6 November, 2023

BetMGM: Making an entrance

Gambling Insider Editor Tim Poole reflects on BetMGM’s UK launch, the initial surprise that came with it and what the ultimate goal is for a well-backed brand that cannot afford to rest on its laurels

LeoVegas CEO Gustaf Hagman was emphatic on the GI Huddle a couple of months ago. In his eyes, the UK market has been static and bereft of true disruption for 20 years. That, according to the serial entrepreneur, is exactly what BetMGM will be trying to change following its launch on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

A surprise to many in the industry once it became public news, BetMGM entered the UK market with a bang. Chris Rock fronted its launch campaign, appearing on adverts across the land. Indeed, a brand synonymous with the US (where it runs as a joint venture between Entain and MGM Resorts) was not shy in announcing its arrival among the many legions of existing British betting operators.

Gambling Insider heard rumblings over the summer that LeoVegas, which runs BetMGM’s UK brand, had something 'major' in the pipeline. The BetMGM news did not disappoint.

The state of play

But, of course, there is good reason little has changed in the UK market for such a long time. Big players like bet365, Sky Bet, Ladbrokes, Coral, Paddy Power, William Hill and more have served online customers ably for years.

Taking them on is a challenge many have attempted – and subsequently failed. To compete in a market as mature as the UK’s, BetMGM will need to utilise all of its resources (LeoVegas is owned by MGM Resorts so BetMGM’s international ventures will receive heavy backing). It will also need to offer something significantly different.

The brand has to go from betting’s best-kept secret to betting’s secret weapon

Going back to his interview with me, Hagman is confident BetMGM can do just that. So too is Sam Behar, UK Director, whose confidence shone through when I met him at a recent media event.

But the key question is what exactly is that special something BetMGM can offer that is so different? BestOdds Co-Founder Will Armitage recently asked me that question during his own appearance on the GI Huddle and it’s one I couldn’t directly answer myself.

Its eventual answering holds the key that will unlock the brand’s UK fate. What type of player is BetMGM trying to attract and how will it do so?

The main focus is going to be on casino – a natural choice, given LeoVegas’ Global Gaming Award-winning success in this arena. The sportsbook, powered by Kambi, will also be important in getting players through the door.

I have been assured BetMGM is positive about the numbers it’s seen so far in the UK, which is handy because everyone at the company is well aware their MGM backing has to produce results.

There are no free handouts in this industry, especially when we’re talking about this kind of scale.

The app itself

So how does the app compare? Again, the good news is that things are looking positive so far here, too. As a casual sports bettor, I can vouch for the site’s constant promotions, variety of markets and not-too-uncompetitive odds compared to the likes of Sky Bet and bet365.

Immediately, this evidence all points to the wider backing of MGM and LeoVegas – because no small-time player could afford to offer free £5 ($6) and £10 bets with the regularity BetMGM already is.

There is perhaps a small snag in the minimum deposit being £10, a definite inconvenience for the bettors out there who will want to deposit for a quick £5 bet (and are able to do so on bet365 and Sky Bet).

This is, however, something I personally have been able to overlook, especially considering the very generous welcome offer (bet £10 get £40 in free bets) and the fun I’ve had using the app since.

For me, it’s very quickly become a happy third accompaniment to my usual sports betting options. I can easily see that being the case for many other sports bettors across the UK.

As much as I do like the BetMGM app, though, I also like bet365 and Sky Bet – and regularly receive offers, odds and promotions from them too. That’s where the key issue still lies for BetMGM.

It hasn’t just arrived in the UK to make up the numbers. If that was the case, BetMGM would have stuck with the US and not bothered to target internationalisation. Just like in North America, the ambitions are obviously high – BetMGM wants market share and a place at the top table is clearly the aim.

Creating a narrative

I asked earlier how BetMGM can stand out and truly offer something different. As we've said, on the product side, that remains a rhetorical question for now. Yet one way the brand can make its mark early on is via its marketing messaging – and this is something that’s already well underway.

Rock, in BetMGM’s adverts, emphasises giving UK players the Las Vegas experience. In B2B circles, meanwhile, the operator is highlighting the narrative that the UK market has become stale and needs freshening up.

Much like Fanatics in the US – and particularly ESPN Bet – it’s truly fascinating for an industry analyst like myself to see where potential big new players can settle into a market.

There are no free handouts in this industry, especially when we’re talking about this kind of scale

The brand recognition is there for both Fanatics and ESPN Bet – and there has been much industry ‘hype.’ I myself have generated plenty of it! Of course, the same can be said of BetMGM in the UK.

The proof will ultimately be in the pudding and a good timeframe to judge results is probably between two to five years, barring the kind of underperformance that prompts an early exit.

The market of the future

In five years’ time, will FanDuel and DraftKings still lead the biggest state markets in the US, or will someone like bet365 or even BetMGM take hold of the American online sector?

Within that same timeframe, will Fanatics have made a true impact or will it have decided the betting experiment was fun while it lasted, but that it should return to its bread and butter?

Will ESPN Bet, in parallel, become a household betting name, or another expensive deal that didn’t quite work out for Penn Entertainment?

These are all questions to do with the US market not the UK. But these are very similar examples that really run in tandem with BetMGM on these shores.

That’s why I think we will definitely be able to conclude in five years’ time whether BetMGM’s UK pursuit was truly worth it. It’s a strong brand – it has a good product and a great team I was very impressed with when meeting.

There seems to be a sense in the company that it can never rest on its laurels, which is exactly the attitude that has driven LeoVegas to date and, comparatively, an industry giant like bet365.

Entering the well-established UK market, however, and setting itself the mission of creating the region’s first real change for two decades, is the equivalent of entering the Premier League for the very first time and looking to attain instant Champions League qualification.

That’s not to say it’s mission impossible: BetMGM has the resources, the talent and the interface to succeed. But the UK online market is far more established than its American cousin.

BetMGM has made a grand entrance, its lion roaring onto mobile phones across the UK. The pressure to keep that up, though, will be unrelenting. The brand has to go from betting’s best-kept secret to betting’s secret weapon.

And, learning from so many of my C-Level interview guests over the years, I’m not going to commit to picking, in binary fashion, whether it will or will not succeed. But I know one thing: I look forward to watching the journey unfold with relish.