A Nevada lawmaker is drafting legislation to create what he believes would be the country’s first government regulatory body for esports.
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer envisions a “light touch” state oversight group akin to the Nevada Athletic Commission, which regulates combat sports such as mixed martial arts and boxing through licensure and sanctions.
Kieckhefer said Nevada has the opportunity to support its most important industries, gaming and hospitality, and establish itself as a global leader in esports.
“I think the general consensus now is that the time has come for something like this,” said Kieckhefer, a Republican who represents Carson City and parts of southern Washoe County.
Esports regulation could provide “greater stability and security” for the emerging, yet already popular, industry to grow in Nevada and entice esports leagues to host their competitions in Las Vegas, he said. Pre-pandemic competitions around the world drew thousands. Tournament attendees, and those now tuning in virtually, largely make up a demographic whose business Las Vegas covets: younger people who typically have been less interested than older generations in gambling.
Kieckhefer said the athletic commission’s “success stories” with UFC and other MMA events demonstrate the value of a “friendly regulatory agency … to help them succeed and provide them greater stability and security.” A similar blueprint for esports could ensure “clean and fair” competitions and, in turn, bolster viewership and revenue opportunities for the state’s licensing groups.
The bill text is not yet public. Kieckhefer said the draft will be ready to introduce during the 81st legislative session “hopefully sooner rather than later.” The session began Feb. 1, and the deadline to introduce the bill is in mid-March.
Esports capital: Las Vegas
The idea of an esports regulatory body was one former Gaming Control Board chair A.G. Burnett floated to state government officials a few years ago, but it didn’t gain much traction at the time, he said. He revisited the idea with Kieckhefer, also the director of client relations at Nevada-based business law firm McDonald Carano, where Burnett is a partner.
It makes sense to explore the idea now as a means of bringing visitors back to Las Vegas in a post-pandemic world, Burnett said.
Forming a regulatory commission that registers players, establishes competitive rules and levels the playing field would further legitimize esports as an industry, Burnett said, likening its potential to “the glory days of boxing in Las Vegas.” The venue, lodging, food, beverage and entertainment infrastructure already exists.
“This is about adding events to Las Vegas and adding flights and bringing people back,” Burnett said. “It’s pretty clear that unless the convention business and the airlines come back, then Las Vegas will continue to struggle.”
Though Kieckhefer emphasizes his bill wouldn’t touch gambling, Milo Ocampo, founder of 8-Bit Esports, sees a regulatory commission as “the best possible step” toward standardized esports betting.
Ocampo said the potential for wagering offers Las Vegas the potential to be the “esports capital of North America.”
“I honestly think Vegas with its history would be the only city that makes sense,” said Ocampo, also with Geex.gg, a tech company connecting students with competitive gaming.
He said the valley’s “missing piece” of infrastructure was Allegiant Stadium; a 65,000-seat venue capable of holding massive events like the typically sold-out League of Legends World Championship.
A commission would give Las Vegas its biggest advantage yet, Ocampo said. No other state has one, according to multiple experts interviewed for this story.
Proponents of the potential legislation assert that collaboration will be key.
Nevada could become a “leader” in esports by establishing a commission, according to Chris Grove, an analyst with California-based research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.
“Jurisdiction is going to be a tricky question, and getting buy-in from all relevant stakeholders will also be a challenge,” he said.
Ocampo supports the formation of a regulating body. It would work only if input from esports experts, many of whom are 25 or younger, are taken seriously, said Ocampo, who turned 26 on Thursday.
If the bill is enacted, a potential commission must accept input from across industries, including the game publishers themselves, said Sam McMullen Jr., founder of technology and development company FiveGen and a gaming industry veteran. McMullen, who advised Kieckhefer during his bill research, noted that game publishers control their own intellectual properties. It means each game is, functionally, its own sport, and publishers decide who holds the tournaments.
Publisher input toward a commission can help form an “industry consensus” on standardized, competitive rules, McMullen said. Stability breeds integrity, and integrity breeds legitimacy.
“I think that coming together and figuring out lines to color within it’s really smart because it promotes the integrity of the overall industry,” said McMullen, also president of Geex.gg.
Though esports has grown through online events during the pandemic, in-person events will eventually return, McMullen said: “We need to get ahead of it.
“If not Nevada, who?”