opening line that encourages even action, and then numerous channels to glean information leading up to the event to help them move the line to balance out the betting. Esports may be growing but experts on them are few and unfamiliar to sports books, and the flow of information going into a big event is not as widespread.

Another committee member suggested alternatives to odds or spread betting, such as pari-mutuel (favored by horse racing) or poker-style betting, where gamblers bet against one another with the payoffs determined by where their money is placed, and the house takes a percentage, insulating it from unpredictable outcomes.

Panelists invited to speak at the meeting included Craig Levine, the CEO of the ESL, who spoke to concerns about match-fixing and doping. The ESL in August signed on to the list of banned substances maintained by the World Anti-Doping Agency, noting that use of stimulants and drugs to treat ADHD had been used illicitly for competitive advantage.

This year, Valve made permanent the bans it had levied on 21 Counter-Strike professionals accused of match-fixing. Last month South Korean authorities indicted another 10 persons, including two top professionals in the investigation of StarCraft match fixing back in 2015, where the sums paid by fixers were larger than the prize pools at stake.

Another panelist, CEO of a major casino, noted promotional efforts to engage esports enthusiasts, which typically are younger and therefore an attractive audience for growth. That, however, presents another regulatory challenge, which is how to host an event featuring competitors and fans who may not be old enough to legally enter a casino in the state.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval asked that the committee consider what it heard at Friday's panel and return for another meeting in August to discuss ideas for gambling and esports, meaning Vegas isn't ready to take action yet.

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