Betting on video game tournaments is permitted in New Jersey if every participant in the "esports" event is 18 or older.

A proposed law being discussed by state lawmakers would expand esports wagering to include events where the majority of participants — rather than all — are at least 18 years old. It also permanently adds these skill-based competitions to the state's legal sports wagering process; it was only a temporary measure that included esports in the mix.

"I would say esports are the next big thing when it comes to sporting events, but the fact of the matter is that video game tournaments are already a prominent form of skill-based competitions," said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, the bill's sponsor. "Throughout the country and the world, video game enthusiasts are flocking to see expert players compete in all kinds of digital games. Whether they follow along online or in person, hundreds of millions of people watch esports each year — and that number is only growing."

Caputo made his comments Monday during a hearing of the Assembly Tourism Gaming and the Arts Committee, which he chairs. The committee also examined the topic at a hearing in March.

"With online sports betting now legal in our state and a rapidly expanding esports industry already in existence, the time is right for New Jersey to expand legal wagering beyond traditional sports," Caputo said.

When sports betting became legal in the Garden State in 2018, the law prohibited electronic sports and competitive video games. But the state soon clarified its stance and opened the door for esports wagering, with stipulations.

In November 2019, the state gave explicit permission to sportsbooks to accept bets on the League of Legends World Championship Finals, whether or not all participants were at least 18 years old — reportedly a one-time exception.

The proposed New Jersey law would still prohibit wagering on any esports events sponsored by or affiliated with high schools.

Should esports wagering become a permanent fixture in New Jersey, the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey fears the move would promote underage gambling.

"There already is a link between gaming and gambling," said Neva Pryor, the Council's executive director. "It's enticing to these kids."

Pryor said the gambling concept is already present in many video games; they give players the option to gamble virtual money on outcomes, and sell items such as "loot boxes" that contain items based on chance.

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