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IN-DEPTH 27 November 2015
Who plays online bingo?
Internet bingo has long been pigeonholed as a female-dominated pursuit, but does this perception match up with the reality? Ed Hawkins takes a look
By Ed Hawkins

There can be no doubt that bingo, akin to pursuits like coffee mornings and an uncanny ability to always be right, is almost exclusively a female pursuit. Whereas sports betting is dominated by men, bingo is the preserve of the fairer sex.

It is the corner of a market aimed, and proliferated by, men. The 2010 Gambling Prevalence survey reported that men were more likely to gamble than women and in only two activities were they a minority: bingo and scratchcards.

And we all know why, don’t we? Bingo has been a preserve for women because of the social aspect. In the boom days of yore when bingo halls were abuzz, women would turn up in their droves, have a smoke, drink and a natter and play a few lines. Online the chat facility is still there, so it remains female-led.

But wait. Is that a tired cliché? A stereotype forged from the past? There are whispers in the industry that the ‘women only’ demographic isn’t true. So are more men playing than one might assume?

Two men who think so are Matteo Monteverdi and Simon Jones. Monteverdi is the senior vice president of global product marketing for provider IGT, while Jones rebranded and relaunched WhichBingo, the first dedicated portal established to cover the UK online bingo market.

“There is a difference between numbers of men and women when it comes to online bingo players – but it is not as one-sided as many people think,” Monteverdi says. “The split is approximately 35% male and 65% female. However, the numbers can vary between operators. Some brands and products are almost exclusively targeted at women, for example, whereas others are more gender neutral, attracting a more equal customer base.

“In the same way that there are female sports bettors and poker players, there are male bingo players. How can there not be when the number of online bingo players has grown by more than 60 times in less than a decade, to the point where there are millions of regular players in the UK alone?”

I doubt there will ever be a successful brand that exclusively targets male bingo players, but at least operators like Tombola and Mecca are smart enough in their advertising to include male playersSimon Jones
A survey Jones’s WhichBingo conducted this year found the split between men and women players to be 85% female and 15% male. The split has been around this figure for every survey they have conducted over the last five years. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, as he explains.

“Recent demographics data reported by our Google Analytics suggests that in terms of actual visitors to the WhichBingo website, the split is more 60% female to 40% male.

“It’s also worth noting, in terms of the split between men and women players, that it depends on which bingo brand you speak to. You’ll find some quite significant differences in the male to female ratio. So for example, a brand such as Tombola, that positions itself as gender neutral, will have a higher percentage of male players than say, 888ladies, which is all pink and quite clearly markets itself as a female-orientated brand.”

As Jones says, the stereotype is not “100% true”, although he admits that major change could be some years off due to advertising being targeted almost exclusively at women.

“All these pink websites, and TV ads with women shouting bingo at their laptops while the husband goes out to work are hardly going to change anyone’s opinion on who online bingo is really for. Plus in daytime TV there are lots of programmes sponsored by bingo sites, and these all tend to be female-oriented shows such as Loose Women and Home and Away.

“I doubt there will ever be a successful brand that exclusively targets male bingo players, but at least operators like Tombola and Mecca are smart enough in their advertising to include male players.

“What also doesn’t help to demystify the stereotype that it’s purely a female pastime is new bingo sites like Hunky Bingo. I’m sure there would be a – small – outcry if Babes Bingo ever launched. It’s worth noting, possibly, that Hunky Bingo send out emails every day with Hunk of the Day. And you thought it was all about bingo?”

Miles Baron, chief executive of the Bingo Association says: “I think online targets a broader church, a broader age group, but there’s no doubt an element of marketing is targeted at traditional bingo players because they’re already playing bingo.”

It does beg the question, then, where is bingo heading if it continues to zero in on women? What are the upcoming trends for the industry and what will it look like in, say, five years?

“The UK market is very established,” Monteverdi says. “Therefore, we expect to see an increase and possible equal balance in the number of men playing bingo in the coming years. There will be a continuation of the growth in the numbers in both the younger age bracket, where bingo on mobile devices becomes even more commonplace, and in the older age bracket, as this group becomes increasingly tech-savvy.

“Online bingo is no different to any other vertical in gaming. The market is shifting towards mobile and tablet devices and creating a seamless, quality experience for users across all channels. In addition, marketing is becoming much more targeted and focused, offering a personalised experience for each player and ensuring greater player retention.”

And Baron’s view on a rise of male online players? “I don’t know,” he says. “That’s a tough one.” There is perhaps a greater chance of women gravitating to other mediums through bingo. “Online bingo’s not just bingo, that’s the beauty. You can be courted by all sorts of different products at the same time. In many ways they portal into harder forms of gambling like casino or poker.”

Eitan Boyd, CEO of Stride Gaming, the UK-focused, real-money operator which includes the online bingo brands Kitty Bingo, Lucky Pants Bingo, Bingo Extra, Jackpot Café, Jackpot Liner and King Jackpot, says the growth area is youth, particularly – you guessed it – young mums.

“Online bingo didn’t exist 20 years ago, and players would be playing in bingo halls. The stereotype of bingo halls is of an older age group, with the average player being over 50 years old. Now with the introduction of online bingo the reverse is true. Only 25% of players are 50-plus. The majority are younger, female, typically with children, who are drawn to online bingo because of the social element.

“We are seeing a huge shift to mobile and it is becoming increasingly popular. People are playing shorter sessions but more frequently, with the predominant age group being mums with children. Gaming follows household patterns – therefore there are dips at school runs in the morning and the peak time of playing is post children’s bed time.”

Boyd does point out, however, that under 25-year-olds make up around 20% of the registered players but only 10% of the funded players. “So whilst it is correct that younger players are drawn to bingo sites because they look fun and offer chat facilities, they fund less,” he says.

Jones argues that what is driving younger players is the improvement of the bingo products to make them compatible on smartphone and tablet devices. “In a recent interview we conducted with the former MD of Mecca Bingo, Mark V Jones, he explained how their focus groups with customers discovered that younger players are playing bingo on iPads or Android tablet devices while watching TV," he says. "Part of Mecca's future strategy is to allow players to bring in their own devices to play in-club.

“Younger people are more technologically savvy and want things instantly on the devices they’re using. Gone are the days where everyone would go home and sit at a desktop computer to play online bingo.”
DISCUSS THIS ARTICLE
IN-DEPTH 16 August 2019
Roundtable: David vs Goliath – Can startups really disrupt the industry?

(AL) Alexander Levchenko – CEO, Evoplay Entertainment

Alexander Levchenko is CEO of innovative game development studio Evoplay Entertainment. He has overseen the rapid expansion of the company since it was founded in early 2017 with the vision of revolutionising the player experience.

(RL) Ruben Loeches – CMO, R Franco

Rubén Loeches is CMO at R. Franco Group, Spain’s most established multinational gaming supplier and solutions provider. With over 10 years working in the gambling, betting and online gaming industries, he is skilled in operations management and marketing strategy.

(JB) Julian Buhagiar – Co-Founder, RB Capital:

Julian Buhagiar is an investor, CEO & board director to multiple ventures in gaming, fintech & media markets. He has lead investments, M & As and exits to date in excess of $370m.

(DM) Dominic Mansour – CEO, Bragg Gaming Group:

Dominic Mansour has an extensive background of nearly 20 years in the gaming and lottery industry. He has a deep understanding of the lottery secto,r having been CEO at the UK-based Health Lottery, as well as building bingos.com from scratch, which he sold to NetPlay TV plc.

What does it take for a startup to make waves in gaming?

DM: On the one hand, it’s a bit like brand marketing; you build an identity, a reputation and a strategy. When you know what you stand for, you then do your best to get heard. That doesn’t necessarily require a TV commercial but ensuring whatever you do stands out from the crowd. Then you have to get out there and talk to people about it. 

AL: Being better than the competition is no longer enough; if you’re small, new and want to make a difference – you have to turn the industry on its head. Those looking to make waves need to come up with a new concept or a ground-breaking solution. Take Elon Musk, he didn’t found Tesla to improve the existing electric cars on the market, he founded it to create the industry’s first mass-market electric sports car. It’s the same for online gaming; if you want to make waves as a startup, you have to bring something revolutionary to the table.

JB: Unique IP is key, particularly in emerging (non-EU) markets. As does the ability to release products on time, with minimal downtime and/or turnaround time when issues inevitably occur. A good salesforce capable of rapidly striking partnerships with the right players is vital, as is not getting bogged down too early on in legal, operational and admin red tape.

How easy it for startups to bring their ideas to life? How do they attract capital?

AL: It depends on the people and ideas behind the startup. Of course – the wave of ‘unicorns’ is not what it used to be. Some time ago the hype was a lot greater in terms of investing in startups, but that’s changed now. Investors now want more detail – and even more importantly, to evaluate whether the startup has the capacity (as well as the vision) to solve the problem it set out to address. That’s not to say investors are no longer interested in startups – they certainly are – but now more than ever, it’s important for startups to understand their audience as well as dreaming big.

JB: To get to market quickly, you need a great but small, team. If slots or sportsbook, the mathematical engine and UX/UI are crucial. Having a lean, agile dev team that can rapidly turn wire framing and mathematical logic into product is essential. Paying more for the right team is sometimes necessary, especially when good resources are scarce (here’s looking at you, Malta and Gibraltar).

Building capital is a different beast altogether. You won’t be able to secure any funding until you have a working proof of concept and, even then, capital is likely to be drip fed. Be prepared to get a family and friends round early on to deliver a ‘kick-ass’ demo, then start looking at early-stage VCs that specialise in growth-stage assets.

How do you react when you see startups coming in with their plan for disruption?

RL: We welcome the innovation and fresh thinking startups bring. This is particularly the case in Latin America, with a market still in its infancy. One area we’d especially like to see startups making waves is in the slot development sector. Latin America is a young market that needs local innovation suited to its unique conditions – especially in regard to mobile gaming.

Operators eyeing the market have Europe‐focused core products, which creates a struggle to work to the requirements of players and regulators. To succeed there, it has become more important than ever to work with those with a knowhow of the local area to adapt products and games to besuitable from the off; we welcome the chance for local talent to develop and grow.

Do you think it’s easier for established companies to innovate and establish new ideas? 

AL: From a financial perspective, yes. It is without a doubt easier for incumbent companies to establish a pipeline of innovation via their R & D departments, as well as having the tools to hand for data gathering and analysis.

But it stops there. Startups hold court in every other way. Not only are they flexible, they can easily switch from one idea to another, change strategy instantly as the market demands and easily move team members around. Established companies know this – and this is why we’re seeing an emerging trend for established companies to acquire small, innovative online gaming start-ups. They have the right resources and unique ideas, as well as the ability to bring a fresh approach to businesses’ thinking.

RL: For me, it’s always going to be established companies. Only with the resources, industry experience and know‐how can a company apply technology and services that truly make a difference. Of course there are exceptions. But when it comes to providing a platform that can be approved by regulators across multiple markets – as well as suiting an operators’ multiple jurisdictions – it is simply impossible for a couple of young bright minds with a few million behind them to get this done.

DM: I actually think it’s harder for established companies. It’s key to differentiate between having a good idea and executing one. That’s where the big corporates struggle most. They’re full of amazing people with all sorts of great ideas but getting them through systems and processes is nearly impossible.

Is it essential to patent-protect innovative products?

AL: It’s a very interesting subject. If we take IT for example – patents can actually become a block to the evolutionary process within the industry. Of course, getting a patent future proofs yourself from the competition copying your concept but, having said that, if you’re looking to protect yourself from someone more creative, smarter and agile, you’ve probably lost the battle already!

In our industry everything is moving faster and research takes less time than the development itself. No matter how good you are at copy pasting, you can’t copy Google or Netflix. The most important thing is not the tech itself but rather its ‘use-case’ – or in other words, does it solve what it’s meant to solve? Competition is healthy and the key to innovation. If you spend your whole time looking behind you, you’ll never be able move forwards.

JB: Tricky question, and one that depends on what and where you launch this IP. It can be difficult to patent mathematical engines and logic, mostly because they’re re-treading prior art. Branding, artwork and UX is more important and can easily be copied, but the territories you launch will determine how protectable your IP will be once patented. US/EU/Japan is easy but expensive to protect in. But China/South East Asia is a nightmare to cover adequately. Specialised patent lawyers with experience in software, and ideally gaming, can help you better.

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