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Las Vegas Bookmakers Cautious, But Welcome Esports Betting

(AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

A general view during the final of League of Legends tournament between Team G2 Esports and Team FunPlus Phoenix, in Paris, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, race and sports books in Las Vegas dismissed the notion of posting lines and taking wagers on esports.

Why bet on video game competitions, when you could wager on the Vegas Golden Knights or a long list of NBA games.

But now, searching for an alternative to mainstream sports, the Nevada Gaming Control Board has approved bets on different esports series.

Within the past month, however, regulators have approved wagering on seven further esports events, plus the eNASCAR series that involves real-life pro drivers racing on virtual racetracks.

Other events approved recently include two League of Legends tournaments and the 2020 Overwatch League.

Prior to March 25, the control board had authorized sportsbooks to offer bets on only three major esports tournaments that were held in 2016 and 2017.

It is a regulatory decision William Hill and other bookmakers welcomed, but the new betting opportunities have yet to prove their financial worth compared to betting on the NFL or NBA. 

“Like most new markets, a lot of people don’t know that we have them up,” said Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill U.S. “It’s very possible that at some point this stuff will take off, you just never know when.”

Bogdanovich said the tickets have been slow for the esports market, except for the eNASCAR events, but he pointed out that people know the drivers in that event. 

The other events like League of Legends and Overwatch haven't taken off as much and Bogdanovich admits he doesn't know much about the video games.

“It’s more for people’s entertainment to get them through this gloom and doom time," he said, "If it ever gets to where we’re writing serious dollars to it, I might have to sharpen up my acumen.”

Despite Bogdanovich's skepticism, Blaine Grayboyes, CEO of GameCo, believes esports will be a draw for casinos. 

GameGo creates skill-based games for casinos and has partnered with another company to create an esports data platform. Graboyes said more people watch esports than play them.

“Therefore, the opportunity for more people to bet on esports is there as well," he said, "What we’re doing is looking to offer the optimal solution in the marketplace for sports books like William Hill and others in Nevada and across North America.”

The new platform will deliver data about esports for sports books.

Graboyes said there is a generational shift going on and the kids who grew up playing video games are now the new customer for casinos.

“This is a great demographic for casinos to engage with now, especially if they want to grow their businesses over time,” he said.

GameCo has created skilled-based games for the casino floor that have the interactivity of video games with the thrill of winning money as the slot machine.

Graboyes said 80 percent of spending on his company's games come from Gen-X and Millennials, but that same audience only spends about 20 percent on slot machines.

“So, it’s an opportunity to attract and monetize a completely different audience than the traditional slot machine player,” he said.

While Tom Brady and LeBron James are household names, Graboyes said the top gamers are absolutely celebrities to their fans. 

Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading, William Hill US; Blaine Graboyes, CEO, GameCo


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(Editor's note: Chris Sieroty no longer works for Nevada Public Radio)