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IN-DEPTH 3 December 2018
Keeping a new market safe

Neale Deeley VP, Sales, Gaming for sports data and services supplier Sportradar, discusses the importance of presenting a safe and clean image of sports betting in the developing US market.

By Gambling Insider
How important is the US opening up to Sportradar’s business?

The importance of the US opening to the whole industry has been clear ever since the Supreme Court handed down its decision on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) and Sportradar is obviously one of many companies hoping to exploit the opportunities that come along. The long-term importance of the US when it comes to sports betting is clear. Until now, it has been a market restricted to Nevada and three other states and the offshore operators.

This has stunted the market. From Sportradar’s perspective, we now have the chance to more fully explain our offering to potential US customers across our entire product offering, in terms of data, odds provision, technological capability and indeed integrity services. A whole new market is opening up and although we would caution that the process of regulation will likely be slow at times, it is still undoubtedly an exciting time.

How do you expect the market to develop in the coming years?

The key, of course, is this will be state by state. In a sense, the European industry should be used to this. Like Europe, the US will be a patchwork quilt of market opportunities, so our expectation is flexibility in approach will be needed. There is every reason to be optimistic about the amount of states that might quite quickly move towards potentially regulating, but anyone hoping to take advantage of the various market openings will need to be aware the process in any given state can be prolonged.

How challenging will it be to agree data rights deals in the US in the early years of the market?

This is possibly one of the most sensitive areas when it comes to the US and perhaps one of the most misunderstood. We do not wish to be drawn on the issue of integrity fees, though we would note the argument would appear to be moving away from that concept. We would emphasise, however, that we have ongoing deals with major sports and others in the US already, which include data.

Which sport do you see as being most important to your US offering? Why?

The sporting calendar works very differently in the US than it does in Europe and though American football is bound to be one of the biggest in terms of betting handle, there will still be still huge interest in the other major sports. Indeed, one of the interesting aspects to watch will be the degree to which there is take-up of betting on soccer in the US.

Will the content available to operators differ much from the content you offer to operators in your other markets?

In short, no. While there will be a greater emphasis on the US sports scene for US operators, the full offering of sports will be available to all. It will be up to the individual operators to determine how they emphasise their own offerings.

Given the sports leagues have expressed so much concern about fixing risks in the past, how important is it for you to convince the market your offering is safe and can protect both players and operators?

This is one of the most important areas of discussion when it comes to the US. Integrity in sports betting is central to operators around the world and it is our number one priority as a company. Explaining and educating the leagues, the regulators, the politicians and other stakeholders on this issue is one of our most important goals.

The central argument regarding sports integrity is the same for the US as it is for the rest of the world; it is only by shining a light on illicit activity that it can be combated. Regulated markets provide that light and we feel we play a vital role in providing the means – via our early warnings systems work and other aspects of our integrity services – to allow the authorities to uncover corruption.

To what extent do you see esports betting thriving post PASPA, as more states look to legalise sports and esports betting?

We expect esports will thrive, but it won’t be one of the main US sports out of the gate. We are sure there is interest in esports, and we have a data offering which we believe is market leading in this respect. The opening up of the US comes at a useful time for esports betting in that it is still developing. But most of the attention, quite rightly, will be on getting traditional sports offerings up and running.

How likely is it that mobile sports betting will be a dependable revenue stream for gambling operators in the US, as and when legislation allows it?

This is a good question. At least one school of thought is that in the states that allow it, the market will be going straight to mobile. You only have to look at the development of online sports betting in many other markets both in Europe and around the world to see how mobile betting has come to be the most popular channel. It will be instructive to see how the early markets develop in this sense, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that even in advanced online markets in Europe, desktop remains a very important part of any offering.

How could the market be altered if online sports betting opens up? What are the chances this could force suppliers to change their US strategy?

The US market opening has already changed the nature of the industry in the few short months since the PASPA repeal. Just look at some of the tie-ups and deals we have seen already. These are transformational. Every company in the sector, whether an operator or supplier, will need to adapt their strategy as opportunities arise.

What are the chances the rise of sports betting in the US will generate more interest in live streaming of European or Asian sports from potential clients?

It is likely too early to say on issues such as this. What we can say is we have the full complement of products available to all operators to utilise as they wish, including a market-leading streaming offering. As mentioned above, it is likely interest in betting on events outside the US major leagues will be a part of the picture in the US, but it is hard to gauge the potential interest right now.

What can Sportradar bring to the US market which other data providers cannot?

US sports will dominate the betting landscape and we’ve been ramping up our investment in this area for over a year now. We can see the results of this within the massive increase in college sports coverage, the across the board reductions in market suspension times, the rapidly increasing number or markets, etc. – every aspect of the product offer is being upgraded as US sports move from a relatively small part of the global betting market to the main event. This commitment to investing in the US market is where we believe we will stand out from our market companions.

How will your US strategy differ from the other markets you operate in, if at all?

Every market demands differing strategies to fit the differing circumstances, but the heart our strategy remains consistent across all territories and jurisdictions. That is to bring the highest-quality offering across all products to the greatest number of clients. That doesn’t change.

IN-DEPTH 4 September 2019
Virtual reality: Creating next-gen experiences for players

Singular CEO George Shamugia discusses a new revenue stream for casino operators

The competition in online gaming is intensifying, with players becoming more and more demanding. In some markets, single-customer acquisition costs can reach up to €400 ($440) alongside growing churn rates. Furthermore, the online gaming sector struggles to attract one of the most lucrative groups of players – millennials. The experience provided by casinos no longer appeals to the younger generation.

On  the other hand, the video gaming industry perfectly understands the needs of millennials and by introducing elements of luck in their games offers the best of both worlds. With the launch of loot box systems and Grand Theft Auto’s in-game casino, we have seen their first successful steps in targeting the online gaming sector. GTA V online, with 33 million active players, recently opened an in-game casino, where players gamble real money on games such as poker, roulette, slots, etc. As a result, churn users returned and GTA Online reached the highest number of active players since its launch in 2013.

The online gaming industry has almost fully utilised the potential of the mobile medium. The time has come to look for new, innovative ways of delivering a next-gen experience to customers.

The potential of VR

Could the next big thing for online gaming be a fully fledged virtual reality (VR) casino delivering an immersive experience and limitless new opportunities?

Although not widely adopted yet, VR has a sizable number of customers. Analysts predict it’s poised for explosive growth to become mainstream in about five years. According to market intelligence firms, the VR market will be worth $117bn by 2022, and according to Juniper Research bets made through VR will reach $520 billion by 2021. Upcoming 5G mobile network technology will propel VR’s mass adoption by allowing the development of fully portable untethered and affordable VR headsets.

Different level of social interaction

The captivating nature of gambling comes from its social aspect. Unfortunately, personal interaction is widely missing from online gambling sites. VR technology creates multiple opportunities to bring back and even enhance that social moment. The ability to connect with other players is one of the main reasons behind Fortnite’s popularity. This form of co-experience is the next generation of entertainment. Research conducted by Facebook has found participants spend more time on VR compared to any other medium. This directly translates into increased profits for casinos.

Pokerstars has made efforts in this direction by implementing Voice UI. Instead of using hand controllers to make a call, pass, or raise, players give voice commands.

Another opportunity for bringing in the social element are the players’ avatars. They enable players to build their identity reflected in the avatars’ appearance, but also the avatar's social, competitive and community status. For instance, players are willing to pay real money for virtual drinks at the bar. Operators can offer these social touchpoints for free to VIP customers as an act of appreciation.

VR also brings a new dimension to customer support. Customer support can also be represented with avatars to assist the player in person. The social moment increases the LTV of players and contributes towards lower churn rates.

Rethinking game design

VR is a way more capable medium than a 2D mobile or desktop screen. Instead of copying the existing online experience, games must be redesigned from the ground up for a competitive advantage with VR. For example, a VR slot game can become fully immersive by teleporting the user into the slots’ world of Ancient Egypt. Next, enrich the experience with high-fidelity graphics, realistic spatial sounds and animations. When betting on virtual race cars, the user can be teleported inside the car he/she made a bet on and experience the race firsthand.

New revenue streams

VR casino lobbies create new revenue stream opportunities: ad placement of brands on the venue walls, company logos decorating the bar etc. This kind of branding is not intrusive in the VR space and feels natural from the user's perspective. VR also gives users the ability to change venues from a Las Vegas casino today, to Macau or even Mars casino, the very next day. The dynamic and diverse experience increases retention rates.

The majority of profits for online gaming operators come from their high-roller players. Although they represent a small subset of active players, an operator can launch a separate VR casino brand for them. Providing exclusive VR gaming experiences to high rollers/VIPs, the operator can minimise churn and maximise VR efforts for these player demographics.

The catch with VR is to focus on quality, rather than scale. The target audience might be limited yet, once these players experience it, they will become ambassadors for your offering.

Surely, the opportunities and possibilities offered by the VR medium truly exceed anything offered by mobile and desktop. VR is a new frontier not just for gaming but for every industry, and it’s exciting to see where it takes the industry and what kind of innovation it brings upon us.