With Esports Popular In PA, Esports Betting Could Be Big Business

Martin Derbyshire April 29, 2018
pink headphones on gaming computer

It’s hard to imagine any state could more excited about the potential esports betting presents than Nevada. But if there is one, it’s probably Pennsylvania.

Nevada sportsbooks started taking bets on esports competitions back in November 2016.

That’s when William Hill US, in partnership with the Downtown Grand Casino, received regulatory approval and became the first sportsbook in the country to offer bets on esports. The first bets it took were on the League of Legends IEM Oakland eSports event.

At the time, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval said sportsbooks in the state offering esports wagering was a major step towards ensuring Nevada becomes the esports capital of the world. The state continues to work towards that goal with great success.

Esports Arena Las Vegas

Allied Esports opened up the first dedicated esports venue on the Las Vegas Strip in March 2018. The 30,000 square-foot Esports Arena Las Vegas at the Luxor has already started hosting major tournaments and other esports events. And, of course, sportsbooks have been taking bets on the competitions there and elsewhere.

Esports betting is already a multi-billion dollar business online and its growing every day. In fact, Brett Abarbanel, director of research at UNLV’s game institute, recently told the local press in Las Vegas that offshore sportsbook Pinnacle reported esports had overtaken golf and rugby in terms of popularity, with 100 percent growth since last year.

Nevada sportsbooks are currently alone in accepting legalized wagers on esports tournaments in the US. With the legal esports betting market cornered, experts say esports betting in Nevada could surpass $6 billion in 2018.

That’s certainly something to get excited about in Nevada, but why should Pennsylvania care?

Sports betting headed to PA

As a part of a comprehensive gambling expansion package given the thumbs up by lawmakers in October 2017, Pennsylvania passed a bill legalizing sports betting inside state lines. Sports betting isn’t legal just yet, however, the new law does require some changes at the federal level first.

Currently, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) bans single-game wagering pretty much everywhere outside of Nevada. Some parlay wagering in Delaware and Game Square betting in Montana are also exempt from the federal ban.

However, New Jersey has tried twice to pass laws that would see legal sports betting come to casinos and racetracks in that state. Its efforts were challenged in court by professional and amateur sports leagues across the country. In December of last year, the case landed New Jersey before the US Supreme Court arguing for PASPA to be declared unconstitutional.

A decision in the case is expected sometime in the spring or summer of 2018. Should that decision declare PASPA unconstitutional, Pennsylvania could suddenly have the ability to enact its new laws and move forward with legalized sports betting almost immediately.

Of course, even if the US Supreme Court upholds PASPA, Congress could repeal the law, paving the way for legalized sports betting in PA anyway.

Sportsbooks would open up inside most, if not all, of the 12 casinos across the state. Sports betting would presumably go online as well.

Considering the success Nevada continues to have with it, it’s no stretch to think PA sportsbooks, online and off, would look to offer esports betting as well.

Esports gains popularity in PA

And for those who think esports doesn’t have the kind of popularity in PA it does elsewhere, it’s time to think again.

Nevada clearly has the inside track on reaching Gov. Sandoval’s goal of becoming the esports capital of the world. However, the popularity of esports in Pennsylvania isn’t lagging too far behind. Plus, PA may even be ahead of all others when it comes to mainstream acceptance.

At the same time lawmakers in the state capitol in Harrisburg were passing sports gambling legislation, nearby Harrisburg University was becoming the first school in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic to join the National Association of Collegiate eSports.

That means esports will become the University’s first and only varsity sport when the program launches in the fall of 2018.

In fact, the university announced in October 2017 it will be offering 15 full-ride athletic scholarships to esports athletes as a part of it.

The school’s esports team will compete around the world in games including League of Legends, Overwatch, and Hearthstone.

PA becoming a hotbed for pro esports

The Pittsburgh Knights professional esports team launched at the end of 2017. The franchise’s goal is to compete in the following games around the world:

  • Overwatch
  • League of Legends
  • Dota 2
  • Counter-Strike
  • StarCraft
  • Super Smash Bros

Plus, it wants to bring some of those tournaments and conventions back home to Pittsburgh. There’s even some talk of building an esports stadium in the city.

It competes in a professional Overwatch League that plays exclusively in California. However, Philadelphia also has a budding pro esports franchise.

The 12-person Philadelphia Fusion and the league it plays in debuted at the beginning of 2018. However, fans have been watching in big numbers already. In fact, 10 million viewers reportedly tuned in to watch the first matches on Twitch, an online gaming streaming service.

Plus, hundreds just turned up for a Fusion viewing party at Wahoo’s bar in University City.

From every angle, the esports landscape across Pennsylvania is filling up fast. Esports popularity continues to grow. Plus, things are moving forward on the sports betting legislation front.  If that continues, people in PA will soon be able to bet on esports. Something that can only help that popularity grow even further.

It’s hard to believe anyone is more excited about the potential esports betting presents than Nevada. But that excitement seems to be growing in PA just as fast.

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