The floodgates are open: last weekend, Las Vegas, blacked-out wedding capitol of the world, saw the first legal wagers on an esports event. William Hill Sports Book, which also offers gambling on a variety of other major sports, took bets on which League of Legends team would win IEM Oakland. If you put your money behind the Unicorns of Love, who had ten to one odds to win, you probably emerged with a much heavier coin purse.
“This announcement is a major step toward ensuring Nevada becomes the esports capital of the world,” said Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. “By embracing this unique opportunity and incorporating innovation and technology into our gaming industry, we’re expanding the potential of one of our oldest industries.”
It’s important to note that it’s really the particular variety of betting that’s new, here. DraftKings has been running esports fantasy leagues for a while now, and the world of CS:GO has been betting on skins for years. But Vegas has always set the pace for the rest of the country’s gambling, and if its regulators are interested in esports, we’re likely to see a lot more of it in the near-future.
Now that we can put real dollars on the line, it’s tempting to see this as another step towards legitimization. On the other hand, with increasingly large sums of money on the line, the draw of match fixing becomes all the more seductive. Last April, it came out that Lee “Life” Seung Hyun, a world-renowned Starcraft 2 player with multiple championships under his belt, had earned almost $62,000 via match-fixing. Problems of a similar nature have plagued North America, as well: in 2014, three members of CS:GO team iBUYPOWER bet against their own team and earned more than $10,000 for losing. Could we see a rise in similar scandals?
According to Bryce Blum, a prominent lawyer in the world of professional gaming, this is actually great news for a competitive scene concerned about fair play. “Match-fixing is a much bigger risk on unregulated, unlicensed skin betting sites than it is websites where real money is wagered,” said Blum. “For example, when you place a bet on Unikrn you’re going through rigorous account verification, line-tracking, and much more. The less regulation there is surrounding the betting operations, the higher the risk of match-fixing, underage betting, and fraud.”
In fact, the bookmakers of traditional sports have been vigilant in ensuring fair play. In December 2013, several prominent soccer players were caught in a match-fixing scandal thanks to the efforts of FederBet, an organization created by bookmakers to watch the flow of bets across Europe. Defrauding small tournament organizers is one thing: if players want to pull the wool over the eyes of the heart of American gambling, they’re going to have to do better than this.