Will Colorado Move Towards Esports Betting?

Despite the pandemic, Colorado still plans to launch online sports betting on May 1. There won’t be any baseball to wager on or basketball playoffs. The NFL Draft will be a week old at that point and the Kentucky Derby has been postponed. What the state will have, however, is both a growing interest in and a variety of esports to bet on. 

Esports is on the rise in Colorado. There are professional teams like the Colorado Clutch, college leagues, and even high school students competing. According to the Colorado High School Activities Association, there were 22,000 students in the state competing in official high school esports leagues during 2019. Once you advance beyond college, you have more than 7,700 gamers competing in one league, with thousands of others spread out across the state.

So the interest is clearly there, and with pro sports on hold, there’s an opportunity. You could even argue there’s a need, since the state will soon have online sports betting but no sports to bet on. Will Colorado take the next step? 

Building An Esports Betting Audience

Esports has more of a global audience now than any point in history. Due to the pandemic, ESPN, Fox Sports and NBC Sports find themselves struggling to fill hundreds of hours of air time and so they’ve switched to covering a variety of esports. This is where the opportunity comes not just for sports betting in Colorado, but across the nation.

Leagues have entered into deals with networks to broadcast competitions like The Players League, in which players from all 30 Major League Baseball, including David Dahl from the Rockies, compete in virtual games broadcast across the globe. The only difference between that and the regular season is that the games are on a PlayStation rather than at Coors Field. 

“Right now there are no live sports, so people are watching esports in a variety of ways,” said Daniel Kustelski, CEO of Chalkline Sports. “Gambling regulators are trying to find ways to provide the betting around it.” 

Kustelski’s company studies sports betting, providing analytics, case studies and general data for clients across the country. Speaking to a webinar group on April 16, Kustelski said the growth of esports as a sports betting segment was inevitable,  pointing to multiple discussions held over the last four years by a number of companies. When you have a sport growing in interest, combined with a young audience, that gives gaming companies an opportunity.

Millions Of New Gamers Set To Play

According to numbers from the American Gaming Association, 30 million Americans will place their first wager in the next three to five years, with the majority betting on sports. That includes 600,000 Colorado residents. But these won’t be gamblers putting money down at a physical site. This is a younger generation of gamers, used to doing everything on their phone or laptop.

If you want evidence, look at this year’s Super Bowl. According to the AGA, nearly 5 million people bet on the game online or through an app. By comparison, less than 4 million placed a bet at an actual casino or sportsbook, marking the first time online wagers came in higher than physical bets. So here in Colorado, you have a brand new online sports betting system set to launch and young potential gamblers ready to spend money. Do you wait for baseball to launch or promote betting now with the sports they’re interested in? 

Esports Becomes A Growing Habit

Younger viewers don’t need an excuse to watch esports or bet on it. That’s already been happening. On April 2, the popular online video game channel Twitch announced it had passed 3 billion hours watched in a quarter. As the stay at home orders across the country hadn’t been issued until March 15 at the earliest, this indicates people aren’t just interested in playing. They want to watch games too.

Seeking something to grab ratings with major leagues shut down, ESPN signed a deal in March to broadcast NBA 2K, Madden and Rocket League competitions. Now for the first time, bettors in Colorado and across the country will have constant access to these leagues and will be somewhat of a captive audience. 

That last part is key when considering sports betting in Colorado. You can’t discount the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. When Gov. Jared Polis issued a stay at home order on March 25, it shook up schedules. People no longer went to work at a certain time, picked up their kids from school or went out to eat. It also changed viewing habits. The longer this goes on, Kustelski pointed out, the more you establish a ‘new normal’ as residents adapt. 

“I think we’re creating trends,” Kustelski said. “This is a very natural progression and once we get to this point, I don’t know that a year from now that it will be too dissimilar. Twenty-one days is how long it takes for humans to create habits and we’ve been locked down longer than that.”

About the Author

Brian Carlton

Brian Carlton is an award-winning journalist who has covered casinos, the gaming and finance industries for more than a decade. His work has been published by the BBC and a variety of newspapers across the U.S.