Billionaire Mark Cuban has placed a bet on Unikrn, a startup that lets users gamble on esports videogame competitions, as part of a $7 million funding round led by venture-capital firm Binary Capital. The round, which brings Unikrn to a total of $10 million raised, was joined by investors including Advancit Capital, Freelands Group, 500 Startups, Indicator Ventures and Tabcorp, an Australian wagering and media company.
Pro sports in America have traditionally held gambling at arm’s length, in large part because of costly point-shaving scandals. Industry consultant Marc Ganis of Sportscorp Ltd. suggests any future affiliation with gaming “has the potential to kill the golden goose.” That raises a reasonable doubt about whether the other three leagues will join in Silver’s campaign. And no one seems to know when or whether Congress will act on the issue. Speaking at the recent GiGse convention for Internet gaming, Spillane preached patience. “We’re at the beginning of what I think is a long process,” he said. “But you have to start somewhere.”
Leonsis was asked: Would you be in favor of legalizing sports betting? His response: “First of all, I respect our commissioner. I love Adam Silver I think he’s doing a great job. And I think he is spot on. I think we’re living in this real-time technical trading world, and that there’s so much betting that goes on, I think this first iteration that we’re seeing with the Draft Kings kind of phenomenon, and this daily interactive gaming. But, it makes sense. You’re going to have wallets on your phone, people now are going to start to make wagers on, in a real time way, ‘I think he’s going to make a pass, instead of take the shot,’ and you’ll be able to instantly move money back and forth, so it’s better to get in front of it. and the consumer is going to do what the consumer is going to do. We have to make sure that it’s managed in the right way. But I do think it was smart to get in front of it, and not bury your head in the sand and say it’s not going to happen.”
The still new-ish commissioner used the powerful forum of the league’s annual Technology Summit — full of sports business insiders in expensive suits — to reiterate his position. What was most notable, though, was how thoroughly in line behind him NBA owners are. The panel discussions traditionally are off the record, so I cannot quote the pro-gambling positions uttered on stage. But in follow-up interviews, it was clear that almost everyone sees gold in Silver’s strategy.