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Fair Game: Writing the Rules for Esports

The relationship between resorts, eSports and the Gaming Control Board is still being fleshed out. UNLV researchers are right there to examine these emerging paradigms.

Business and Community  |  Apr 3, 2017  |  By Jason Scavone
Brett Abarbanel stands in front of slot machines

Brett Abarbanel, director of research for UNLV's International Gaming Institute, believes that esports will be part of another reinvention of casino floors. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

While students are busy dreaming of new ways that casinos and esports can come together, Brett Abarbanel, the International Gaming Institute’s director of research, is digging into the nuts and bolts of the nascent marriage between gaming and, well, gaming.

For starters, sports books have already begun accepting wagers on certain esports events. With a gambling component wrapped up in what casinos view as a new entertainment offering to draw in a growing market, it’s a subject well worth studying to the IGI.

“It seems the casino industry is very, very interested in esports, but a lot of them still approach it with a little bit of trepidation,” Abarbanel said. “This is still very new and there’s quite a few unknowns still floating out there.”

One of those factors is age — esports enthusiasts span a coveted younger demographic, but that’s a double-edged sword. A sizeable segment of eSports fans are far, far too young to set foot in a casino. Another attractive element to this for casino marketing departments is that, though eSports competitors are primarily men, the fans who flock to the competitions tend to split fairly evenly between men and women.

How casinos approach integrating esports is still very much under consideration, though Abarbanel’s assessment is that this is just the beginning of another reinvention of casino floors.

“What we’re going to see broadly, is a lot of new technology,” she said. “We’re going to see the skill-based games, or we’re going to see esports components whether that be increased hosting of tournaments or whether it’s going to be integrated into nightclubs or other nongaming components. I think we’re going to see a lot more integration of the gaming and gambling spaces within the casino.”

The use of mobile devices is part and parcel of how casino games of the future, Abarbanel envisions. Younger players are smitten with new technology, particularly the kind that allows them to communicate with each other during the course of playing.

One factor that can impact how tightly eSports and gambling tie together is how long it takes for esports competitions to become regular, expected offerings on sportsbook wagering menus.

Right now, the Nevada Gaming Control Board has to approve each tournament for wagering on a case-by-case basis. Some have passed muster, some haven’t. Being able to ensure integrity of the game is part of the equation, but the books also aren’t fully comfortable setting lines for the competitions.

Jennifer Roberts, associate director for UNLV’s International Center for Gaming Regulation, will be watching that process closely. The center, a partnership between the UNLV’s Boyd School of Law and IGI, is the only one in the country focused on research, best practices, and industry education programs for gaming regulators.

Senate Bill 240, now being considered by the Nevada Legislature was written by students in the UNLV’s Gaming Law Policy class. It would allow pari-mutuel eSports wagering on a regular basis — something currently only allowed for horse racing and fantasy sports.

Boyd law students have a good track record for influencing gaming policy. In the past, they’ve written legislation related to Gaming Control Board membership, progressive jackpots, and charitable lotteries. 

On a national level, Roberts predicts a centralized league will emerge to set the uniform rules for esports tournaments and who can bet on them, much like the NCAA does for college basketball. “With basketball, football, those sports — they’ve had these leagues around for decades,” Roberts said “With adding wagering into the mix, it is just getting to the point where people are comfortable with the technology, with the leagues, with the integrity.”