On Tuesday, online e-sports gambling platform Unikrn was approved for a gambling license in the Isle of Man. The license allows Unikrn to expand its nascent e-sports gambling service to countries with legalized sports gambling, including the US and most of Europe. The company, headquartered in Las Vegas, had previously only been permitted to operate in the UK and Australia, and only to offer real-money betting. In addition to accessing new markets, the regulatory approval also allows the company to offer betting with blockchain currencies such as bitcoin.
The e-sports (or competitive online videogame) industry has seen tremendous growth in recent years thanks to hit games such as League of Legends and Overwatch. The industry is expected to exceed revenues of over $1 billion in 2019. However, gambling on e-sports has until now been hampered by the absence of regulated operators licensed to do business in most major markets. Unikrn, whose major investors include Mark Cuban, Ashton Kutcher and the Murdoch family, has now changed that.
The license comes just months after the US Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), creating new opportunities for online gambling on both traditional and e-sports. While Unikrn plans to roll out its service in at least 40 states, it will initially allow only skill-based betting, not spectator betting. This means that players will only be allowed to bet on their own performance. Unikrn CEO Rahul Sood projects that access to the US market could see the esports gambling industry exceed $9 billion by 2020.
Alex Van Dyke is an Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2021).