An Easter Egg in a House Bill: Betting on eSports Could Be Legal Soon in Pennsylvania

Written By Derek Helling on June 29, 2021

Is eSports betting coming to Pennsylvania?

Should HB 1580 become law as currently written, it will be time for Pennsylvanians to put down their controllers and pick up their phones. That bill in the PA House would take Pennsylvania esports betting from its loading status to live action.

Regulators in PA have powered down the option for PA sportsbooks to take action on esports events despite their growing presence in the commonwealth. Although there are no guarantees that will happen quickly, it still might just be a matter of time.

The (il)legal status of Pennsylvania sports betting

If you’re looking for the reason you can’t currently get any money down on the action on Summoner’s Rift (a League of Legends map) or the Temple of Anubis (a map in the Overwatch League) on PA sports betting apps, don’t blame the Keystone State legislature. Well, don’t pin all the blame on them.

The current enabling statute for legal wagering in PA is silent on the matter of esports. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board had to make a decision, though. In their opinion, allowing markets on esports doesn’t “meet with the legislature’s intent of what constitutes a sporting event.” Thus, these competitions remain off the board for licensees.

The PGCB was clear that the legislature could change that. That’s exactly what Rep. Ed Nielson’s bill aims to accomplish. It would make esports – within certain parameters – explicitly legal for PA sportsbooks to accept bets on.

The only real qualifier in the bill is that competitors in the event must be at least 18-years-old. There’s no language in the bill specifying the sanctioning of a governing body. That would likely be left to the PGCB to decide upon.

The bill currently rests with the PA House Judiciary Committee. So far, the committee hasn’t taken any votes on it. That committee has no hearings scheduled at this time as well. Neither Nielson nor any of the five co-sponsors sit on that committee. Also, Neilson and all five sponsors are Democrats in a Republican-controlled legislature.

Other parties around the state might throw their weight behind Neilson’s effort. Pennsylvania isn’t an unknown place to esports industry veterans or fans who are likely to wager on its most high-profile events.

Pennsylvania’s place in the esports economy

Pennsylvania is already home to multiple esports enterprises. The Philadelphia Fusion of the Overwatch League is one of the longest-tenured franchises in that fixture. Additionally, the Philadelphia 76ers operate an NBA 2K League franchise, 76ers GC.

Perhaps the most visible representation of the esports industry in PA is Fusion Arena. Originally set to open this year, COVID-19 slowed construction. When operational, it will be the home of the Overwatch League franchise and a site for numerous other potential esports events.

The Philadelphia Eagles have partnered with Esports Entertainment Group (EEG) as well. On top of the Eagles having a stake in the event promotion/online gambling company, EEG will hold esports competitions at Lincoln Financial Field. That could lead to more in the future should a piece of legislation like HB 1580 ever become law in PA.

EEG has already received regulatory approval to operate a sportsbook in neighboring New Jersey. While it has yet to launch, the latest plans are to do so yet this year. Other sportsbooks in NJ have already taken action on select esports events like League of Legends NA LCS Finals.

In Colorado, where esports were explicitly included in the list of permissible events by the state legislature, some books have offered markets on NBA 2K League games. Given how popular esports are with younger potential bettors, excluding them from the menu will be a disadvantage for PA betting apps moving forward.

That’s exactly the issue that Nielson’s legislation addresses. If the legislature moves on the issue soon, attendees of future Fusion matches at the arena in Philadelphia might be able to legally bet on the winner of the next map.

Nerd Street Gamers

Nerd Street Gamers is Philadelphia-based national network of esports facilities, events and content. They plan to open the first esports industry campus in the world at 401 North Broad Street in Philadelphia. “The Block” will serve as Nerd Street Gamers’ new corporate headquarters, a global broadcast studio, dedicated training centers for pro teams and more.

Nerd Street Gamers owns and operates Localhost esports and gaming centers across the country including one in East Falls.

FAQs about esports betting

Is betting on esports legal in Pennsylvania?

Not yet.

Is betting on esports legal in New Jersey?

Yes. Borgata Casino accepted the first legal esports wager in New Jersey on November 7. 2019. It currently requires case-by-case approval from the state’s gaming regulators but that could change soon. A new bill would permanently allow legal wagering on video game competitions.

What popular esports can you bet on?

  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO)
  • League of Legends (LoL)
  • Defense of the Ancients 2 (almost universally called simply Dota 2)
  • Overwatch
  • Call of Duty
  • Rocket League

Lead image: Esports competitor gets a Mike and Ike shower. Photo c/o Nerd Street Gamers. 

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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