Given the amount of industry consolidation that has taken place in recent years, the iGaming market is increasingly becoming one that is dominated by a relatively small number of large operators.
This has led to some operators struggling to compete, particularly in the UK, where the government’s White Paper review of the Gambling Act 2005 cast a shadow over the industry until its publication in April.
It is therefore not surprising that over the past couple of years, a number of lower tier operators have exited the jurisdiction.
However, James Lovell, who co-founded online bookie DragonBet with his brother David last year, is hopeful to not become one of these operators to leave the game. He explains how the company is banking on its long history in racing and its Welsh roots to stand out from the crowd.
Against such a backdrop, launching a successful new online site would seem a challenging proposition, with additional risk involved with the changing perception of racing.
This year’s Grand National attracted a lot of attention, not all of it positive.
The Grand National, like racing generally, still has a lot of appeal but the industry has to be careful not to alienate people because the world is changing and people’s opinions are changing on the sport. There is definitely more awareness of animal rights, but I think educating people about how well horses are looked after and the care they are under is key to changing perceptions.
“There was a lot of bad press about the Grand National due to the animal rights protests this year. However, it was still hugely popular and 600 million people watched it around the world”
There was also talk about the fall in attendance at Cheltenham this year. Do you think a day at the races is becoming less appealing to people?
After Covid, there was a bit of a surge in racecourse attendance, with people wanting to get back out and enjoy themselves. Since then, it has fallen back a bit. What we’ve seen at our pitches is that the number of bets has declined, but the average stake has increased, so there may be fewer people turning up at the races, but when they do, they are having bigger bets than before. This could be partially due to punters moving away from online betting due to stake restrictions and a reluctance to share the personal information required in the current regulatory environment.
My family has been in the racing industry since the 1970s, when my father founded John Lovell Racing. After he passed away in 2008, my brother and I carried on with the pitches at racecourses across England and Wales. Last October, we launched our first online proposition, but because of our history, one thing we really try to do is ensure that the ethos of racecourse bookmaking is carried forward in that we’ll lay a fair bet. We are reluctant to restrict racing bettors’ accounts. However, there are circumstances where we have to, for example, if there are indicators of harm, affordability concerns or signs of bonus abuse.
As part of that online move, you rebranded the company DragonBet, calling it the ‘bookmaker of Wales.’ What was the rationale behind this?
It seemed a natural move as proud Welshmen who want to champion Welsh sport. At the point-to-points we were always involved in the grass roots of Welsh horse racing, and we got to see very early on some of the jockeys contributing to the huge amount of success Wales is currently having in horse racing.
We have an affinity with Welsh racing in particular, but we also focus on other Welsh sports, we are very keen to promote Welsh rugby and football at the lower levels. We are involved in sponsorships in both racing and football.
In a climate where other bookmakers are expanding geographically, branding yourself as one country’s bookie might be seen as going against the grain. Was that a concern at all?
We think it will make us stand out. It is a niche, but it is not a small niche. Wales is a nation of very patriotic people who really get behind Welsh sport. We knew we were never going to be able to compete with bet365 – we can’t offer the same markets; we can’t spend the same on marketing – but what we can do is be really ingrained in local sport and ride the current wave of national pride.
That said, there was a reason we didn’t call it Wales Bet; we called it DragonBet because that is a retractable roof. Although we focus on Wales, a lot of our customers aren’t from Wales and we want to make our appeal as broad as possible.
“We want to be known as the Welsh bookmaker, but we don’t want to exclude anyone who is not Welsh”
Is that why you also offer sports ranging from Aussie Rules to mixed martial arts?
As a small company just starting out online, it made sense for us to set up as a white label. It would have been hugely expensive to build our own platform and the compliance aspect was also a concern, so we set up as a white label under FansUnite.
As part of that platform offering, Sportradar provides our pricing, so we are able to offer lots of different markets, which is where things like Aussie Rules and MMA come into it. We don’t take a lot of bets on them, though surprisingly we’ve taken quite a few bets on volleyball. ‘Generally, we want to try and give our customers as much content as possible.’
Given your long history in racing and the fact you are still running on-course pitches, was it difficult for you to outsource your online racing pricing?
For racing we’ve partnered with Pythia Sports, which has proven a really good fit because its heritage is also in horse racing, so we have a lot of faith in the company and its pricing. We’re really happy with the partnership so far. It is also working on new products that we’re excited about and that will allow us to expand our racing offering even further in future.
For online we do some in-house pricing for lower league Welsh rugby and football. No one else offers markets on those, so we price these ourselves. We don’t really expect to win on these – although hopefully we won’t lose – but the idea is that they are an acquisition tool. We get people to the site who wouldn’t otherwise be able to bet on these local teams and they then stick with DragonBet for the other sports they bet on.