ANNAPOLIS (January 31, 2019)—Legislation that would define eSports in Maryland, allow prizes and prevent gambling was heard by the House Ways and Means committee on Thursday.
The legislation defines eSports as a competition involving video games, including first-person shooters, real-time strategy games and multiplayer online battle arenas, in which players compete against each other.
The bill said eSports must not randomly generate plays, and players' skills must generally determine the results of competition.
This clarification would separate video games from being defined under gambling statutes, and legalize Maryland competitions.
Delegate Robin Grammer, Jr., R-Baltimore County, said as gaming industries have evolved in Maryland, statutes have not been updated.
Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, said there is no reason winning prizes for video game competitions should be against the law.
"eSports is a multi-billion dollar industry," said Luedtke. "We just need to catch the laws up in Maryland to where society is."
Luedtke said this is an important bill for expanding the state's economy.
If the bill passes, tax revenues are expected to increase slightly starting in 2020, according to a state legislative analysis.
In Maryland, a person who breaks gambling laws is subject to six months to one year of jail time or a fine from $200 to $1,000, and these laws would also apply to competitors and observers of eSports should the bill pass, according to a state analysis.
Mark Collins, 27, a Prince George's county resident and member of an eSports team, said he wanted to give lawmakers a firsthand perspective of problems in the industry.
"There are people who are finding their own ways of gambling on eSports," Collins told Capital News Service.
Collins said there should be a control device put in place to ensure winners of competitions can be confirmed if there is a glitch or issue in the video game.
Collins warned that lawmakers need to get in front of the gaming industry or there will be issues for casinos that want to host gambling on gaming in the future.
Maryland lawmakers discussed legalizing sports betting at the start of the 2019 session, and eight states have passed legislation fully allowing it since the Supreme Court legalized it in 2018.
A bill has yet to be filed this year on all-sports betting in the state General Assembly, but state political leaders have indicated they expect a bill this session.
"If we are going to move forward with sports betting this session, they could just amend out that language and make competitive gaming a part of that," said Grammer.