Esports Betting Slow To Gain Footing In New Jersey

For a variety of reasons, bettors have been slow to wager on fledgling market
esports new jersey

An unexpected twist at a tournament held in New Jersey by Esports Entertainment Group in March wound up being symbolic of the challenges the company has faced since it became the first licensed esports betting operator in the U.S.

Company CEO and founder Grant Johnson told NJ Online Gambling on Wednesday that he hoped to have at least 500 entrants for the Madden NFL ’22 contest at the Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City for $9,000 in prize money. However, “most of the people couldn’t get hotel rooms,” Johnson said, adding that an American Cornhole League event at the nearby Showboat Hotel resulted in a number of Boardwalk casinos reaching capacity before esports fans and competitors could claim rooms for the two-day event.

Still, Johnson said more than 100 entrants competed — and that a majority of them took advantage of the opportunity to place legal bets on their own performances. Here, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement took a cautious approach, limiting wagering to no more than $50 per bet.

Esports a safe option?

Johnson said he is in discussions with multiple casino operators for a second event, but notes that the industry has been slow to embrace the new gambling option.

At last week’s East Coast Gaming Congress in Atlantic City and again on Wednesday, Johnson said that he has to deal with regulators, casino operators, and even professional sports teams who have expressed some interest in esports — but who also are concerned about the public perception that video games might lead to real-world violence.

“It’s ridiculous,” Johnson said. “That’s like saying that me watching boxing makes me want to run out in the street and punch people in the head. I’m over 60 and I have never once thought about running somebody over with a car just because I just played a video game.”

Casino operators would be wise, Johnson said, to embrace a form of entertainment that, according to polling, has become more popular for Generation Z than the NFL or other team sports. Johnson went on to note that he was in a casino bar in Atlantic City on Thursday night, and that he might have been the youngest person there.

“There was even someone there on oxygen,” Johnson said. “Casinos are nervous about taking the next step, but how else are they going to attract a younger crowd? They are not pulling in the under age 30 demographic.”

Timetable on esports growth

Five years ago, Johnson said, no U.S. universities offered courses or majors in esports. Now, he said, more than 200 schools offer full scholarships for esports gamers.

As that demographic graduates and begins accumulating discretionary income, Johnson said that esports tournaments will become more and more popular. Still, he said it could be another five years before the betting market fully develops.

“In 10 years, it’s a sure thing,” Johnson said. “But it takes time. The [stock] market has no patience, so it’s frustrating trying to get their confidence back. It’s inevitable that casinos will look to esports to attract a young audience.”

In the meantime, Johnson’s company, which saw its stock tumble more than 50% earlier this month, offers esports enthusiasts in New Jersey a chance to wager on events online through its website. League of Legends, Counterstrike, Call of Duty, and Overwatch are among the major games that people bet on.

Earlier this month, a State Assembly committee passed a bill that would allow for esports events to be treated like traditional sports contests for wagering purposes, thereby eliminating the modest limits on bets. Ralph Caputo, the chairman of the Assembly Tourism, Gaming & The Arts Committee, told NJ Online Gambling that he expects a number of amendments to be added to the legislation.

It could be “several months” before the bill goes to the full Assembly for a vote, added Caputo, Trenton’s leading esports backer among lawmakers.


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