Esports betting gets underway in New Jersey

The names and faces of gamers are shown as they compete in a round of the League of Legends championship series video game competition

The names and faces of gamers are shown as they compete in a round of the League of Legends championship series video game competition, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, at the Penny Arcade Expo, a fan-centric celebration of gaming in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Betting on competitive video games has begun in New Jersey.

The state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement gave the green light to Esports Entertainment Group to accept bets on competitive video games or esports. The London-based company, which also has an office in Hoboken, launched its betting platform after a five-day “soft play” period in late January.

Customers placed bets on people playing Call of Duty, League of Legends, and other games.

CEO Grant Johnson told New Jersey Business Magazine he hopes the company will generate as much as $2 million in revenue for the state.

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A bill to allow for wagers on competitive video games, or esports, passed unanimously in the Legislature last summer.

Betting on esports is a critical development, according to Andrew Weilgus, executive director of the Esports Innovation Center at Stockton University. The center was created by the state’s Economic Development Authority with support from the university.

“[If] you look at a massive developing market that’s estimated to be almost $200 billion over the next decade … there needs to be a clear way to engage in that market,” he said. “This is really the first application that’s being introduced that gives the average user a very similar sense of how to bet on things linear to sports.”

Weilgus said Esports Entertainment Group is a publicly traded company on the Nasdaq exchange with plans to partner with the Hard Rock Casino for events and Bally’s for its sportsbook. He suspects other groups will get involved as well.

“It’s wonderful to have groups that are dedicated and focused to doing things in the esports world, especially when it comes to gaming,” he added.

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Esports betting is a natural complement to sports betting, said Jane Bokunewicz, director of Stockton’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism.

“It represents an opportunity for casinos to reach a new demographic of players who might not have been interested in traditional games of chance like slot machines and table games,” she said.

Bokunewicz said while sports betting is not a significant part of casinos’ bottom lines overall, she says the industry is still trying to get a piece of the electronic action.

“At the last gaming conference I was at, it was one of the hottest topics of conversation,” she said.

She adds the area of greatest opportunity for New Jersey’s brick-and-mortar casinos in Atlantic City is with in-person tournaments.

“What is a big benefit to the industry is when they can have live esports tournaments that will bring a new demographic of people into the city and potentially to spend money in the hotels, the restaurants, and the other entertainment attractions in the city,” Bokunewicz said.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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