The success of legalized sports betting has opened the possibility for gaming operators to offer wagers on other competitive events, and state lawmakers are now seeking to expand wagering on additional events such as electronic video game tournaments.

Legislation that would permanently allow legal betting on esports events advanced out of an Assembly committee Thursday. The bill, A637, was unanimously approved by the seven-member Assembly Tourism, Gaming & the Arts Committee and now moves to the Speaker for consideration.

“I would say esports are the ‘next big thing’ when it comes to sporting events, but the fact of the matter is that video game tournaments are already a prominent form of skill-based competition,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, one the bill’s primary sponsors and chair of the gaming committee.

Caputo, a former Atlantic City casino executive, said the legislation would amend the state’s existing sports betting law and “ultimately expand on the industry to make it more successful.”

“Throughout the country and the world, video game enthusiasts are flocking to see expert players compete in all kinds of digital games,” he said. “Whether they follow along online or in person, hundreds of millions of people watch esports each year — and that number is only growing.”

Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling, D-Monmouth, is also a primary sponsor of the bill and represents a district with one of two sports betting parlors outside of Atlantic City. In addition to the eight casino sportsbooks in Atlantic City, the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford and Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, also have licensed sports betting facilities. Additionally, there are 17 online/mobile sports betting options in New Jersey.

“It’s important for our state to capitalize on this rapidly growing industry in order to both give our residents what they want and boost our economy,” Houghtaling said. “With online sports betting now legal in New Jersey and a large number of people already interested in this type of gaming, the time is right for us to expand legal wagering beyond traditional sports.”

Atlantic City has hosted several esports tournaments in recent years. Caesars Atlantic City hosted the city’s first esports event, Gears of War Pro Circuit, in 2017. Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City held the Rainbow Six Siege Pro League event in 2018. In 2019, Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall partnered with INGAME Esports and Caesars Entertainment to hold the Ultimate Gaming Championship’s Halo Classic tournament, and in June the venue will host an Overwatch tournament. Showboat Hotel Atlantic City has also hosted several esports tournaments.

“The legalization of wagering on esports has the potential to make Atlantic City the esports capital of the U.S. and draw thousands of tourists to the area,” said Nicholas Casiello Jr., partner in Fox Rothschild’s Atlantic City office and chairman of the law firm’s gaming group.

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference will hold esports championship tournaments in conjunction with its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments to be held at Boardwalk Hall this month.

Stockton University’s esports team won the Eastern College Athletic Conference Fortnite championship and placed second in the League of Legends championship last April.

The bill advanced Thursday would maintain a prohibition on betting on esports tournaments involving high schools but would allow it on college-level teams so long as they are not based in New Jersey — the same prohibitions that apply to wagering on the state’s football, basketball and other athletic teams.

Last year, state gaming regulators at the Division of Gaming Enforcement permitted legalized esports wagers for the League of Legends World Championship. The DGE offered this on a one-time basis and imposed conditions, such as a $1,000 maximum bet and no in-game wagering.

According to Newzoo, an online gaming data provider, there were nearly 450 million esports viewers in 2019, and the gaming competitions generated more than $1 billion in revenue from various streams, such as sponsorship, advertising, merchandise and tickets.

“Our natural next step will be to allow e-sports betting in New Jersey, which will undoubtedly add a new revenue stream for our state. I’m pleased to see this legislation move forward in the Assembly, and look forward to seeing it being signed into law,” said Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic.

Contact: 609-272-7222

Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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