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The US Finally Has an Esports Gambling Site, But Americans Can't Use It

Two laws prevent esports gambling in the US.
Image: Unikrn

Having already appeared on ESPN2, the inevitable march of esports from "nerd curio" to "more popular than hockey" has reached another important milestone: Esports just got their own US-based gambling site. Unfortunately, Americans can't use it.

Launched yesterday, Seattle's Unikrn allows people to bet on the outcome of professional esport tournaments. It's currently limited to League of Legends, but the site has plans to add Dota 2 and Counter-Strike. At the moment, Unikrn is only open to Australians, but according to the site, "we are working hard to bring many more regions and game titles available."


There are already a number of nation- and region-specific sites that allow you to bet on esports, but Unikrn has the backing of global gaming juggernaut Tabcorp. Non-Australians can sign up for accounts—I did from America—but they can't place wagers on the site, at least not yet.

Our system allows betting from anywhere in the world, however the US and some other jurisdictions don't yet allow this type of wagering," the site states. "We have the best team, technology, and partners who are helping us make this happen, and we're working to make our platforms available to everyone. Stay tuned for more!"

Of course, Americans already bet on sports like crazy, both legally and quasi-legally. Sports gambling is regulated by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, introduced by Congress in 1992 to ban betting on sports in all but four states. According to a February Washington Post piece by Will Hobson, "nearly $4 billion is bet on sports legally in Las Vegas yearly, [and] an estimated $80 billion to $380 billion is wagered illegally through a shadow industry of offshore online betting houses, office pools and neighborhood bookmakers."

Hobson writes that, due to its ubiquity, America's sports gambling bans might not be long for this world. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver admitted in a New York Times op-ed that, given sports gambling is already happening, it should be legalized so it can be regulated in some way. The 1992 federal ban on sports betting has been challenged multiple times by the state of New Jersey, which is appealing a rejection of its current suit.

Still, even if sports betting were to be legalized within states, gambling online—really the only way that makes sense for esports, because that's where the audience is—would still have to clear the hurdle of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which was supposed to kill online poker. Like the sports betting ban, the UIGEA didn't work; it just drove online gambling into the shadows, which is why states and gambling advocates are fighting to get it overturned.

"Prohibition simply does not work," CEO of the American Gaming Association Geoff Freeman told a congressional panel in 2013. "Last year, before a single state authorized legal online gaming, Americans spent nearly $3 billion on illegal, unregulated offshore gaming sites. To put that into further context, Americans accounted for nearly 10 percent of the entire $33 billion worldwide online gaming market."

Likewise, Americans already gamble on esports. Granted, they bet in-game items but, make no mistake, those have actual monetary value, and the practice has already led to a match-fixing scandal.

While waiting for American laws to change, Unikrn seems to be putting all its chips on Australia and Europe, where sports gambling is already commonplace. It seems like a safe bet that, in the meantime, someone's going to be looking into VPNs.