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eSports Betting Still Faces Stumbling Block in US Despite Major Breakthrough


The ever-growing industry of eSports betting may have received a huge boost last month in the US when the Supreme Court voted to overturn a decades-old law banning gambling on sporting events, but legislators in New Jersey have proved there is still a long way to go towards regulating the activity throughout the country.

On May 14, the US Supreme Court struck down the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which had essentially criminalised sports wagering in the vast majority of states – with the exception of Nevada, Delaware and Oregon. A majority verdict of 7-2 was reached to strike down the law, with a majority of 6-3 also declaring the entire Act unconstitutional. This, in turn, will pave the way for sports betting to eventually be enjoyed in the US as it is in the vast majority of other western countries.

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New Jersey had led the fight against the law, with legislators ready to enact a bill legalising sports gambling in the state as soon as the Supreme Court decision was reached. However, a surprise last-minute addition made to the draft bill may derail certain forms of wagering, including, to the horror of gamers across the country, eSports betting.

eSports have exploded in popularity in recent years, buoyed by the success of titles such as League of Legends, Overwatch and Dota. According to research compiled by Statista, the industry will reach a total market value of $1.65 billion by 2021, with over 250 million viewers – dwarfing viewing figures for a significant number of traditional, mainstream sports. Inevitably,  such an audience base has also given rise to eSports betting, with one industry analyst suggesting that almost $5 billion was wagered on eSports events in 2017 alone:

In the early 2010s, eSports betting was characterised by ‘skin betting’ – that is, wagering in-game items such as cosmetic upgrades in titles such as first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – a practise that was actively disallowed by studios, with CS:GO developer Valve and even the US government coming down particularly hard on offenders.

The eSports industry has evolved since the proliferation of skin betting sites, and so too has betting on eSports; today, the majority of mainstream and reputable online bookmakers based in the UK feature their own eSports bets offerings, with a number of operators allowing users to wager in-play while they watch the action on their PC or smart device on titles such as LoL, Dota 2 and Overwatch via live streams.

On the basis of the draft sports gambling bill, the state of New Jersey, at least, has some way to go before it catches up with the UK’s eSports betting scene. The amendment in question defines a prohibited sports event as including “all high school sports events, electronic sports, and competitive video games”, which means that despite the legal breakthrough – coupled with the boom of eSports – it may be sometime before eSports betting becomes widely accepted throughout the United States.

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