Esport wagering remains murky area for casinos

Updated July 23, 2017 - 11:44 pm

The casino industry is working to integrate gambling with esports, or competitive video gaming.

But it’s already happening inside Las Vegas casinos — and has been since at least 2005.

Some casino operators, the Nevada Gaming Control Board and parents of underage esport event attendees either did not know that gambling was happening, or had only a rough idea.

“Generally speaking, it is not illegal to wager socially, unless somebody is taking a cut,” said A.G. Burnett, chairman of the Control Board. “If anything inappropriate is going on, then we will certainly delve into that very deeply.”

Various Las Vegas casinos have hosted an annual video gaming tournament called the Evolution Championship Series, or Evo, since 2005. Mandalay Bay hosted the three-day tournament dedicated to the fighting genre of video games July 14-16.

The fighting game community has its own unique culture in the video gaming world. That culture comes with something called money matches, which occur informally outside of tournament games.

Money matches

“People play for pride, usually, just to say, ‘Let’s put something on the line,’” said, Nick Navas, who refereed during the Evo tournament at Mandalay Bay. “A money match is somebody saying, ‘Hey, buddy, I’ll play you for 5 bucks. Whoever wins — here’s your 5 bucks, here’s my 5 bucks, boom.’ And sometimes it gets really exciting, and people will go, ‘OK, I’m going to put my money to back that guy.’”

Most money matches happen with $5, but Navas said he’s seen it escalate to up to $3,000.

Technically, this sort of thing is forbidden at tournaments. But it happens anyway.

“Gambling is prohibited in and/or around the event hall. Any player that gambles on the property will be immediately ejected from the tournament, and may be banned,” the tournament rules state on the event’s website.

“Everyone says that,” said Sam McMullen, CEO and co-founder of FiveGen, which is working with the Control Board to create standards and regulations for the esports industry. Nobody wants to alienate underage players, who are a major part of the esports audience, he said.

Bassem “Bear” Dahdouh, one of the organizers for Evo, said “staff will ensure that anything of that nature is stopped” — mostly, he said, because gambling adds “an extra amount of pressure for no reason.”

Prohibited?

Jordan Aguda, a Las Vegas-based gamer, made about $35 from winning money matches within 30 minutes July 14, opening day of Evo.

Money matches are a way to test his skills by challenging a more advanced player, and possibly get a free dinner, he said.

“It’s not going to pay my bills, but it’s fun,” Aguda said. “If somebody said, ‘Hey, you want to play?’ I’m putting maybe 70 percent effort in, but if there’s $5 or $10 on the line, then my eyes are going to be locked on that screen.”

ChezRey Richardson, a 25-year-old gamer from Austin, Texas, only participated in one money match during Evo, he said, but enjoyed watching “a whole bunch” at a Salty Suite — an informal money match party — in the evening following the first day of Evo.

“Somebody rented a hotel room, it was pretty crowded. There were probably 40, maybe 50 people there,” Richardson said.

It’s a way for players who didn’t make it very far in the tournament to get a second chance to prove themselves by challenging those who beat them or other players to a match, Richardson said.

“Of course, some people just want to make extra money,” he said, adding that’s where most of the side betting happens.

Richardson said he didn’t participate in any of the betting. He went to learn about which players he should keep an eye on.

“Money matches can tell you a lot, like who to look out for in the future, or who is just a really good player,” he said, adding that he found out about the Salty Suite through word of mouth.

As far as he knows, nobody was getting a cut of the bets, he said.

What gambling?

Renae Bonestroo, who attended Evo with her husband and two sons from Iowa, said she had no idea that any type of gambling was taking place. She said she felt angry to learn that money matches are part of her 17-year old son’s hobby.

“It’s an outlet for kids to have fun,” Bonestroo said. At the same time, she said she would be against formally regulating wagering at esports events.

Marine Jacque, who attended Evo with her 17-year-old son Maceu Phillips felt the same way.

“As a mom, I have concerns,” Jacque said, “What do you do with the kids who are under 21?”

Karl Bennison, the chief of enforcement for the Nevada Gaming Control Board, said he was aware of some social betting taking place at Evo.

“It doesn’t sound like the licensee is behind it or encouraging it, or promoting it,” he said. “It sounds like it’s at a social level at this point.”

After learning details about money matches, Burnett said he intends to have a discussion with licensees and tournament organizers to make sure everybody is aware of what wagering may be going on, and to make sure nothing illegal is happening.

If somebody is taking a cut, the board will “certainly go after someone,” he said.

The Control Board has sent cease and desist letters to “some” online operators, which take a percentage of a formalized social wagering system. Burnett declined to name the operators.

McMullen said bringing this betting activity to the attention of casinos and regulators poses an opportunity.

“Regardless of type — both social and informal — money matching and internationally formal bookmaking is happening,” McMullen said. “This wagering presents a huge opportunity for Nevada if we can get our arms around how to make it technologically viable and standardized to be available to a public that clearly wants us to create a way for it to be legal and possible.”

Various casinos have hosted Evo since 2005, including Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Caesars Palace and Paris Las Vegas. It is unclear whether casino operators were aware of widespread social wagering during Evo because various casino spokesmen did not respond to a request for comment.

MGM Resorts International spokeswoman Mary Hynes did not address whether the company was aware of money matches, but said, “We typically don’t monitor the social interactions of our guests.”

Murky waters

Although social betting is legal, there is reason for casino operators to have some qualms.

“Broadly, when money is being exchanged on a casino floor in the context of gambling of any sort and the casino isn’t involved, that’s a potential liability for the licensee,” said Chris Grove, co-director of the Nevada Esports Alliance, which was formed in February in hopes of making Nevada the esports industry hub.

“From a casino perspective, I don’t know if they ever thought about it. … Everything that contextualizes Evo for a casino is basically how they contextualize any event … and usually those don’t have a ton of side-betting involved,” Grove said. “From a parental perspective, it’s always hard to believe what your kids are actually up to.”

Momentum is building to create standards and regulations to make esports betting as readily available as other sports betting.

“We are working on meeting the demand of the gamers in terms of wagering in the sports books at the casinos,” Burnett said.

Contact Nicole Raz at nraz@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @JournalistNikki on Twitter.

Business Videos
Impact of parking fees on visiting the Las Vegas Strip
There are no data showing a relationship between Strip resort and parking fees and the number of out-of-state visitors to Las Vegas. But there are data showing a relationship between Strip parking fees and the number of local visitors to the the Strip. ‘’As a local, I find myself picking hotels I visit for dinner or entertainment, based on whether they charge for parking or not,”’ said David Perisset, the owner of Exotics Racing. ‘’It is not a matter of money, more of principle.’’ A 2018 survey by the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance found 36.9 percent of Clark County residents reported avoiding parking at Strip casinos that charge for parking. 29.1 percent reported avoiding using any services from a Strip casino that charges for parking.
MGM's sports betting deals
MGM Resorts International signed a sports betting sponsorship agreement with the NBA in July It was the first professional sports league to have official ties with a legal sports betting house. The deal came just two months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a law prohibiting sports betting in most states. In October, MGM became the first gaming company to sign a sports betting partnership with the NHL. In November, MGM became the first gaming company to sign a sports betting partnership with the MLB. Financial terms of Tuesday’s deal and earlier partnerships have not been announced.
Faraday puts Las Vegas land on the market
Nearly two years after Faraday Future bailed on its North Las Vegas auto factory, the company has put its land up for sale. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
El Cortez owner Kenny Epstein on running the iconic property
Kenny Epstein, owner of the El Cortez Hotel in downtown Las Vegas, talks about Jackie Gaughan mentorship and answers rumors about bodies in the basement at the mob-era casino. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
LVCVA recommends construction of underground people mover
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced the recommendation for an underground people mover for the convention center. The system would have the potential to expand and connect Downtown and the resort corridor all the way to McCarran. (Michael Quine/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LVCVA/Boring Company Press Conference
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced a collaboration with Elon Musk's The Boring Company to develop and operate an autonomous people mover system for the Las Vegas Convention Center District.
International Pizza Expo includes green and gluten free
The International Pizza Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center included companies focused on vegan and gluten free, and plant-based pizza boxes. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
International Pizza Expo kicks off in Las Vegas
The first day of the International Pizza Expo at Las Vegas Convention Center is everything Pizza. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
T-Mobile program aids guests with sensory needs
A program at T-Mobile Arena is designed to provide a more sensory friendly experience for guests.
Photo Booth Expo
Danielle May talks about how Simple Booth transformed her Volkswagen bus into a business.
Nevada Gaming Commission's highest fines
The highest fines assessed by the Nevada Gaming Commission, according to commission Chairman Tony Alamo: 1) Wynn Resorts Ltd., $20 million, 2019 2) CG Technology (then known as Cantor G&W Holdings), $5.5 million, 2014 3) The Mirage, $5 million ($3 million fine, $2 million compensatory payment), 2003 4) Stardust, $3 million, 1985 5) Santa Fe Station, $2.2 million ($1.5 million fine, $700,000 compensatory payment), 2005 6) Las Vegas Sands, $2 million, 2016 7) CG Technology, $1.75 million, 2018 8) CG Technology, $1.5 million (also $25,000 in escrow for underpaid patrons), 2016 9) Caesars Entertainment, $1.5 million, 2015 10) Imperial Palace, $1.5 million, 1989 11) Peppermill Casinos, $1 million, 2014
Tiny Pipe Home vs Shipping Crate
A Tiny pipe home was displayed at the International Builders Show this week in Las Vegas.
Auto repair shortage affects Las Vegas
The auto repair industry is facing a national shortage of workers.
Franchising industry booming
Experts say Las Vegas is a hotbed for the franchise industry.
Africa Love owner talks about his store in Las Vegas
Mara Diakhate, owner of Africa Love, gift and decor store, talks about his store in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Developer gets approval to build homes at Bonnie Springs
The Clark County Planning Commission has approved a plan to build 20 homes on the site of Bonnie Springs Ranch. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dig This opens new location In Las Vegas
Remember when you were a kid and played with construction toys in the sand box? Dig This Las Vegas has the same idea, except instead of toy bulldozers, you get to play with the real thing. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Town Square developer Jim Stuart building again in Las Vegas
Las Vegas’ real estate bubble took developers on a wild ride, something Jim Stuart knows all too well. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Salon opens at Veterans Village
T.H.E. Salon, owned by Nicole Christie, celebrated their opening at the Veterans Village with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Southwest Airlines considering Las Vegas-Hawaii flights
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly says the airline is "very focused" on Hawaii. Hawaiians have a strong presence in Las Vegas.The city’s unofficial status is “Hawaii’s ninth island.” In 2018, at least 2,958 people from Hawaii moved to Nevada. Of those, 88.7 percent moved into Clark County, according to driver license surrender data. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 310,249 people came to Las Vegas from Hawaii in 2018.
Fewer Nevadans are celebrating Valentine's Day
Fewer Nevadans are celebrating Valentine's Day. About 1.2 million Nevadans are expected to celebrate this year, a 5 percent drop from 2018. A growing number of people consider Valentine’s Day over-commercialized. Others weren’t interested in the holiday or had nobody to celebrate with. But spending is expected to rise. Those who do celebrate are buying for more people. The average American is expected to spend about $162 this year for Valentine’s Day, a 57 percent jump from a decade prior. Katherine Cullen, director of industry and consumer insights at NRF
Foreclosures of mansions in Las Vegas
Las Vegas was ground zero for America's foreclosure crisis after the housing bubble burst. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rick Helfenbein talks about the impact of tariffs on the clothing industry
MAGIC fashion convention showcases men's clothing trends
The MAGIC fashion convention has come to Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to showcase some of the hottest clothing trends for men. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Allegiant Air flight attendants learn how to handle a water landing
Field instructor Ashleigh Markel talks about training prospective flight attendants for Allegiant Air getting live training with a raft for a water landing at the Heritage Park Aquatic Complex in Henderson on Monday. (John Hornberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks about the new Smith & Wollensky restaurant coming to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian in Las Vegas.
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery speaks about the new Smith & Wollensky restaurant coming to the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian in Las Vegas.
Smith & Wollensky CEO Michael Feighery talks about Las Vegas return
Michael Feighery, CEO of Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group, discusses the restaurant's upcoming return to the Las Vegas Strip.
Apartments to Come to Hughes Center
Developer Eric Cohen discusses his current building project at the Hughes Center office park in Las Vegas, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Stratosphere to rebrand to The STRAT
The Stratosphere, a 1,150-foot-tall property in Las Vegas will be renamed The STRAT Hotel, Casino and Skypod.
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing