Author Archives
Dustin Gouker

Dustin Gouker

Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. You can also find his work at Legal Sports Report.

Over-Under On States Passing Sports Betting Bills This Year? Six, Lobbyist Says

Dustin Gouker May 4, 2018
six states sports betting

Twitter is a great place for hot takes of all sorts, and that is just as true in the world of US sports betting regulation as anything else.

One common topic of debate: How many states are going to legalize sports wagering? Could we see as many as six in 2018? One lobbyist seems to think so.

Six states for sports betting?

This take came from a lobbyist for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe:

Six states seems aggressive, given that we’ve only seen one state — West Virginia — pass a law so far this year. But Kudon is no garden-variety lobbyist. He’s helped get laws passed in nearly 20 states in recent years as it relates to daily fantasy sports.

And Orrick is a part of the lobbying effort for sports betting on behalf of the NBA and Major League Baseball. So if he speaks, we listen.

How likely is 6?

If I am handicapping it, I am still betting the under on six, despite the weight that Kudon’s Twitter characters carry. Some of the states that seemed to have a good chance of passing something have run into speed bumps.

You can take a look at the legislative calendar so far for states that have at least broached the subject of sports betting. If we count WV and New Jersey — where a new bill popped — two states in 2018 seems like a no-brainer.

Several states seem like they will continue to consider the issue into the summer, including possibly Michigan and Illinois. But forecasting more than a handful of states with new laws seems difficult to do with the information we have right now.

All of this, of course, assumes New Jersey wins the Supreme Court sports betting case, in which a decision is pending. Some states appear to be waiting for a decision to come before they really start the discussion. And if that decision doesn’t come until the end of June, it shortens the calendar even more for legislatures trying to act.

And so we wait for sports betting…

The next time a decision could come from the Supreme Court is May 14.

The good news is time is getting short. In less than two months, we’ll definitely know the answer one way or another. And until then, we’ll keep guessing at what the court will rule and which states will legalize it.

Three Reasons Why It’s So Hard To Take NBA, MLB Seriously On Sports Betting

Dustin Gouker April 25, 2018
NBA Sports Betting

Despite what you might have read, the NBA and Major League Baseball are not actually proponents of legal sports betting in the United States. In fact, they are only in favor of it when it can benefit them directly.

If they actually were champions of sports gambling, we’d have seen a far different story arc for sports gambling here. And we would see them advocating for far different things in legislation as it is introduced in state legislatures around the country.

As the leagues further vocalize what they want, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to view the leagues as rational actors worth paying attention to in the sports betting debate as we await a decision in the US Supreme Court sports betting case.

The leagues started lobbying only when they had to

The NBA has been hailed as a progressive force of change for US sports betting for years, even as it sat idly by to do nothing other than say it should be legal and regulated in the United States.

To wit, the NBA said it would not lobby Congress — let alone states — as recently as a year ago before an abrupt pivot to say that it would. As soon as 2018 rolled around, we learned the two leagues were putting on a full-court press in as many as a dozen states.

Why the sudden change? It coincided with the Supreme Court’s decision to take the New Jersey sports betting case, in which the NBA, MLB and other sports leagues were litigants. And then in December, oral arguments went poorly for the leagues, most analysts agree.

That means the sudden change from a laissez-faire attitude is not borne out of a real change of heart on sports betting, it came from necessity. The leagues had sensed they lost control of both the “when” and “how” for sports betting. And suddenly they started telling everyone how it should be done.

To make it clear that the leagues don’t really support regulated sports betting unless their list of demands is met, they continue to oppose a law in West Virginia that went on the books this spring.

The bottom line: the NBA and MLB could have been working on creating a legal and regulated environment for sports betting years ago, and those attempts would seem a lot less disingenuous than they do now.

The leagues are asking for a cut…of NJ sports betting

This amazing story surfaced last week.

Even as the leagues fight New Jersey in court, the NBA and MLB are lobbying government officials in the state to give them a cut of all wagers along with other things they are asking for in other states.

It’s crazy that they are brazen enough to have stymied sports betting in NJ for years and then turn around and ask for a cut when it turns out they might lose the case. The next thing you know, the same leagues will be going to Nevada — a place where legal wagering has existed for decades — and make the same demands.

Here’s what’s happened in the six years that NJ sports betting has been hung up in two different court cases:

  • A number of Atlantic City casinos have closed.
  • AC went through a state takeover because of its struggling finances.
  • The state has paid $8 million in legal fees.

And now the leagues want money from New Jersey gaming interests? Come on.

The leagues are not really offering anything of value

The leagues are asking for a lot of money and control when it comes to sports wagering. But they’re not giving back anything in return, as least not legislatively.

They’re offering to be a part of the process for monitoring and ensuring integrity of the underlying games, but that’s something they’re going to do anyway.

The leagues continue to argue that “we exist, therefore pay us to bet on our games.” That’s an awful argument, and it really doesn’t work like that almost anywhere in the world.

The leagues, at the core, want to be paid for their intellectual property, and they don’t want any strings attached to it. If they would start offering something of value to states and prospective sports betting operators, that might be a different story.

But for now, the leagues are putting their hands out and giving nothing in return. That’s a stance that’s difficult to take seriously if you’re a government official or gaming company.

What Exciting Stuff Is In The NFL’s ‘Secret Study’ On Sports Betting?

Dustin Gouker March 28, 2018
NFL Betting

When we see “NFL” and “secret study” in the same sentence, our ears perk up.

Add in “sports betting,” and it’s time to stop what we’re doing and pay attention.

The NFL tackles sports betting

Here’s what’s Ian Rapoport learned about a meeting that took place at this week’s owners meetings:

Like all the major sports leagues in the US, the NFL is preparing for a world where the US Supreme Court could lift the federal ban on wagering outside of Nevada. Goodell even talked about it at a press conference today, although it was full of a number of non-answers that didn’t tell us a whole lot.

The NFL usually has two major talking points when it comes to sports betting: It doesn’t support the legalization of wagering, and it is solely concerned with “the integrity of the game.”

But let’s get back to the “secret study,” which is far more exciting.

What’s in the box?

Right now, we can only speculate, as no one appears to be releasing the contents of the study. But here’s one nugget:

That sounds not as exciting as we were hoping. Ian had us covered, though:

“Patterns of behavior” is much more exciting. Might those “patterns” be that people watch more sports when they bet on the games? And they watch games longer if they have a monetary interest on them?

We’ll go ahead and guess that was in there, since it’s true and the data would likely bear that out. It’s probably the kind of basic thing the NFL would put in a study for owners to read.

Regulation? Integrity?

There was probably a lot about “integrity” in the study, too, as that’s the word that most often comes out of Goodell’s mouth when talk to turns to sports betting. Here’s what he said Wednesday:

“The No. 1 thing that was endorsed repeatedly by our membership was the integrity of our game, though. We have to make sure that whatever environment we’re working in … we have to make sure we are operating in an environment where we can protect that integrity of the game.”

Smart money would have said Goodell would have said “integrity” about a dozen more times, but two is all we got.

So integrity matters were probably in the study, too. Right now, there’s a massive black market for sports betting in the US, and a legal market would be better for integrity. Regulators and the leagues would have far more insight into what’s going on with wagering if it were legal in the US.

Does the NFL think a legal, regulated environment is better, and did the study find that to be true?

Those would be interesting things to know. But until the secret study leaks, we’ll just have to guess.

New Bill Would Study If Loot Boxes Constitute Gambling In Washington State

Dustin Gouker January 11, 2018

The Washington legislature might involve itself in the issue of loot boxes in video games and whether virtual items constitute gambling in the state.

Loot boxes are items included in some video games in which a random in-game item — oftentimes of varying usefulness or desirability within the game — can be acquired by players. The issue came to a head with purchasable loot boxes in the game Star Wars Battlefront II.

What’s in the loot box bill?

The bill — S 6266 — does not seek to take any direct action on loot boxes yet. Instead, it says that the Washington State Gambling Commission “must conduct a study of the use of loot boxes and similar types of mechanisms in online games or apps.”

The result of the WSGC study would be due by December of this year, if the bill is enacted. The WSGC is expected to provide recommendations:

…regarding how to best regulate the practice of including loot boxes and similar types of mechanisms in online games and apps, including options for the adoption and implementation of a regulatory and enforcement system, restrictions on the sale of games containing these mechanisms, and any appropriate disclosures.

The backstory of loot boxes

The bill comes after a legislator in Hawaii introduced legislation to ban certain types of loot boxes connected to micro-transactions. Loot boxes have attracted the attention of policymakers and regulators in the US and Europe.

Washington state has been at the fore of gambling issues as they intersect with video games and esports. In 2016, the state’s gambling commission told Valve Corp. — based in Bellevue, Wash. — to put a stop to skin betting; skins are a type of in-game virtual item.

Las Vegas Esports Arena At Luxor Slated To Open In March

Dustin Gouker January 11, 2018

The opening date for the first dedicated esports arena on the Las Vegas Strip is finally known.

Luxor and esports, together at last

Luxor Hotel and Casino will open Esports Arena Las Vegas on Thursday, March 22.

The initial event that the new venue will host is not yet known. But according to a press release from Allied Esports, the facility’s operator, the March opening date will kick off with “a series of events, including an invitation-only, multi-day, live-streamed tournament.” More details are to come.

“Esports Arena Las Vegas is the cornerstone of our property, brand and content development and will allow us to engage esports communities, brands and stakeholders like never before,” said Jud Hannigan, CEO of Allied Esports. “With Las Vegas rapidly becoming a hub for esports, Esports Arena Las Vegas at Luxor will be the city’s home for competitive gaming and interactive entertainment.”

The arena marks the most serious effort yet to turn Vegas into a hub for esports. There will be no esports betting on site, as the Luxor does not have a sportsbook.

More about the arena

The esports arena used to be a nightclub, called LAX. According to Allied, it’s been transformed into a multi-level arena with:

  • A competition stage
  • LED video wall
  • Telescopic seating
  • Daily gaming stations
  • State-of-the-art streaming and television-quality production studios.

More from Allied:

The arena will provide a ready-to-go championship destination for tournaments, leagues and high-stakes matchups in a setting designed to deliver an unparalleled fan experience.

In December, Allied Esports and world-renowned chef Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup announced a partnership to create the first gaming-inspired food and beverage menu at Esports Arena Las Vegas, the flagship location of Allied Esports’ growing global network of esports properties spanning North America, Europe and China.

Here is what the entrance will look like:

The image at the top is a rendering of the inside.

A ‘touring’ esports arena?

Allied also announced that its mobile esports solution — Esports Arena Drive — is ready to go. What is that?

It’s an 80-foot, 18-wheel, 35-ton semi-trailer that unfolds with a push of a button to reveal a self-contained mobile arena featuring a competition stage with full production facilities, a caster studio, social media center and VIP lounge.

A similar mobile arena already exists in Europe.

“Esports Arena Drive gives us an amazing opportunity to reach communities around the country in a truly authentic and awesome way,” said Tyler Endres, COO of Esports Arena. “For players, viewers online, and partners alike, Esports Arena Drive will bring the Esports Arena experience to wherever the fans are.”

Esports Arena Drive will make an appearance at Daytona International Speedway with 704Games, the publisher of NASCAR Heat 2, for a multi-day tournament at the Daytona 500.

Overwatch League Is Almost Here: Everything You Need To Know

Dustin Gouker January 5, 2018

The Overwatch League has been one of the most anticipated endeavors in the history of esports.

After a short preseason, we’re less than a week away from the first official matches in the history of the nascent league. Here’s a primer:

What’s Overwatch?

You probably know what Overwatch is if you’re reading this. But for the uninitiated, it’s a video game from Blizzard Entertainment for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PCs.

It’s a team-based multiplayer online first-person shooter that has quickly caught the attention of gamers around the world. Two teams of six are pitted against each other in trying to control points on a map or delivering a payload.

Here’s how Blizzard describes the backstory:

In a time of global crisis, an international task force of heroes banded together to restore peace to a war-torn world: OVERWATCH.

Overwatch ended the crisis, and helped maintain peace in the decades that followed, inspiring an era of exploration, innovation, and discovery. But, after many years, Overwatch’s influence waned, and it was eventually disbanded.

Now, conflict is rising across the world again, and the call has gone out to heroes old and new.

The basics of Overwatch League

Blizzard announced in 2016 that it would be launching a professional league based on the rising esport. Throughout 2017, it prepared for its launch.

After a successful preseason, the real action kicks off Jan. 10.

The teams

There are 12 teams of Overwatch pros, with most teams based in the US:

  • Boston Uprising
  • Dallas Fuel
  • Florida Mayhem
  • Houston Outlaws
  • London Spitfire
  • Los Angeles Gladiators
  • Los Angeles Valiant
  • New York Excelsior
  • Philadelphia Fusion
  • San Francisco Shock
  • Seoul Dynasty
  • Shanghai Dragons

You can learn more about the teams and their rosters here. Players get a minimum base salary of $50,000.

The schedule

The regular season will run Jan. 10 through  Wednesday through Saturday. Teams will compete over the course of four “stages,” with bonuses coming with the title of stage winner.

The postseason starts immediately afterward, running through July 28. The top finishers in the two divisions — Atlantic and Pacific — will compete for the league title. The grand final on July 26-28 will award a $1 million bonus to the winning team.

There will also be an all-star weekend in August with some of the top players from the season.

The arena

For season 1, the teams will all compete at Blizzard Arena in LA. More on the arena here.

The plan is to have home arenas in future seasons.

Where to watch Overwatch League

You can watch in person, if you’re lucky enough to be in LA.

But if you’re not, the matches will be streamed live on Twitch or on the OWL website.

[geoip2 region=’ROW’][show-table name=betway][/geoip2]

Can you bet on Overwatch League?

Many of the traditional sportsbooks and esports betting websites will likely take wagers on Overwatch League matches.

If fantasy sports is more your speed, there is a site offering leagues so you can pick esports pros for your own virtual roster.

Esports Betting Site Unikrn Partnering With MGM In Las Vegas To Host Tournaments

Dustin Gouker December 18, 2017

This is a developing story and will be updated.

The esports betting site Unikrn announced it was partnering with MGM Resorts International for live gaming and tournaments in Las Vegas starting in 2018.

Esports at MGM Grand

The esports events will take place in the LEVEL UP lounge at the MGM Grand in Vegas. Unikrn will host tournaments on Friday and Saturday evenings. Each tournament will offer competitors prizes, including cash and UnikoinGold tokens, as well as exclusive experiences at select MGM Resorts properties.

“There’s never been a partnership quite like this fusion, and we’re pumped to be in the center of it,” Unikrn CEO Rahul Sood said in a press release.

“Traditional entertainment destinations have a lot of room to grow in appealing to esports and gaming fans, and MGM Resorts International is leading the way, with Unikrn, by bringing regular esports tournaments to LEVEL UP — this is thrilling.”

“LEVEL UP was designed to attract both the next generation of players and current players seeking innovation, making this partnership with Unikrn a great fit within the space,” said Lovell Walker, executive director of interactive gaming development for MGM Resorts International. “With our commitment to the future of esports and increased focus on enhancing our guests’ entertainment experience, we know Unikrn will be a tremendous partner.”

The intersection of esports betting and Nevada

Unikrn offers real-money esports betting in some regulated markets, but doing so in Nevada does not appear to be a part of the plans in the immediate future.

Still, it gives Unikrn a high-profile partnership in the US (the company is based in Seattle) as it looks to the future of esports wagering in the country.

Earlier this year Unikrn completed an ICO.

More esports is coming to the Las Vegas Strip in 2018 as well, when Luxor opens its esports arena.

State Lawmaker Says ‘Loot Box As Gambling’ Bill Gaining Traction ‘All Around The Country’

Dustin Gouker December 8, 2017

A state lawmaker from Hawaii said that legislation prohibiting the sale of video games with purchasable loot boxes to minors is starting to gain traction “across the country.”

US lawmakers eyeing loot boxes

Hawaii state Rep. Chris Lee talked about how his crusade against the practice of games selling loot boxes in a video posted this week. Lee is drafting legislation that would ban games with purchasable loot boxes unless the buyer is 21 or older.

“We’ve had to so many other legislators from other states reaching out over the last couple days,” Lee said in the video. “I think the traction this has been getting in the news…it has really been getting attention politically. So we want to be able to respond to those requests from states all around the country, and pass those legislators legal language that would give them a starting point to address this in their own states.”

Here’s the video:

The subject of loot boxes has been a hot topic for regulators and politicians around the world in the wake of their appearance in the game Star Wars Battlefront II.

Loot boxes, at a glance

Loot boxes are items included in some video games in which a random in-game item — oftentimes of varying usefulness or desirability within the game — can be acquired by players.

In the example of Star Wars Battlefront, loot boxes could originally be purchased via micro-transactions. (The game’s publisher, EA, turned off micro-transactions in the game after outside pressure.)

Why are loot boxes problematic? When loot boxes can be acquired with real money, and the contents are unknown, the mechanics of buying and opening a loot box start to look a lot like gambling. Since players don’t know what’s in the loot boxes — and the quality of the item inside can vary greatly — it can be argued that players are paying for a chance to win a prize.

Since video games are generally aimed at kids, it follows that the loot box/gambling mechanic is even more problematic.

Governmental interest in loot boxes

Right after attention came to loot boxes in Battlefront, a variety of countries have been looking into them, and whether they should be considered gambling.

Most notably, the UK Gambling Commission issued a warning about loot boxes just a few weeks ago. Lee’s efforts on the subject also ramped up in November, and to hear him, other states may start to follow suit.

Of course, it’s no shock that such an effort emanates from Hawaii, a jurisdiction where almost every form of legal gambling is prohibited. However, when the subject of minors and gambling comes up, it becomes a nearly universal talking point and policy issue that a vast majority of lawmakers can latch onto.

[geoip2 region=’ROW’][show-table name=betway][/geoip2]

What’s next for loot boxes?

It might not take a groundswell of laws going into effect on loot boxes to make game publishers rethink their tack with them.

The recent negative publicity from Battlefront alone might cause publishers to steer clear of micro-transactions associated with loot boxes. The risk of running afoul of any country’s gambling laws would seemingly not be worth the risk of keeping them in games in the future.

And if laws aimed at loot boxes go on the books even in a few states, publishers aren’t going to limit their potential audience just to keep loot boxes available for purchase.

Unibet Is Latest Sportsbook To Increase Its Esports Betting Presence

Dustin Gouker November 21, 2017

Unibet is the main sponsor of a CS:GO event in Copenhagen this weekend, the latest example of traditional sportsbooks trying to gain traction in esports betting.

CS:GO Blast Series + Unibet

Unibet is sponsoring the CS:GO Blast Series, scheduled to run Nov. 24-25. It pits six of the best CS:GO teams in the world in a two-day event:

  • Astralis
  • FaZe
  • G2
  • Ninjas in Pyjamas
  • North
  • SK

A prize pool of $250,000 in up for grabs.

The matches will be played in the state-of-the-art Royal Arena with more than 10,000 expected to be in attendance, making the Blast Pro Series the largest esports tournament ever in Denmark.

Unibet’s involvement

Unibet has been increasingly trying to improve its esports offer, much like many traditional bookmakers.

The site is offering new customers €30 worth of esports free bets this week after their first deposit. Unibet will also live stream the entire event inside its platform.

Unibet generally sticks to the biggest esports in the world, like CS:GODota 2League of Legends and StarCraft 2.

[geoip2 region=’ROW’][show-table name=betway][/geoip2]

Traditional books in esports

Unibet and other traditional books are competing against a number of esportsbooks that specialize in the market.

Many of them have struggled to find their way to profitability. It still hasn’t stopped books from trying to make in-roads in the space, of course.

Sponsoring events and teams is certainly a way to make in-roads in terms of familiarity and visibility within the esports community.

Whether sponsorships like this one from Unibet is a one-off or part of an increasingly dedicated push to attract esports bettors remains to be seen.

FanDuel CEO Is Moving Into Esports Realm

Dustin Gouker November 20, 2017

The CEO of the company that helped create the daily fantasy sports industry is moving on to pursue opportunities in esports.

Eccles out at FanDuel

FanDuel announced that its CEO Nigel Eccles was leaving the company on Monday. Esports Betting Report has learned that Eccles next endeavor is in esports. That venture’s focus in the esports space was not immediately known.

Eccles confirmed it via Twitter:

FanDuel’s history with esports

FanDuel, which was one the largest DFS companies in the nascent industry, had purchased the fantasy esports site called AlphaDraft in 2015.

FanDuel eventually closed the site a year later.

That obviously means that Eccles has experience with the fantasy/gambling side of esports. But it’s not a certainty that’s what his new endeavor will involve. The esports industry still has plenty of verticals to exploit, and Eccles experience in building FanDuel goes beyond just “fantasy.”

Fantasy esports reemergent?

Even if this isn’t Eccles’ planned entry point, fantasy esports seems to be making a resurgence, with numerous companies eyeing the wide-open space.

Skrilla, for instance, is one of several companies involved in the esports ICO craze. Rising esport Overwatch also has designs on the fantasy market.