ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey's casinos and racetracks are now taking bets on competitive video game tournaments, looking to expand the state's fast-growing sports betting industry to the $1 billion video tournament market.
The state Division of Gaming Enforcement gave approval Thursday to wagering on what gambling companies hope will be a significant new source of revenue from young people who are not enamored of traditional casino games but spend hours on end playing and watching video games.
The Borgata casino took New Jersey's first bet Thursday on the League of Legends championship this week in Paris. Philadelphia broadcaster Howard Eskin bet $100 on Team G2 to win the title.
The activity is rapidly growing in popularity around the world, and Atlantic City wants to become a major player in it.
"Borgata is proud to be at the forefront of this significant milestone as we look to engage with future generations of esports fans as well as traditional sports fans," said Borgata president Marcus Glover.
Esports is already well-established in the United States and growing rapidly. In 2016, the Downtown Grand in Las Vegas built an esports lounge, hosted tournaments and, with bookmaker William Hill, took the first sports wager placed in Nevada on an esports tournament.
Major gambling companies including Casesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts International have invested in esports tournaments and facilities.
The market research firm Newzoo puts esports at a $1.1 billion market this year worldwide, up nearly 27% from a year earlier. The company projects it will generate $1.8 billion in economic activity by 2022.
It said the global esports audience will reach more than 453 million people this year.
But David Schwartz, a gambling expert at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said the esports market is still small — for now.
"I think in the short term, betting on esports has the potential to be a small growth area," he said. "There is definitely fan interest, but right now betting on sports outside of the big three — football, basketball, baseball — is pretty small in the U.S. So it would be a small share of a small share of the overall sports betting handle.
"As with any new sport, there may be concerns over match-fixing and other compliance issues, which may further slow the growth of the market for esports betting," he said. "In the future, of course, it may become a much bigger segment, if bettors decide they want to gamble on it."
New Jersey gambling regulators said they thoroughly investigated the tournament until they were satisfied as to its integrity before approving bets on it.
In New Jersey, Isle of Man-based Continent 8 is built a $5 million data center at the Atlantic City Convention Center to serve not only the data-intensive esports industry, but internet gambling and sports betting technologies as well.
Several Atlantic City casinos have held tournaments in the last two years. And Stockton University is joining the Eastern College Athletic Conference's intercollegiate esports competition.
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