ESports Betting Expansion Bill Moving Forward In New Jersey

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The New Jersey Assembly on Thursday passed a bill designed to make it much easier for eSports tournaments to become part of the state’s legal, regulated sportsbooks’ menu of offerings.

The vote was 74-0, bypassing the typical partisan divide in Trenton.

“Sometimes the less you say, the better,” bill co-sponsor Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, quipped to NJ Online Gambling. “You start talking about a bill, and you wind up with disagreements.”

More seriously, Caputo credited Republican Assemblyman Ronald Dancer of Ocean County, Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck, and officials in the state attorney general’s office with help in crafting the bill.

The DGE already had the power to authorize certain eSports events, but Caputo said that approval had to come on an “emergency basis.” The bill, which initially had been introduced in January, would allow for wagering on any eSports tournament that meets certain conditions.

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Handling the teen issue with eSports

A key element of the bill is here:

“A ‘prohibited sports event’ includes electronic sports and competitive video games that are sponsored by or affiliated with a high school or electronic sports and competitive video games and tournaments in which a majority of the competitors are under 18 years of age.

“A ‘prohibited sports event’ does not include electronic sports, or competitive video game events, in which persons under age 18 make up a minority of the participants.”

That language soothed concerns among some lawmakers about the youthfulness of both fans and participants regarding eSports tournaments.

The next step, said Caputo, will be to find a Senate sponsor. The logical candidate will be state Sen. James Beach, D-Camden, who chairs the Senate Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee.

Beach, the assistant majority leader for the past six years, likely would back the bill if the Atlantic City casinos do. For the past decade, the legislature has passed dozens of bills designed to boost the fortunes of the once-floundering casinos that rebounded strongly before the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March.

The backing by Rebuck and the attorney general’s office, Caputo said, makes it highly likely that Gov. Phil Murphy is on board with the bill.

Not just mobile eSports betting in New Jersey’s future?

But Caputo’s dreams go well beyond just having sports betting apps offering eSports wagering.

“I know this is the next big thing,” Caputo said of the idea of hosting the country’s biggest eSports events in Atlantic City. “I know all of that is on hold for now, but I still think we will be out ahead of this in the long run.”

The DGE allowed wagering on the League of Legends World Championships in November, with a maximum wager of $1,000. No “in-game betting” was allowed, which limits the volume of  betting substantially.

Caputo’s bill allows for bets of up to $100, with a a potential winning bet of no more than $500, unless approval is given by state regulators.

A host of other Caputo-sponsored bills introduced earlier this year are all on hold, the assemblyman said. One such bill would permit video lottery terminals at the Meadowlands Racetrack, with revenue either going solely to the horsemen or being split among the horsemen, the state education fund, and the general fund.

Other bills would approve bringing casinos to North Jersey; remove the ban on betting on New Jersey’s university athletic contests; and limit state lottery games to a maximum of two drawings per day.

“Other than eSports, everything else is on hold while we deal with all of these COVID issues,” said Caputo, who was a guest on the “Gamble On” podcast earlier this year.

Photo by Roman Kosolapov / Shutterstock.com
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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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