Pennsylvanians are used to betting on the state’s sportsbooks and PA online casinos. Now, a new form of gaming could enter the playing field. State Rep. Ed Neilson, D-Philadelphia, is moving the ball forward on legalizing esports betting.
What exactly is esports and what could its betting market look like in PA?
Bill on esports passing through Pennsylvania legislation
Neilson and four of his colleagues are in the process of moving HB733 through the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Here is part of what Neilson said in a memo back in January:
“Last year, the esports industry was valued at $1.1 billion worldwide. In the coming years, it is estimated that the esports industry has the potential to generate nearly $1.8 billion in economic activity. Philadelphia is currently building a multi-million dollar facility strictly dedicated to esports gaming that will attract worldwide events, the first of its kind in the United States.
To capitalize on this up and coming industry, in 2021 New Jersey passed legislation to legalize gambling on esport sporting events, such as video game tournaments. Similar legislation is being considered in other states. I believe Pennsylvania should quickly add esports to our gaming portfolio, bolstering our economy and the attendant tax revenue. Therefore, I am introducing legislation to legalize betting on esports in Pennsylvania.”
The bill would allow Pennsylvanians to bet on esports events. Other esports operators could emerge to take in bets.
The proposed tax rate for esports sits at 36%, unless that changes throughout the legislation process. The bill is amending the sports betting law that solidified PA sportsbooks at the same rate.
Bettors must be 21 to wager on an event and participants in esports must be at least 18 years old.
There is no timeline in place or meetings scheduled for the bill to move through the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
What is esports?
Betting on esports is much different than betting on a sporting event or playing online casino games.
Esports is an online spectator sport. Dictionary.com describes esports as:
“Competitive tournaments of video games, especially among professional gamblers.”
A previous bill Neilson introduced in 2021 defined esports as:
“A competition involving video games in which players who are 18 years of age or older compete against each other and the dominant element determining the results is the relative skill of the players.”
Timeline of esports betting legalization
The first attempt to legalize esports betting came back in June 2021.
Neilson introduced HB1580 before legislation and it has been amended four times into the current HB733. The bill has moved quickly since March 7, 2023, with four amendments:
- HB69 – March 7
- HB521 – March 17
- HB642 – March 21
- HB733 – March 28
Esports presence in Pennsylvania
Esports already has a somewhat large presence in PA.
Nerd Street Gamers is an esports organization that provides venues for professional tournaments.
The organization built the first ever venue in Philadelphia in November 2021. There are now six venues, including two in New Jersey.
The Philadelphia venue features:
- 40,000-square-foot space
- 118 gaming computers
- About 24 consoles
- A tournament stage with seating for spectators
- Production facilities to create and stream content
- Areas for teams to train
There are gaming tournaments almost daily at the Philadelphia location.
Forms of legal online gambling in PA
The legalization of esports betting would complete the online gambling marketplace in PA.
Bettors in the state would have access to online sports betting, casino games, poker and esports.
PA has drawn huge online casino numbers after recording $162.3 million in revenue in February, the Keystone State’s second-best month of all time.
PA sportsbooks have also posted strong handle numbers over the last several months. The best of which came in October 2022, when PA sportsbooks set an all-time record for handle with a total of $797.1 million.
Esports would make PA gambling haven for players across the state. The only thing left would be the state joining the online poker compact.