For years now, crypto-currency proponents have promised the inevitability of crypto and blockchain technology going mainstream.
Like a politician running for election, those within the industry have to believe – or at least appear to believe – there is no doubt in the matter. The benefits of crypto, especially within gambling, have been discussed at length: openness for provably fair casinos, the elimination of chargeback fraud and reduced transaction costs chief among them.
Malta has also embraced blockchain technology at a governmental level, encouraging its use not only in gaming but in other sectors such as banking. Clearly, it has its supporters.
But it is the issue of going mainstream among consumers that is the golden ticket. Crypto companies and blockchain analysts can list its advantages off the top of their head. The general public cannot.
A lack of education and fear of security threats are holding crypto-currency back. The number of users is growing but it is, by far, not a grand number on a global scale – especially in gaming.
Another chief drawback was a lack of mainstream marketing exposure. Until now.
Sportsbet.io this week secured a historic partnership with football club Watford, becoming the first-ever crypto-currency sportsbook to appear on the shirt of an English Premier League team.
This was no easy feat and, amid the many gaming partnerships and sponsorships sent to Gambling Insider on a weekly basis, it takes a lot for our editorial team to stand up and take note. There have been crypto partnerships within football's most-watched league in the past but not on this scale.
Premier League – and to a slightly lesser extent Championship – shirt sponsorships are like gold dust. Whichever club your firm is linked with, you are guaranteed huge exposure across the world, particularly in Asia, and certainly with the partner club’s fans. Mid-table and bottom-half teams also come at a cheaper price and a guarantee of facing the Manchester Citys and Liverpools of this world on a regular basis.
Never before has a crypto-currency gambling company held such a prominent position on a Premier League kit; in many ways, it provides the first real water test for crypto going mainstream.
As discussed on the latest episode of the GI Huddle Podcast, having your logo on the shirt of a football team can engage both supporters and first-time depositors. Watford fans may not have previously heard of sportsbet.io, nor Premier League fans in general. They have now.
But will it genuinely encourage them to play? Will they visit the sportsbook and investigate betting with crypto-currencies? Or will they become intimidated by the numerous steps involved in reaching the eventual destination of placing a wager?
These are important questions not only for the individual sportsbook involved but for crypto-gaming companies, and by extension crypto companies, as a whole. If crypto-currencies are to be truly embraced by gaming, sports betting is as mainstream a vertical as you can get.
On matchdays, there are several things the average football fan in the UK is likely to do. They might be checking Gillette Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports, singing chants about their favourite player, enjoying stadium food like Pukka Pies or simply having a pint at their local pub.
Many will trawl through accumulator or single-match odds on various price-checking sites like Oddschecker, or their operator of choice. The question is: can checking their crypto-currency wallets be added to that list?
The stage is set not only for Watford’s new shirt sponsorship but Sportsbet.io's in-stadium branding during the club’s first Premier League game of the season. It will be fascinating to see exactly what impact this groundbreaking new deal has for crypto. Success would be a feather in the cap of the sector's many followers.
But failure would be detrimental to its hopes of permeating through gaming. Or, at the very least, the industry's focus may shift from sports betting back to casino.