esports gets a hearing from the Maryland legislature - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Feb. 1, 2019 3:19 pm

esports gets a hearing from the Maryland legislature

A bill dubbed "The eSports Act" would define competitive video gaming in legal terms.

Esports is filling arenas.

(Photo by Flickr user Jakob Wells, used under a Creative Commons license)

A bill that seeks to spell out rules around real-time strategy games and multiplayer online battle arenas is among the proposals being considered by the Maryland General Assembly during this year’s three-month session in Annapolis.

“The eSports Act” got a hearing at Maryland’s House Ways and Means Committee, though committee members did not vote.

The bill aims to clarify the law to allow esports competitions to offer prize money or merchandise to winning participants. Without such a law, some companies would see a restriction on allowing Marylanders to participate or holding esports competitions in Maryland, said Del. Robin Grammer (R-Baltimore County).

“Due to an ambiguity in our state laws, some industry partners will not allow Marylanders to participate in video game competitions,” Grammer said. The number of companies that would see a problem is small, but Grammer said the bill is necessary to ensure they wouldn’t be exposed to the potential of lawsuits.

“This problem has surfaced because as economic activities have changed and evolved, our statute has not changed with them. We now have many different forms of ‘gaming’ that are actually distinct activities,” Grammer said. “There is no law that governs participation in competitive video gaming and some companies feel legally exposed because of that.”

The bill seeks to create a clear distinction that esports are not games of chance, but rather skill.

Also driving the need for the bill is the growth of esports. Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery), talked about how esports has become a multibillion dollar industry that fills arenas and draws competitors around the world.

“This is a huge industry,” he said. “We want a piece of that here in Maryland.”

Luedtke also pointed out Maryland’s own video game industry, which includes studios like Firaxis Games and Bethesda Softworks. “This is an important bill for expanding our economy, as well,” he said.

The bill would also make sure that esports is governed under gambling laws, meaning it is not legal to make a bet on the outcome of esports.

“It would be better for us to be proactive and put something in place so we can have people that would like to participate, participate safely,” said Mark Collins, an esports team member from Prince George’s County who testified before the committee.

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For any rules around betting to change, the General Assembly would have to consider a separate measure that made all sports betting legal, proponents said. State leaders are considering such a deal this session.

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