GameCo LLC was launched several years ago with the intent of catering to younger players with the “Video Game Gambling Machine,” or VGM, designed to help casinos monetize video game enthusiasts of the Gen X, millennial and Gen Z groups—players aged 21-40. Now, the company has embarked on a partnership aimed to bring those same players into the burgeoning sports betting market.
GameCo announced a partnership with Las Vegas-based sports betting platform supplier USBookmaking to launch the first-ever esports sportsbook, in a retail version at Colorado’s Sky Ute Casino Resort and digitally to the computers and mobile devices of bettors throughout Colorado.
Colorado is only the beginning, says Blaine Graboyes, co-founder and CEO of GameCo, who hopes to spread the esports sportsbook to all sports betting jurisdictions in the rapidly expanding U.S. market.
“We definitely plan to roll out our e-sports books into every U.S. state that allows it,” Graboyes told GGB News. “Currently, that’s nine states, and we’re working on our partnerships for each of them.”
Marrying sports betting to the esports world was a natural for GameCo, as the universe of esports fans—people who flock to tournaments, watch them online and have made rock stars out of the video game competitors—and those who flock to the company’s video game and arcade-style gaming machines are one and the same.
“In our land-based business, we see about 80 percent of coin-in on our games is from Gen X, millennials and the emerging Gen Z,—21 to 49 years old,” Graboyes said. “The average e-sports bettor, based on the data we have from our partners, is in their 20s; our average retail gamer is in their early 30s.” He says esports books that do exist in Europe are catering to the same demographic group.
As sports betting began to expand across the U.S., Graboyes says he saw an opportunity based on those demographic numbers.
“In terms of sports betting and esports, what we saw was really a gap in the marketplace in the U.S.,” he said. “The traditional sports betting companies are doing a great job with traditional sports, but they’re just not really unlocking the opportunity around esports. So, we saw white space opportunity in esports betting… It was really a combination of our legacy and DNA in esports and video games, and seeing the total gap in the market.”
Esports provides a vast new market for sports betting. Graboyes notes that there were roughly 30,000 public esports matches in 2020, and since they are staged around the world, there are matches going on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Compare that to NFL football, the most popular sport in the U.S., with 20 weeks of games including playoffs. “There will never be a time that you come to our site where there is not a live esports event going on,” Graboyes said.
And esports, with matches centered around competitions involving often complicated multi-level video games, offers a mind-blowing number of possible in-game wagers. Graboyes offers Counter-Strike as an example, a game in which the contestants take on the roles of terrorists and counter-terrorists. “There are (wagers) like first blood, which team is the first to hit the other team, first to 10 kills, the total duration in minutes of a specific match, who’s the one to capture the first tower…
“Then, what’s really interesting to me is the kind of exotic parlays that you can create. Frank is going to be the first one to get a kill and Will’s team is going to win the match and the match is going to be less than eight minutes long. That’s a really exotic kind of bet that I don’t think you could have very easily in a traditional sport, because of lack of granularity of real-time data.”
To supply that real-time data, GameCo has partnered with GRID, a German-based technology data solutions provider specializing in esports.
“They are the absolute worldwide leaders on providing official server data for esports betting,” Graboyes said. “They get this data directly, real-time, from the servers operating the matches—from the teams, tournament organizer, or leads. So, we’re seeing more data in real time with greater accuracy than most traditional sports.
“And most e-sports books are not using official data. They’re using what we would call scraped data. They’re actually using optical character recognition to watch with Twitch, which is often three to five minutes delayed using scanning technology to pull the data out. The reason that can’t support in-play betting is it’s delayed. We’re getting the data directly in real time, and essentially 100 percent accurate.”
Graboyes says the real-time data is essential to offering in-play wagering, which in turn is essential to a successful esports book. “If you look at the U.K. or EU books that offer esports betting, basically 50 percent-70 percent of their handle is in-play betting,” he said.
The retail and digital esports books in Colorado are expected to be up and running in the first quarter of 2021. After that, Graboyes hopes it will be smooth sailing across the U.S. as more jurisdictions authorize sports betting. “Our next jurisdiction will probably be another tribal casino, but then we’ll be looking at New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and then Nevada as well,” Graboyes said.
USBookmaking, operated by legendary bookmaker Vic Salerno, has been investigating entry to the esports wagering market for over three years. GameCo linked up with the company on the suggestion of its Las Vegas sales director.
“We engaged with them about our esports offering, and as it turned out, they were actively looking for a partner to bring esports betting to the tribal casinos where they’re providing sportsbooks,” Graboyes explained. “So we’re definitely looking to expand with USBookmaking, and we plan to offer esports betting in every jurisdiction in which it’s legal.”
Along the way, expect GameCo’s VGMs to get into the esports genre as well.
“We had our multi-player arena approved this year, which is part of our casino esports suite,” Graboyes explained. “It includes our esports, and what that does is network our games better.” Esports competitions will be available on the VGMs in competition mode or head-to-head competitions. “The winner takes the pot, the house takes a rake.” Casinos can also use the multi-player arena to run bracketed esports tournaments on the casino floor.
Meanwhile, the company will continue to pursue partnerships with existing sportsbook operators across the U.S.
“Absolutely every existing sports betting operator in the U.S. is a potential partner,” says Graboyes, “simply because none of them are offering what we are.