Legislator Revives Effort To Allow Esports Betting In Pennsylvania

Lawmaker will try again after expansion effort failed in last session
PA esports

A Pennsylvania lawmaker is reviving an effort that failed in the last legislative session to broaden the state’s sports betting menu to include esports.

Rep. Ed Neilson, a Philadelphia Democrat, has not yet introduced the new bill, but he circulated a memo to colleagues last week asking for their co-sponsorship of the future legislation.

“Last year, the esports industry was valued at $1.1 billion worldwide,” his memo said. “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 multimillion-dollar facility strictly dedicated to esports gaming that will attract worldwide events, the first of its kind in the United States.”

The memo was evidently referring, however, to a facility that is no longer in the works. Comcast Spectacor revealed late last year that it had abandoned plans for a $50 million, 3,500-seat arena specifically for esports, which it had announced in 2019 would be developed near Xfinity Live! in Philadelphia’s Stadium District.

Comcast Spectacor also announced a month ago that the Philadelphia Fusion, the esports franchise it owned in the Overwatch League, was being permanently relocated to Seoul, Korea, after spending several years there due to the pandemic.

Pennsylvania more restrictive about sports bets

Pennsylvania’s new two-year legislative session has just started, and while several other states already allow esports wagering, it would take a new bill to be passed for that to happen in the Keystone State.

Gaming expansion legislation enacted in 2017 allowed multiple new gambling opportunities in which Pennsylvania was ahead of other states, including legalization of both retail and mobile sports betting, but it was more restrictive than some states in the extent of wagering permitted.

For the upcoming Super Bowl involving the Philadelphia Eagles, for example, some states allow wagering on the color of Gatorade that will be doused on the winning coach, but that is not permitted in Pennsylvania. Nor is wagering on non-athletic-performance events like the NFL Draft or Academy Awards.

The 2017 law specifically allows wagering on “sports events or on the individual performance statistics of athletes in a sporting event or combination of sports events.”

While the law is silent on the subject of esports, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has taken the position that esports was not part of the legislature’s intent. The regulator maintains a new law would have to be enacted before operators can start taking wagers. Board officials have taken no position for or against such an expansion, leaving that to lawmakers.

Neilson’s esports legislation proposed in 2021 never received a vote or consideration by the House Gaming Oversight Committee in the 2021-22 session.

Photo: Shutterstock


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