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Peer-to-peer betting, cryptocurrency wagering could be in Nevada’s gaming future

Updated August 16, 2021 - 10:57 am

Upcoming regulatory hearings could lead to long-term changes to how we gamble in Nevada casinos.

On Thursday, the Nevada Gaming Commission will consider a recommendation from the Gaming Control Board on ZenSports Inc., a West Hollywood, California, startup company that hopes to build a better mousetrap when it comes to sports wagering in the Silver State.

Mark Thomas, who lists himself as president, treasurer, secretary, CEO, chief financial officer, director, shareholder and 81.35 percent owner of ZenSports, wants to offer someday peer-to-peer sports wagering — people betting against someone they’re playing in a game instead of against the house. He also has visions of taking cryptocurrency wagers someday.

In an Aug. 4 board presentation, Thomas outlined his vision and his unorthodox entry into sports gaming to regulators.

The Control Board unanimously recommended Thomas to be licensed to operate Big Wheel Casino in Lovelock, a truck stop on Interstate 80 northeast of Reno. ZenSports is buying the tiny property from Strategic Gaming Management, which also owns Baldini’s Sports Casino in Sparks.

Thomas indicated he knows those places aren’t going to produce the volume he needs to be profitable — which is why he is developing an online sports app that could be used statewide if he can get enough sign-ups to challenge the likes of William Hill, BetMGM and WynnBET.

The Control Board recommended a two-year license for Thomas, but it will be interesting to see whether the commission, currently with four members, approves something less restrictive.

Peer-to-peer wagering and cryptocurrency aren’t on the table Thursday, but it’s clear Thomas is thinking ahead to new terrain in sports betting.

Regulatory workshop

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Nevada Gaming Control Board will discuss whether to update the existing definition of “wagering accounts.” That would set the stage for more robust cashless betting options as regulators pinpoint the difference between wagering accounts and wagering vouchers.

A key addition to the regulation says accounts are “used solely to record and track wagering vouchers whose validity and value are determined, monitored and retained by a licensee’s wagering system or to communicate with a licensee’s cashless wagering system for the purpose of facilitating a patron’s use or redemption of wagering vouchers whose validity and value are determined, monitored and retained by the licensee’s cashless wagering system.”

That’s not scintillating reading on the surface, but cleaning up that definition will lead the way to a more intriguing conversation that could change the operation of interactive gaming and peer-to-peer wagering beyond online poker.

A workshop for Regulation 5A on interactive gaming was postponed in May and has yet to be rescheduled, but sides were already lining up for and against the proposal. Three organizations already have made written statements about the plan.

888 Holdings, affiliated with Caesars Entertainment Inc., is seeking clarification from regulators on the state’s stance on online poker. 888 has worked toward expanding online poker play now limited to interactive games among players in three states.

Conscious Gaming, a philanthropic organization based in Nevada dedicated to leveraging technology tools to propel social responsibility initiatives, is enthusiastic about the measure because it incorporates self-exclusion, a responsible gaming tactic that enables players to limit their own level of play before they’re caught up in the rush of the moment of being in the casino.

Concern for brick-and-mortar gaming

A third commenter, Adam Corrigan of the Corrigan Companies, which operates small gaming outlets Roadrunner Saloon, Vintner Grill and Al’s Garage, noted that some interactive gaming operations don’t invest in brick-and-mortar facilities such as casino resorts.

“Gaming operators in Nevada have spent billions of dollars creating the most unique and exciting gaming entertainment destinations in the world, and we continue to spend in order to meet our customers’ expectations and maintain Nevada’s leadership position in the gaming industry,” Corrigan said in a letter to Gaming Control Board Chairman Brin Gibson and Gaming Commission Chairman John Moran.

“Online gaming will incentivize our customers to not visit physical gaming properties, limiting our ability to earn revenue and provide funds to reinvest in our casino resorts,” he said. “Even worse, many online operators do not operate a single land-based facility at all, let alone in Nevada, which diverts revenue and reinvestment out of our state.”

Regulators haven’t decided when they’re going to conduct a workshop on Regulation 5A.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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