Iqbal Johal looks at how the coronavirus pandemic has forced us more towards a digital way of life, and how the gambling industry must follow suit to recover stronger than before. This article originally appeared in the July/August edition of Gambling Insider magazine.
Now that the dust has settled after the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, it presents us a chance to take a step back and work out how we can move forward as an industry.
We’ve all heard the countless losses posted by operators and suppliers, both in terms of financial and personnel, with the outbreak hitting not just the gambling industry hard, but also us as individuals.
While we’re still a long way off entering anything near normality – whatever that might be – the whole predicament does present an opportunity, and a chance to reset and improve.
That’s certainly the train of thought among the dozens of executives from all over the industry I’ve spoken to or heard from during this period, and it’s clear to see what the consensus is on how we can come back stronger than before with an accelerated move to a digital world.
While technology very much played a part in our lives before the outbreak, we could rely without large elements of it for most of our daily lives. However, we were getting to the stage where in a few short years, we’d be living in a fully immersive, technological world, led by driverless cars and e-meetings.
Now, it seems the future has arrived. This period has shown how much we can keep moving on with the use of technology, from remote working, to Zoom meetings and even weekend FaceTime quizzes. We’re now extremely used to having groceries and takeout delivered to our door, only visiting the shop if it’s essential.
It might have been several years before we were due to live our lives out in a digital way, but given the circumstances, we’ve fast-forwarded that trend, and there’s no reason not to see it continue.
While we all appreciate face-to-face communication, we’re going to have to get used to the fact this just might not be possible on a regular basis for the considerable future.
Our patterns of behaviour are changing and the gambling industry needs to adapt to that. Luckily we work in a digital and forward-looking industry and the general opinion among many operators, suppliers and affiliates is they will continue to adopt a mainly remote working policy because it has proven to work so well for them.
A forced ramping up to online, aided with the suspension of live sport, has also seen two very digital verticals flourish: esports and virtual sports.
During Gambling Insider’s AffiliateCon Virtually Live, held online in May, Golden Race CEO Martin Wachter mentioned how in terms of average players, virtual sports had increased by 206% as a result of the outbreak.
While at the same conference, esports affiliate Sickodds co-founder Tom Wade spoke about a 40-times growth in esports betting, among such titles as Fifa and F1, thanks to the ease of moving to a solely online platform.
Those figures demonstrate the fact the industry is heading to a digital first landscape, and much quicker than anticipated.
That will be music to the ears of operators in jurisdictions hesitant to make the jump to online, particularly in Latin America and the US. The SBC Digital Summit in April on the state of play in LatAm very much focused on the need for the region to boost its online channel.
A region heavily supported by land-based operations will have to look to online just to keep afloat according to the panelists, and with the precarious situation in Brazil and Argentina, in terms of legalising online gambling, could this put the process into gear?
It’s the same story in the US, where many states are still against online gaming. At the same summit, Oregon State Lottery CEO Barry Pack was adamant the recovery from the pandemic will force a quicker digital transformation in the industry.
This situation could leave the likes of the US and LatAm with no other choice but to quicken the process to online and move with the times.
We’ve all been deeply affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn and progress from it. The gambling industry is no different, and a huge opportunity to become virtually digital is one it must take seriously to avoid being left behind.