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IN-DEPTH 18 July 2018
Renato Ascoli: Mapping out the path ahead
Renato Ascoli heads up IGT’s highly successful North American operations, and during his tenure has overseen critical acquisitions, divestments and marquee product launches. Gambling Insider caught up with him to discuss the firm’s recent accolades and its future product map
By Gambling Insider

A large part of your career has been spent in the transport sector before moving into gaming. What was your first impression of this industry and how did your previous experience prepare you for the move?

Given the highly regulated nature of the railway industry in Europe, my transition from the transportation sector to the gaming sector was relatively seamless. Building and maintaining positive relationships with regulators, and being mindful that the consumer experience is dependent on an entire ecosystem of products, services and touch points, are fundamental commonalities that are shared across both sectors.

IGT has been the first supplier to be awarded the Responsible Gaming Certificate from the Global Gambling Guidance Group. How important is this kind of accolade to IGT?

Providing technology and services to our customers that supports responsible gaming has always been immensely important to IGT. The recent Global Gambling Guidance Group (G4) certification was further validation of IGT’s leadership and commitment to this meaningful topic.

You recently accepted two Global Gaming Awards for Land-Based Product of the Year for Cardless Connect and Land-Based Innovation for Sphinx 4D – do you feel this is a result of your product strategy paying off?

Yes, I believe we are seeing early signs that IGT’s commitment to innovation, market research and our ‘quality over quantity’ approach are being recognised by our customers and their players. Having SPHINX 4D and Cardless Connect honored in the Global Gaming Awards was a reaffirmation that the gaming industry values IGT’s commitment to evolving the slot experience, and to developing intuitive mobile technology that can enhance the land-based casino environment.

The full-scale roll-out of 4D gaming technology should be a game-changer for the company, how does IGT plan to make the most of this?

We believe we have something very special with 4D; a product that can generate wide and varied demand, and something that is both familiar and unique for players. We view TRUE 4D as the natural evolution of our TRUE 3D product line; a game family that launched as a niche slot experience and quickly matured into a widely-placed product line with more than 3,000 units in the field.

We are inspired by the customer feedback and early results that we have seen from SPHINX 4D. We have engaged our product, sales and marketing teams in educating operators about the depth of the game’s content and the many ‘hidden’ features within it to help ensure the success of this important launch. We also grant our customers advanced visibility to our TRUE 4D roadmap - when they place an IGT game on their floor, they can be confident in the content pipeline to follow.

With the increasing number of US states looking to legalise online gaming, does IGT plan to put more resources behind the interactive side of the business?

We are closely monitoring discussions surrounding the expansion of the US online gaming market and have a leadership team and organisational structure in place that can quickly respond to new market opportunities. Through our experience as a B2C operator with Lottomatica in Italy, we have gained a deep understanding of the online betting ecosystem, and amassed valuable insights into online player preferences and behaviours. Furthermore, our content delivery mechanism, the Remote Game Server (RGS), currently serves more than 90 operators in 13 countries and enables us to be very agile and swiftly service new customers with a compelling online portfolio.

How has the sale of Double Down benefited the group?

It was an important development in supporting our strategy of leveraging our substantial content catalogue across multiple distribution platforms. Through this partnership with DoubleU, we continue to participate in the social casino market, and are collecting ongoing royalties on our casino game content. Inherent in our relationship with DoubleU Games Co. is our true vested interest in their success and growth through strong, profitable game content.

A number of US gaming companies are readying themselves for the repeal of PASPA by acquiring sports betting companies. Will IGT be looking to make a similar move? Or is IGT preparingin a different way?

IGT has not announced the acquisition of any sports betting companies. We are very experienced in sports betting and would be well-positioned for opportunities that could arise from US legalisation. I identify our PlaySpot mobile technology as a solution that our customers could leverage to give their players a proven, easy-to-operate mobile sports wagering solution.

You signed a cross-licensing agreement with Scientific Games this year, what does this bring to the company, and are there further such agreements in the pipeline?

We have worked with most of the major slot manufacturers to execute game feature IP cross-licensing agreements. This enables the entire industry to benefit from IGT’s game patent portfolio, which is the largest in North America, and also the portfolios of our cross-licensing partners. We’re very pleased that this program has come to fruition and delivered such significant results for IGT.

With growing interest in skill-based games, how will IGT respond to this?

The impact of skill-based games on the gaming industry still remains to be seen. We have introduced several slot games with skill-based components and are actively analysing those early performance results. We have a number of skill-based solutions on our roadmap and we are working with our partners at Chill Gaming to bring their skill-based games to market. We remain attentive to this space and inspired to gain continued insights from our customers.

IGT was recently recognised by the CDP for its commitment to the environment, is this the result of a long campaign?

IGT’s impact on the environment and the communities that our employees call home is something we consider at every turn, and at sites throughout the world. IGT views environmental stewardship as an ongoing commitment and something that we are continuously assessing and improving – even the smallest adjustment can yield big results over time.

What advice would you give to a rising CEO in the gaming world?

The first piece of advice that I would offer up is to remain passionate about serving the customer, and maintaining a customer first approach. I believe it’s critical to wake up each day with that target in mind and constantly work towards that goal. My second piece of advice is more personal in nature: Never rest on one’s laurels. I believe it is wise to destroy your past glories, or as Yoda wisely suggested years ago, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
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IN-DEPTH 18 October 2019
Automating acquisition

Alex Czajkowski discusses the automation of acquisition within online gaming.

It’s almost every operator’s perennially hot topic - acquisition. While acquisition strategies can vary market-by-market, there is a case in every market for automating more of the process to improve conversion rates or significantly reduce acquisition costs. In any market, you can segment your prospects, regardless of your product, into two: inner-directed and outer-directed. Inner-directed prospects know what they want; your job is to get out of their way, but be there for any obstacles that occur in achieving their goal.

Typically, this is to join, deposit, get a bonus and play. For example, when I go into a store to buy a laptop and having to deal with some sales clerk who knows less about them than I do (and in fact may be financially incentivised to push me to the wrong selection), I know what I want; get out of my way. But the sales clerk may know something I don’t, like how last year’s model is now significantly reduced and the changes were largely cosmetic.

Our inner-directed online gaming prospects benefit from a bit of guidance in their rush to register. No, they don’t need to know of password format requirements; they’re using a sufficiently robust password to begin with and they’re experienced players. But by reminding them that with every play they are accumulating loyalty points they can redeem for cash, this could be welcome news at a new site. So while we don’t want to interfere with the inner-directed prospects hurling themselves through our conversion funnel, we do need to be there to inform and support. This also helps ensure a higher conversion rate, not to mention an opportunity to really introduce the brand voice.

Sure, you could use distracting pop-ups, or unmemorable banners alongside the necessary forms. But those are all one-way communications. You’re talking at the prospect rather than with the prospect. Sinitic.ai, a leading AI-enabled, gaming-focused chatbot provider, or more specifically, an automated intelligent customer experience (AICX), enables operators to engage in “asynchronous conversations” through this process. It uses proactive yet passive messaging through an open, automated chat window. In this window, the chatbot prompts as the player moves through the forms, offering to help but also reminding the player of site benefits and interesting news (e.g. there’s a new game to try or a big match tonight).

Should our inner-directed prospective be intrigued by any of the prompts, they merely have to chat back to the bot. With language-specific NLP (natural language processing) behind the bot, the prospect and the site can have a natural conversation about that topic. They could even discuss any relevant topic the prospect may choose to ask about, such as: What are the odds on Liverpool vs. Arsenal tonight? An integrated chatbot can answer these questions, in real time, as straightforward or cheekily/sassily as you want your brand voice to be.

The outer-directed prospect is just the opposite; they need assistance. They are like the new dad standing in front of 300 choices for car seats for their first baby, with prices ranging from $50 to $500. Only one word comes to mind – help. Here, an intelligent chatbot can walk this prospect through the registration, deposit and bonus processes, field by field if necessary; just as if there was a customer service agent holding their hand through the process, but with no delay, as a human agent would be handling multiple chats and not be truly one-on-one. An integrated chatbot should know where the prospect is in the journey, right down to the field in focus on the form, and prompt appropriately.

Again, the chatbot can also insert “marketing messages,” new promotions that may be of interest, game suggestions for the newbie to try and matches they want to bet on. These all help in the conversion process, not to mention churn; one key reason online casino operators so quickly lose their first players is the players play the wrong game and have a fast bust out, leaving disappointed. This can be prevented through chat-supported onboarding with proactive chat for churn prevention.

In some markets and cultures, prospects skew more to this outer-directed side. For example, in Japan, prospects want to know everything going into a site, while in Vietnam, they do want their hand held. In more mature western markets, inner-directed players may be more prevalent, but the key is automated intelligent chat support for both segments. Speaking of Asian markets, one clear difference between the west and specifically China, is the necessity to leverage one-to-one direct sales communications to bring players onto the site. For China, operators have rooms full of imported Chinese speakers, at no small cost, chatting with prospective and existing players over WeChat and other social platforms. These one-to-one chats for acquisition can also be automated, right down to including the 20% or so of messaging we classify as flirty.

Sinitic.ai's AICX solutions can push messaging through virtually any channel, be it the ubiquitous (and popular) web chat, SMS, WeChat, Line, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp etc. So wherever your preferred hunting ground for players is, you can set loose an AI-based chatbot to harvest players with the same methodology you use in the call centre. But of course chatbots don’t take breaks, get ill, ask for raises or housing or travel expenses - all real call centre issues. “Chatbots are the new email,” some say. But they are actually better; they are as synchronous or asynchronous as the player wants. They can be chatty and real time (synchronous) or stand-by ready, simply announcing a relevant message that may or may not initiate a reply from the player (asynchronous).

Chatbots are increasingly the preferred way for players to interact with a site; why dig through the FAQ when you can just ask the chatbot? Why not even navigate using the chatbot? “Take me to the game with the biggest jackpot.” Using AI and NLP, Sinitic.ai’s AICX solution can add an entire new level of interactivity to your site, delivering automated acquisitions, improved conversions, reduced churn and better player lifetime values.

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