- Associated Press - Friday, May 13, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) - As a professional, Johnathan Wendel’s days focused on staying at the top of his game - that included eight hours of practice, running to stay in top shape and avoiding taboo performance-enhancing drugs.

But he’s not your typical athlete. He’s billed as the world’s first full-time professional video gamer, goes by the screen name “Fatal1ty” and has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in what has become a spectator “esport.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval and the other members of the Nevada Gaming Policy Committee met Friday to hear from people like Wendel and discuss how the explosively popular professional video game industry could bring more money and jobs to the state.

“It capitalizes on the fact that we are the global center for gaming and hospitality,” said Steve Hill, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “We are the place that everyone looks to when it comes to regulation and making sure that these types of games can happen … in a way that people can trust.”

One of the first things Nevada gambling officials need to decide is whether “cyberathletes” like Wendel should be considered athletes and whether the matches he joins on screen are a sport.

If so, existing Nevada laws and regulations would allow people to wager on the outcome of video game tournaments as they do on other sports or bet against each other poker-style, with the house taking a cut of the action. That would be a boon for a state that wants to keep an edge in an evolving gambling industry.

“I’m really competitive,” Sandoval said. “I want to ensure that our industry has the ability to maintain its status as being the first in the world.”

Committee members met a former professional Call of Duty player and the CEO of a video game league during their crash course in the world of esports. The activity involves people watching other people play video games, often through live, interactive broadcasts.

The millions of visitors at the website Twitch can tune into a streaming video game broadcast and chat with the player or other spectators. Some players become celebrities for their charisma or skill.

The best players make a living off esports and compete as part of professional leagues that face off weekly. Championships are held in arenas complete with commentators giving play-by-play.

Some casinos are already trying to get in on the action. The Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip hosted a major League of Legends tournament last month that featured some of the most famous cyberathletes.

The Downtown Grand casino in Las Vegas has created a gaming lounge that resembles an internet cafe, with rows of high-power desktop computers. Guests sign up with the casino’s rewards program, and CEO Seth Schorr said about a quarter of the patrons meander over to more traditional table games or the casino bar during their visit.

Downtown Grand is also tweaking its menu to cater to video gamer tastes - that tends to mean food on a stick so gamers don’t get sticky fingers.

Sandoval, who said he doesn’t play video games himself except for the occasional losing matchup with his son, said he wants Nevada to stay relevant to younger visitors.

“There’s a lot for me to learn,” he acknowledged at the meeting. “And I want to be receptive to a new generation of gamers.”

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