Three online casino suppliers discuss the future of the vertical and what they can offer land-based casinos in these unprecedented times. This article was originally published in the May/June edition of Gambling Insider magazine.
Andrea Boratto – WorldMatch CEO
Edgar Mkrtchyan – BetConstruct Chief Product Officer
Dylan Slaney – SG Digital SVP Casino
What is the main benefit online casino suppliers can offer land-based casinos to give them the edge over their competition?
AB: The possibility of adding an online product to the land-based offering certainly creates interesting synergies. The casino, through a web channel and a mobile application, can maintain contact with its customers even when they’re away; the advantages are numerous. The customer can keep playing from home or from the hotel room (which often accompanies the presence of the gaming rooms). Operators can also use the virtual casino to promote various types of initiatives that can be enjoyed within the physical casino. In a nutshell: don't lose the player, keep him playing; communicate directly to stimulate him to return to the physical casino.
EM: The best solution online gaming suppliers can offer to land-based casinos are live streaming options from the physical venues to online players and branded live casino halls. With a live stream solution, land-based casinos enable their players to play their favourite casino games with their favourite dealers online anywhere, anytime. With branded live studio solutions, casinos can customise dealer outfits, cards, table design and studio environment. Needless to say, with both solutions, casinos can customise their live casino landing page, UI elements and colours, user interface language and table limits.
The recent events have shown us that the world can change in a matter of days and we need to be ready and flexible enough to switch our business guidelines. Running an online gaming business holds no threat to an existing land venue. On the contrary, it gives the owner an opportunity to promote their business to the wider masses, target wider player profiles and reach the people who don’t have the opportunity to visit the physical casino. The decision to go online even with one single table and dealer allows the owner of an online casino to attract thousands of players and maximise revenues of that table.
DS: The beauty of online gaming is that it allows players to access their favourite casino games at a time that’s convenient to them, building on the fantastic offering of a land-based casino. They don’t have to leave the comfort of their home to enjoy a slot game or to spin the roulette wheel, as online casinos are open and available at all hours of the day. The key is making the omni-channel experience as seamless as possible. Once players leave the casino floor, it’s important to have a wallet system in place that lets them access the same funds on their account both in-store and online. The online environment allows casinos to offer a greater number of games too, so while many popular land-based titles have made the transition online, there’s also an opportunity to introduce players to new game concepts that are only available online.
Does an online offering provide an advantage when targeting a younger demographic?
AB: Definitely. In 2002 we collaborated with an Italian land-based casino for the production of free online roulette, which the casino wanted to use to attract younger players. The younger generations find it very natural to interact socially through mobile devices. In 2002 there were no smartphones or social networks; in fact, I still remember the constraint of a few hundred kbytes for the development of roulette in Java. Young people are intimidated by the formality of typical rituals such as board games. Nobody wants to go to the casino and mock inexperience. Giving them the opportunity to ‘train’ at home is one of the ways to break down the psychological limits that keep the new generations away from the casinos.
EM: Definitely yes! Generation Z grew up entirely in the digital age and are hungry for digital content and experiences, thus online offerings will grant a bigger advantage to casinos. Plus with online comes a wider choice of offerings such as various types of games, jackpots and bonuses.
DS: We now have a generation of players who have grown up with desktop and mobile devices and are very tech-savvy. Land-based casinos will always be an important part of the industry, but the online space allows operators to offer their content to a wider audience, including the players in their mid-20s who can be found through these channels. To this end content providers can push the boundaries of innovation more than ever as online gaming affords the option to use new and developing tech, innovative mechanics and persistent game states.
How do you attract those more used to traditional casino gambling, like boomers, towards an online offering?
AB: The charm and the atmosphere that a land-based casino can offer is difficult to recreate with a web or mobile experience. In this sense, live casino offers have a very strong advantage where the presence of a real croupier makes the experience more familiar to those coming from the land-based market. Of course, unlike a few years ago, all people, even those not so young, are equipped with a mobile phone with very large multimedia and computing capabilities, and I think that having the possibility to play without necessarily having to physically move to go to the casino is an undeniable advantage for any player, regardless of age.
DS: There are plenty of options available that players will find familiar to their retail experience. For instance, live casino is hugely popular as it allows players to sit at a virtual table and interact with a dealer based in a remote studio, all in real time. The HD streams of these live dealer games along with the ability to talk directly with the presenter make for an immersive experience.
Nowadays, online casinos have a far greater volume of slot games and feature a variety of game themes and mechanics. A number of popular land-based titles have been converted for the online market, while new games still feature traditional machine mechanics that will be appealing to players. Traditionally and still today, the land-based market provides the online world with a real insight into players’ behaviours and habits. This in turn feeds the key decisions we make around game design and the porting of land-based games. Now more than ever traditional casino players will find games they love and enjoy in online play.
What developments in the online casino space are you most excited about right now?
AB: From a technological point of view, in the medium term, I believe that augmented reality can make an important contribution in terms of innovation of gaming products. From a business point of view, I think the potential offered by the omni-channel is now what we can actually contribute to increase the effectiveness of communication and marketing initiatives to the full benefit of revenues.
DS: There are plenty of innovative concepts in online gaming right now and there are a couple of developments, which have proven to be very popular with online casinos and their players. Our new Syndicated Jackpots feature first went live with Betsson and allows groups of people to ‘win together’, creating more chances of scooping big prizes within a slot game. The feature taps into the rise of social gaming, with the millennial demographic appreciating the ability to interact together when playing their favourite games.
What do you see as some of the main challenges facing land-based casinos during the current COVID-19 crisis, and how can online casino suppliers provide resolutions for these?
AB: As anticipated above, the potential breadth and great immediacy of the online offer could compensate, in terms of revenue, for the charm that the gambling hall has for the ‘traditional’ player. The minimum social distance imposed by the virus may not represent a limit for VIP tables or private lounges, but for the crowded slots area of land-based casinos, the web channel could actually represent a more than valid alternative, or even the only solution to avoid having to place the slots in a way that is too dispersed and perhaps even unattractive for the player.
EM: Many land-based casinos have closed their properties in light of the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus, and some still operate but lack customers. The trajectory of the outbreak continues with no guess on how long it will take, so the only way for land-based casinos to continue their business and keep the profit up is to move their operation online by either opening an online casino or using a dedicated studio solution, or both. It’s really very simple and quick.
DS: COVID-19 is having a significant impact on every business right now in our industry and we’re taking the appropriate steps to respond to this unprecedented global crisis. For land-based casinos in particular, it’s more important than ever to have a strong online offering that allows their customer base to access fun and engaging content in a responsible way, especially in a time when they’re looking for relief from a difficult period. Additionally, we will look to support operators in any way we can, especially with regard to new responsible gaming measures they may wish to put in place.
Has the pandemic affected your own operations in any way?
AB: We operate in many parts of the world and perhaps it’s still too early to draw conclusions. On the one hand, the lack of the main events on which to bet has brought many bettors closer to casino games. On the other, the closure of land-based casinos and betting shops has depressed the gaming topic, and for operators with very retail-oriented business models, the decline in revenue is beginning to be felt. The requirement for everyone to stay at home with their families has also reduced gambling opportunities. In our experience, many people play in quiet moments during office hours or during lunch breaks. For those with wives and children, finding quiet moments of leisure in this period of confinement at home is not always easy.
In March, we recorded mixed trends, some customers lost almost 50% of turnover, others (and they are the majority) increased turnover by around 20-30%.
EM: As many businesses around the world, we are currently taking numerous steps to lower the potential impact of COVID-19 and to protect our staff and their families. We have implemented work from home policies across our worldwide offices, with teams working remotely to ensure our operations continue as usual. None of the recent events have affected our productivity as our services, platform and products operate in the same manner as usual.
DS: First and foremost, we’re protecting the wellbeing of our staff by adopting a remote work policy and procedures including social distancing. We’re also going above and beyond to continue providing our partners with services to keep their customers engaged. Our company is in a strong position due to our diverse portfolio of businesses, our talent and our products in managing through these challenging times. We’re sourcing even more content to our OpenSports and OpenGaming portfolios, including additional esports and virtual sports, which are enjoying a surge of interest right now.
What do you see as the future for online casino gaming and how can land-based casinos utilise this?
EM: Compared to land-based casinos, online casinos are set at lower costs, provide more generous bonuses and are accessible anytime and anywhere, thus online casinos are more appealing to players. Mobile is the future of gambling. Mobile gambling has been increasing during recent years and will continue to do so as technological advancements enable online casinos to introduce more competitive and appealing mobile products, resulting in the overall expansion of the mobile audience.
Live dealer product is another growing vertical in the gambling industry. Advances in technology, improved streaming and graphics quality and diversity of games offered contributed to the rise of live dealer products, and this trend will continue to grow exponentially. The rising number of online casinos and the popularity of online products are indeed at the cost of land-based casinos. In order to stay in the competition, online casinos must act quickly and leverage the possibilities available in the online gambling industry.
DS: We’ll see even more innovative developments hit the marketplace, as companies strive to bring groundbreaking concepts that evolve the casino experience. For land-based casinos, there’s an opportunity to tap into online and expand the reach of their brand by diversifying their offering. Players love traditional games, but they’re also hungry to try out new things and the flexibility of the online environment allows suppliers to achieve this. Online game mechanics can be adapted very quickly, which cannot be done with land-based machines. The future of online gaming is very exciting.
Is there something your company specifically can offer land-based casinos that they might not be able to get elsewhere?
AB: Our origin is strongly connected to land-based casinos. In some ways we started from there, supporting them from a consulting, technological and marketing point of view. We certainly have a very strong knowledge of the problems and potentiality of land-based casinos and I believe that our growth path is now an advantage in terms of know-how that not all of our competitors can boast.
EM: While the market has analogues for live streaming for casino games and live studios for dedicated tables, what we offer is the latest technology, the best equipment the money can buy and full support on any stage of partnership.
DS: We’re an end-to-end ecosystem that allows land-based casinos to launch a comprehensive online offering through one seamless integration in regulated online gaming markets. It’s packed with more than 2,500 games from both our in-house studios and third-party providers to ensure that players receive next level experiences and win together. In addition, there are numerous add-ons such as jackpots, free-rounds, tournaments and peer-to-peer gaming that keep players coming back for more.