The coronavirus pandemic and resulting lull in sports internationally has hurt sportsbooks everywhere but nowhere has felt the sting as acutely as Nevada. The state’s gaming industry is for all intents and purposes shut down with all casinos under a mandatory closure order. That was followed by a ‘temporary license suspension’ from the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Preliminary estimates indicated that these closures impacted the jobs of over 200,000 gaming and hospitality industry workers in the Las Vegas area alone. That represents 10% of the metro area’s population and that doesn’t factor in the many industries that depend on the state’s casinos for revenue.
Although the retail sportsbooks in Nevada are currently closed there are signs of life as a number of properties’ online and mobile wagering platforms are once again open for business. Nevada’s gaming regulations hamstring the ability of books to get creative with their wagering options. This is a severe competitive liability versus their offshore counterparts who can quickly iterate new bet types in new sports–not to mention entertainment, politics, current events and anything else. Non-sport wagers are technically legal in Nevada but the process of getting them approved is so cumbersome that few events actually reach the betting board.
It looks like the Nevada Gaming Control Board has finally realized this fact–at least in the short term. Late last week, they granted approval to Silver State sportsbooks to take action on the 2020 eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitation Series. The eNASCAR series has become extremely popular with fans as the ‘brick and mortar’ version of the sport has been sidelined. For example, the race from ‘virtual Texas Motor Speedway’ on March 29 drew 1.3 million viewers–a record for a televised esports event. The Nevada sportsbooks are allowed to offer essentially the same wagering menu as on any NASCAR race with ‘to win’ futures and matchups available.
At press time, four Nevada Books are still taking wagers on their mobile apps: William Hill, Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts and Circa Sports. Both William Hill and Circa submitted requests to state gaming regulators to book action on the eNASCAR events. Remarkably, betting action represented right around 50% of a ‘normal’ NASCAR race according to Circa Sportsbook director Matthew Metcalf. It also represented a new record handle for an esports event:
“It ended up being about 50 percent of a normal race when all was said and done. We wrote a lot on the yes/no options we had for 10 drivers and a decent amount in matchups. It was, by far, the most bet on esports from a money amount.”
“The ticket count was probably equal to some of the more popular Counter-Strike matches we’ve done.”
William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said he was encouraged by the interest though his store ended up a small loser on the event:
“We were a small loser, but we’re encouraged for Week 1. We wrote a lot of tickets, and that’s all we’re trying to do. We just want to keep people engaged and keep them coming to the William Hill site and give them something to do. We’re just trying to help people through the doom and gloom. That’s really what all of this is about.”
“Let’s face it. The only way to make any money is on the NFL, NBA and MLB. This is to bridge the gap.”
A BIGGER STORY ON THE REGULATORY LEVEL?
There could be a bigger story at the regulatory level with the Nevada Gaming Control Board displaying an unprecedented level of flexibility and expediency in the approval process. Although esports betting has been legal in Nevada for awhile now gaming regulators have always been reticent to approve events for wagering. That might be changing–in addition to the eNASCAR series they’ve also approved betting on Counter-Strike and the ESL One Dota 2 Los Angeles tournament. eNASCAR had an edge when it came to getting their series on Nevada’s betting boards: the sport has a full time gaming executive that can spearhead this type of effort. Scott Warfield, NASCAR managing director of gaming, had this quote for ESPN:
“The global interest in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series has ranged far and wide and we continue to recognize the role this series is playing in providing sports fans worldwide with a much needed respite during the most challenging of times.”
Although the Nevada Gaming Control Board as well as the state’s Gaming Commission are shut down during this time (except for ‘virtual’ monthly meetings) they’ve been turning around requests for event approval in record time. This included two event approvals last Friday on the eNASCAR series and the 2020 ESL ONE-DOTA Los Angeles event. They deserve a lot of credit for helping their licensees keep the lights on during this unprecedented situation.
Ultimately, an even better solution would be to put more power in the hands of bookmakers and sports betting professionals. Instead of requiring approval for any event outside of the usual realm of sports they should do the opposite. Let bookmakers book what they want and if there’s an issue the NGC could intervene at that point. This includes virtual sports such as eNASCAR which are going to become a bigger deal very soon. Additionally, state gaming regulators really need to loosen up the restrictions on non-sport wagers including entertainment and political bets.
There’s much that remains to be done to put Nevada’s bookmakers on equal competitive footing as their offshore counterparts. That being said, the quick action and flexibility shown by the NGC in their recent approvals are a hopeful and welcome sign of progress.