In-person and online sports betting has been a boon for New Jersey and its gaming businesses, with $4.6 billion wagered last year. No surprise, then, that some state officials want to double down by authorizing bets on video-game competitions.
Esports, as they are called, are rapidly growing globally. Atlantic City has hosted several esports tournaments the past few years and has aimed to become a major center for the activity.
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, said the city could dominate esports betting if New Jersey becomes the first state on the East Cost to offer routine betting on the competitions. The former Atlantic City casino executive and chair of the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee has introduced a bipartisan bill to do just that.
The state Division of Gaming Enforcement already can approve requests to allow wagering on specific events. Last fall, it permitted bets up to $1,000 on an esports tournament in Paris while disallowing in-game betting. Chairman David Rebuck told a hearing on Caputo’s proposal that the DGE “fully supports the proposed bill.”
Absent specifically proposed and approved rules for an event, the bill would either limit wagers to $100 or payouts for winning bets to $500, whichever is greater.
One thing that sets esports apart from other games of skill possible under sports betting is that many of the competitors and spectators are minors.
Caputo’s bill makes a weak attempt to address this by disallowing esports competitions sponsored by or affiliated with high schools, or in which the majority of competitors are under age 18. That would help mitigate underage gambling on esports, but surely wouldn’t stop it.
Non-adult esports players also complicate the issue of cheating, which exploded on the pro sports level recently with revelations that baseball’s Houston Astros cheated while winning their league and the World Series. Would underage esports players understand the laws and issues regarding cheating? Could they be held accountable for cheating? It’s not hard to imagine they’d be more susceptible.
Performance enhancing drugs, which have bedeviled all traditional sports, also present unique issues and challenges in esports.
Numerous players have said that there is widespread use in esports tournaments of drugs meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin can sharpen attention and quicken responses during game play, especially for long periods.
In 2016, the Electronic Sports League banned stimulants used to treat ADHD and began conducting drug tests. Others, such as the Overwatch League that will stage a completion in Atlantic City in June and Fortnite competitions host Epic Games, say such drugs may only be used to treat the condition for which they’re prescribed.
Getting the regulation and oversight right on esports gambling won’t be easy. The potential for scandalous mistreatment of players and betters seems greater than for other games of skill. If eating comptitions also are permitted by the legislation, that would add additional risks.
Perhaps betting shouldn’t be allowed on competitions involving children.
The payoff for state government and gaming businesses from esports betting probably would be large, but the enabling law’s policies and practices will need to be especially solid. The Legislature should take however much time is needed to develop them.