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IN-DEPTH 24 September 2018
The US supplier race: Jostling for early position
David Cook assesses the early movements made in the US by sports betting suppliers, and how the market is likely to shape up for them
By David Cook

The initial steps in the newly regulated sports betting supplier markets in the US are currently similar to the first few laps of a game of monopoly. One of the reasons why that ageless board game creates such excitement is because there is no set way of playing it. Some players are desperate to purchase anything they land on; maybe even Old Kent Road. Some bide their time and hold out for the more esteemed and expensive properties, while some prefer not to adopt a set strategy and make decisions with each roll of the dice.

In a similar sense, some suppliers have been chomping at the bit to make their way into the US since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was repealed by the Supreme Court in May, while others are flirting with the idea, and some may just be loitering with intent.

To summarise the stream of stories to have surfaced about suppliers agreeing deals in the US of late, the most significant moves at the time of writing, at least on the supplier side, have been made by Kambi, IGT, Scientific Games and SBTech.

In August, Kambi became the first sportsbook to take a legal online wager on sports betting in the US outside Nevada through its partner DraftKings in New Jersey. Kambi is also partnered with Rush Street Gaming. IGT, in a similar move to Kambi, has moved to collaborate with an operator that has made its name in the US daily fantasy sports space, by pairing up with FanDuel Group, owned by Paddy Power Betfair.

Scientific Games has utilised its OpenBet sports betting platform by partnering with operator Caesars Entertainment. Scientific Games will provide sportsbook services to Caesars’ Atlantic City, Gulf Coast and Tunica properties.

SBTech has agreed deals with operator Golden Nugget, which will allow SBTech to power Golden Nugget properties in Atlantic City, New Jersey and Biloxi, Mississippi, as well as Resorts Casino Hotel, covering land-based, online and mobile, in New Jersey.

With New Jersey, Delaware and Mississippi currently being the only three states to have fully activated sports betting regulation since the PASPA repeal, there is still much to be decided, but there can be little doubt that the tier-one suppliers are feeling the need to set themselves up for regulated US markets without hesitation, perhaps in contrast to the operator space, where implementing a US strategy seems to have been much further down the to-do list.

Have the actions of some of the suppliers been reactionary at all, or is this the result of a much broader plan that could have been in place long before the state of New Jersey’s monumental victory in the Supreme Court?

Charles Cohen, IGT’s Vice President, Mobile, North America Sports Betting, told Gambling Insider: “IGT made a strategic decision four years ago to adapt our proven global platform for the US market – primarily Nevada. We recognised that this market was underserved by dedicated B2B technology providers and represented a growth opportunity, particularly if we could bring in product innovations and leverage our expertise in casino equipment and operations.”

IS IT BETTER TO OBSERVE FOR NOW?

Currently watching from the sidelines with interest is Gaming Innovation Group (GiG). GiG has targeted the US as one of its areas for growth, along with several European markets, and has an online casino partnership in place with operator Hard Rock International. Endre Nesset, GiG’s Director of Sports, thinks suppliers should be wary of the differences in the challenge the US presents when compared with Europe.

Speaking with Gambling Insider, Nesset said: “We’re monitoring the market, we’re looking it and taking it day by day.

“Don’t underestimate the American market – there are many, many sharp punters who know what they’re doing. One of the biggest mistakes that European companies moving into the US can make is to think what is working for them in Europe today is going to work in the US. It is a very different market. They have a different approach and the bet types are different. Local knowledge and localisation is key, as it is with any market you’re entering.”

This is an issue that would particularly need addressing from the likes of Kambi and Scientifc Games, as the Kambi and OpenBet platforms are renowned for their partnerships with operators in Europe.

When asked by Gambling Insider about the alterations that need to be made to a US platform, Keith O’Loughlin, SVP, Sportsbook and Platforms at SG Digital, said: “We are working hard to ensure that the everyday US bettor will understand what each bet means, how it pays, and how to place it. It has to be easy and intuitive. Sports betting should be fun, not feel like a puzzle you have to work out. Most US players are completely new to the industry, and our product must adapt accordingly.

The speed of developments since the PASPA repeal may have surprised some, but for Max Meltzer, Kambi’s Chief Commercial Officer, this did not come as a shock, and the early movements from some may be causinga domino effect.

Meltzer told Gambling Insider: “When a market like this opens up, there is an obligation to shareholders to explore the market. In doing so, some operators have been highly aggressive in partnering with the multi-state operators, which could strike fear into the operators that were taking a more strategic approach, but everyone is now having to move quicker.”

O’Loughlin has been slightly more taken aback. He said: “I am absolutely surprised at the speed the market is developing. Our Caesars deal is a great example. In previous deals of similar size, we had long delivery times. With Caesars, we delivered a fully-fledged sportsbook solution in 90 days. Considering all the technology and labor involved, that’s a remarkably short lead-time.

“At a higher legislative level, states are progressing at lightning speed as they see the value of sports betting exemplified by their peers. Nevada, New Jersey, and others have seen great success, so other states are keen to get in on the action.”

WHAT ARE THE FORECASTS?

The issue of what exact impact US sports betting will eventually have on a supplier’s bottom-line revenue seems unclear. While the suppliers are likely to keep their internal estimates closeto their chests, and there is no exact guideline on when each state will regulate sports betting and how they will tax licensees, one supplier did say it expects its addressable market to double in the next five to ten years.

O’Loughlin did not provide information on how the PASPA repeal could specifically improve Scientific Games’ financial reports, but did offer this: “A recent study by Goldman Sachs estimates that the market could be worth up to $60.8bn in GGR, so the potential impact is absolutely massive. It’s why we’re working to secure as many long-term partners as we can.”

WHAT WILL ALL THIS LEAD TO?

While the suppliers can claim small victories at this point, what insight is there as to how the market will appear once the noise has quietened and the market has settled?

Nesset says: “I think the American bettor will slowly be introduced to the sports that we see in Europe today, and then I think, long term, it will be more like we know it today. But I think it will take many, many years before we reach the sportsbooks looking the same.”

The point at which a majority of the properties on the board are taken are currently unclear, but should a large selection of states legalise sports betting, the key players already seem set to capitalise on the new ground as quickly as possible.
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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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