Sin City’s embrace of the eSports industry will continue into 2018, thanks to a partnership between betting platform Unikrn and MGM Resorts International.
In a press release issued on December 18, the Seattle-based Unikrn – a sportsbook of sorts which specializes in real money wagering on eSports tournaments – announced plans to host events at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas throughout the next year.
An eSports event, which typically follows a tournament bracket or league format, pits professional players against one another in competitive video game matches. The most popular eSports games include League of Legends, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and Overwatch – all of which are available for betting via Unikrn.
Per the press release, Unikrn will utilize the LEVEL UP Lounge, which debuted at the MGM Grand in December of 2016. The site will host eSports tournaments every Friday and Saturday, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. local time, with prizes ranging from cash and UnikoinGold cryptocurrency tokens to complimentary stays at MGM Resorts properties.
In a joint statement, Unikrn’s chief executive officer Rahul Sood celebrated his company’s union with a Las Vegas icon:
“There’s never been a partnership quite like this fusion, and we’re pumped to be in the center of it.
Traditional entertainment destinations have a lot of room to grow in appealing to eSports and gaming fans, and MGM Resorts International is leading the way, with Unikrn, by bringing regular eSports tournaments to LEVEL UP — this is thrilling.”
Lovell Walker – who serves as executive director of interactive gaming development for MGM Resorts International – also praised the partnership as a sign of things to come for the gambling industry:
“LEVEL UP was designed to attract both the next generation of players and current players seeking innovation, making this partnership with Unikrn a great fit within the space.
With our commitment to the future of eSports and increased focus on enhancing our guests’ entertainment experience, we know Unikrn will be a tremendous partner.”
Despite setting up shop in the gambling capital of the world, Unikrn – which is licensed to offer real money eSports wagering in Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom – made no plans to offer similar services in Nevada.
However, the site doesn’t restrict access to American players in the model adopted by many online sportsbooks. Instead, players in the U.S. can exchange fiat currency for Unikoin tokens, virtual money backed by the Ethereum cryptocurrency network. Upon winning Unikoin tokens, bettors can exchange them for gaming equipment, including PCs, virtual reality glasses, and other tools of the eSports trade.
In a 2015 interview with Motherboard – given before the company’s initial coin offering (ICO) for Unikoin – director of eSports and in-house counsel Bryce Blum framed the current cryptocurrency option as a precursor to federal legalization of sports betting in America:
“It’s a question of when, not if. Hundreds of billions of dollars are illegally wagered on sports in the US every year.
Making it illegal doesn’t stop people from betting, it simply diminishes the ability for interested parties to regulate the industry and safeguard competitive integrity.”
Oddly enough, while Unikrn is unable to offer real money wagering on its Las Vegas eSports events, other sportsbooks in Nevada are already accepting action on video game tournaments.
In late 2016, Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) chairman A.G. Burnett ruled that video game tournaments fell into the “non-sporting” wager category, alongside award shows and other events, making them legal under state law.
By November of last year, U.K.-based sportsbook William Hill was accepting eSports bets through its kiosk at the Downtown Grand Casino in Las Vegas.