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Esports Heads to Atlantic City as Legislators Mull Legalized Sports Betting for Competitive Gaming

Anthony Gaud likens the current environment for eSports in the U.S. to a period in the late-19th century rife with uncertainty for American baseball.

Back then, a number of leagues with competing interests engaged in an intense turf war to attract elite players. Without a strong central authority at the league level, the talent pool became saturated. The same could be said for eSports today.

“You start thinking what if I lived in that time, what would that be like trying to organize those things?” Gaud said. “Obviously it’s much easier to communicate nowadays.”

Gaud, serves as co-founder and president of InGame Esports, an eSports company that is dedicated to bringing the burgeoning sport to Atlantic City. This weekend, InGame Esports is organizing the Collegiate Starleague Grand Finals, being held April 27-28 at the city’s famed Adrian Phillips Theater at Boardwalk Hall. Top collegiate teams from the U.S. and Canada will vie for $100,000 in scholarship money.

Few industry executives are as driven, or as committed as Gaud in getting their companies off the ground. After one hectic stretch on April 17, Gaud glanced at his call log at the end of the business day. He made 176 phone calls on the day for matters related to the event.

Ahead of the event, we discussed the eSports climate and the prospects of wagering on eSports in New Jersey with Gaud and Angela Bernhard Thomas, the company’s co-founder. Although the global handle for eSports betting is nearing $10 billion annually, according to a source, most of it is wagered either outside the U.S. or on illegal markets. We also delved into the use of prescription Adderall and non-prescription amphetamines in eSports, a perplexing issue for the industry.

The following interview was lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

NJ Online Gambling (NJOG): What intrigues you the most about this weekend’s event? How much can the event serve as a game changer for eSports on the collegiate level and eSports on the East Coast?

Anthony Gaud (AG): It’s a tremendous amount of work, what we’ve found is that those who dedicate themselves to doing it now will find some level of success…Even though the word eSports is still finding acceptance, the idea of kids playing video games like League of Legends and Fortnite, that’s what they do. It’s wildly exciting stuff, we’re not having to create the enthusiasm we’re just trying to harness it.

Angela Bernhard Thomas (ABT): I think something that’s special about the way we approach things is that you always hear about how we engage the community. Our philosophy is how do we be part of the community? The whole way that the video game and eSports industry has been built up all these years really starts with the local, grassroots community. Our strategy with how we want to help grow the industry really starts the same, old-fashioned way.

NJOG: From what we’ve read, Anthony is leading the charge to persuade the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) to legalize betting on eSports. How successful have you been in your efforts and how receptive is the DGE in crafting regulations that would authorize legalized eSports betting in New Jersey?

AG: Assemblyman (Ralph) Caputo and his staff are arranging a meeting with the DGE. We’ll continue to hone in on what is needed. As far as my understanding, I’ve heard several times that eSports gambling is not illegal. It’s not to the point where the organization of eSports is something that a company or a casino wants to do because there is no commission to ensure fair play. Some of the language may be a little obscure around the eSports aspect of sports wagering. That is something I’m sure the Assembly will want to take a look at, refine and make more clear.

Fair play is really the most important aspect. How can we ensure an event does not have any tampering, or someone throwing a match, or someone hacking into it? Once the DGE comes to an understanding of what it is required to ensure fair play, I believe, they will create a commission to monitor it. Too much regulation in eSports is a big hindrance, so what is the right regulatory framework you need without being onerous?

NJOG: Major League Gaming has a ban on drug use at its tournaments, but doesn’t conduct drug testing at the events. Three other organizations do not conduct drug testing either, what is your position on the subject? 

AG: Some people that don’t have a prescribed medicine can get an advantage by taking a performance-enhancing drug that gives them better focus. It’s almost a question of how much of an advantage taking Adderall or a similar medication gives you. Those things have an effect, if not long lasting. To some extent, when you take one of those it has a deleterious effect on the back end.

At the event we are not having drug testing, that I am aware of. We’ll consult with experts in the field to make sure that this is something we want to look into. Right now, I couldn’t tell you whether that is in our future. But I’ll tell you we’ll do whatever we can to ensure fair play and adhere to the privacy of the players.

NJOG: What is the likelihood that skin betting or wagering with virtual money will be implemented into a legalized eSports betting model? Could other gaming operators besides casinos enter the space?

AG: It’s interesting because once eSports becomes something that you can bet on, I would imagine that companies like DraftKings will try to get a stake. If I run an eSports event and you want to bet on my event, there needs to be some sort of (revenue sharing) agreement with the people running the event. With all those things being taken into account, whether it’s skin betting or real money betting we just want to make sure that it’s legal.

NJOG: Moving forward, how many states do you plan on lobbying in attempts to legalize eSports betting? 

AG: Our priority is really New Jersey at this point. I guess we’ll have to take a look at what happens afterward – whether it could be Pennsylvania or New York. Right now, I don’t think I can answer that because we haven’t gone through the first stages of this one.

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