Mary­land casi­nos may see new forms of gam­ing

‘Es­ports’ em­pha­size skills over luck in at­tempt to draw younger au­di­ence

The Enterprise - - News - By GE­OR­GIA SLATER

Mary­land may see new forms of gam­ing such as “es­ports” or skill-based games af­ter a panel of var­i­ous gam­ing cor­po­ra­tions pre­sented in­for­ma­tion to a joint leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee last week.

This was the first time that the com­mit­tee on gam­ing oversight has met since 2016, when it dis­cussed fan­tasy sports. In Jan­uary, Mary­land be­came one of the first states to reg­u­late daily fan­tasy sports.

There are 40 states with casino gam­bling across the coun­try that bring in about $240 bil­lion each year and sup­port 1.7 mil­lion jobs, ac­cord­ing to 2014 Ox­ford Eco­nomics and Gallup Polls.

Fis­cal year 2017 gam­ing rev­enue num­bers for the state’s casi­nos to­taled $1.421 bil­lion — $277 mil­lion more, or a 24.2 per­cent in­crease, over fis­cal year 2016, Mary­land Lottery and Gam­ing an­nounced this month. These fig­ures in­cluded rev­enues from Mary­land’s sixth casino, MGM Na­tional Har­bor, which opened in 2016.

De­spite con­tin­ual fi­nan­cial growth in the Mary­land casino gam­ing in­dus­try, trends in the types of games played in casi­nos are be­gin­ning to shift, ac­cord­ing to data from the Mary­land Lottery and Gam­ing Con­trol Agency.

“As Mary­land’s casino mar­ket ma­tures, each of the six casi­nos is fine-tun­ing and ad­just­ing its gam­ing floor to meet cus­tomer trends and de­mands,” said Ca­role Bober Gen­try, manag­ing di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the state agency.

Ta­ble games are re­plac­ing slot ma­chines in some Mary­land casi­nos, where there has been a de­mand. In other casi­nos, slot ma­chine use re­mains more con­sis­tent or has risen, Bober Gen­try said.

Hollywood Casino in Per­ryville had 1,158 slots in 2013 but was down to 822 in Au­gust, while at Rocky Gap, there were 558 in 2013 and by this sum­mer, 665.

Na­tional Har­bor opened last year and had more than 3,000 slot ma­chines on the floor at the end of Au­gust.

Blaine Graboyes, co-founder and CEO of GameCo Inc., ex­plained that the ad­di­tion of skill­based games and “es­ports” — video games played com­pet­i­tively both online and at live events — in casi­nos might boost rev­enues.

“Slot play­ing has been stag­nant, and skill-based games ad­dress these chal­lenges with a dif­fer­en­ti­ated ex­pe­ri­ence on the floor, and will bring in a younger au­di­ence,” Graboyes said.

Skill-based games, ac­cord­ing to Graboyes, are games where skill level has some im­pact on the out­come. As op­posed to games that are pure chance such as slot ma­chines, skill­based games are more sim­i­lar to foot­ball or baseball, he told the com­mit­tee Tues­day.

These types of games will ad­dress sev­eral prob­lems, Graboyes ex­plained. Skill­based games are tech­nol­ogy mar­keted to at­tract new casino gamers, and they are dif­fer­ent from tra­di­tional slots.

Ad­di­tion­ally, GameCo found that 60 per­cent of the av­er­age skill-based gamers are 25 to 54 years old. This is in line with the av­er­age gamer age of 35, ac­cord­ing to the En­ter­tain­ment Soft­ware As­so­ci­a­tion.

“In­ter­est­ingly enough, the first peo­ple to play skill-based games in Amer­ica was a Viet­nam vet­eran and his wife, which de­bunks the idea of who peo­ple think it would be,” Graboyes added.

Cur­rently, New Jer­sey and Nevada pro­vide spe­cial­ized skill-gam­ing reg­u­la­tions, and Mary­land al­ready al­lows for skill-based games un­der cur­rent reg­u­la­tions, Graboyes told the com­mit­tee.

Es­ports also have also been on most casi­nos’ radar, Graboyes said. In Las Ve­gas, es­ports have been ac­tive for two years.

These com­pet­i­tive video games draw in huge au­di­ences and large cash prizes, ac­cord­ing to New­zoo, a mar­ket­ing in­tel­li­gence com­pany for es­ports.

At the In­ter­na­tional Dota 2 cham­pi­onship in 2017, a live es­ports com­pe­ti­tion, the prize pool was $24 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Forbes, ex­ceed­ing the win­nings from the PGA Masters that same year, ac­cord­ing to CBS Sports.

The Mary­land Cen­ter of Ex­cel­lence on Prob­lem Gam­bling spoke to the com­mit­tee about the re­sources that they of­fer for those who may need help with a gam­bling prob­lem. Al­though only 5 per­cent of peo­ple will de­velop a se­ri­ous gam­bling prob­lem com­pared to the 95 per­cent who gam­ble so­cially, the cen­ter ex­plained, it is not a prob­lem to be taken lightly.

The cen­ter does not an­tic­i­pate ad­di­tional ad­dic­tion is­sues with these new casino games put in place, but it will con­tinue to of­fer free treat­ment for those who may need it.

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