The New Zealand Racing Board (NZRB) has provided another generation of Kiwis with a “real opportunity to be part of racing” after launching a new sportsbook for the country’s TAB with SG Digital’s OpenBet™ technology.

We caught up with the NZRB CEO John Allen and Keith O’Loughlin, SVP Sportsbook at SG Digital, to discuss potential profit increases from implementing the new platform, servicing previous ‘pain points’ for TAB customers and making key upgrades to the player experience through new features such as cashout, as well as a wide range of international events with improved in-play betting.

This deal is another example of how SG Digital, an online division of Scientific Games, is making an impact in regulated markets across the globe to complement its focus on the US, where it has already secured sportsbook partnerships with both Caesars Entertainment – whose players are enjoying similar features available to those on the NZ TAB – and the Oneida Indian Nation.

SBC: SG Digital has delivered a major upgrade to the betting experience for players on New Zealand’s TAB; how excited are you that this is now in action?

JA: We’re very excited. Together with SG Digital, we’ve delivered a world-class betting experience for our customers which will enable us to deliver increased returns to the racing and sports industry in New Zealand. Although it was an ambitious and technically challenging programme of work, SG Digital was able to tailor their core product to suit our needs, and help us elevate our presence in what is a very competitive international market.

SBC: You have estimated that the new platform will increase returns by $17-19 million in annualised profit; how much of a boost will this provide to NZ racing?

JA: The TAB is unique, in that we are established by Government to operate in the interests of racing in New Zealand. This will be a huge boost to our industry. The quality of our new platform will also enable us to continue improving our customer experience and, ultimately, continue to compete with the best sportsbook operators in the world.

SBC: What would constitute a successful first year in 2019? How much ‘leakage’ can you realistically prevent to international websites that have been able to offer the full service we have become accustomed to in the largest European markets?

JA: International websites will always hold an appeal for some of our customers, despite our legislated monopoly. New Zealand customers now have access to much more product than ever before, and while there are some options available overseas that we won’t offer, we’re confident punters will be excited by what we can. It is important to our customers that every bet placed with us benefits New Zealand racing and sport.

Our customers value a reliable and stable platform, delivered by a reliable, stable source – and that’s what they are getting. With the launch of our new website, we’ve included the key features our customers wanted to see like cashout, thousands of extra options on international events, improved in-play betting, and improved account management options.

And, with the Paddy Power Betfair feed, we’re also very competitive on price – particularly in our domestic market where our local knowledge allows us to sharpen the pen. We have ambitious plans for 2019 to provide an increasing number of new products and services and we’re confident of good growth in punter numbers.

Inventive solutions to new problems

SBC: Why is this such a big project for SG Digital and NZRB?

KOL: This was our first sportsbook launch that encompasses our entire modular tech stack–a veritable smorgasbord of sports technology that makes betting simple and intuitive. To launch such a cohesive product, we worked diligently behind the scenes with NZRB; we were both at the control board, twisting the dials just right and tweaking the settings so the final delivered product was just right.

The project required in-depth research of user insights to bring New Zealand’s offer up to international standards. We wanted NZRB punters to experience betting the way it should be experienced: easily. It was a journey that required programming elbow grease and inventive solutions to new problems, and we’re proud of the result. New Zealand bettors now have access to a next level suite of features, such as cashout, increased in-play betting with fewer suspensions of service, and more.

Partnering with NZRB to bring their sportsbook to the forefront of the digital landscape took a lot of heavy lifting, and we’re incredibly happy with the final product. Of course, it will evolve over time as the industry changes, and that’s part of the fun.

SBC: Online players have previously been unable to withdraw winnings instantly, something that has been rectified by this new SG Digital platform; can you outline some of the other key customer ‘pain points’ that you expect to appease?

KOL: The main customer feedback we’ve received is the need for an intuitive and easy platform. Quite frankly, sports betting can be complicated, especially to new or learning users. On the other hand, seasoned punters need easy access to their favorite bets, so we had to strike a balance. Front-end interface testing and back-end development are equally important here, and we’re always keeping a keen eye on how bettors interact with our sports betting technology.

We’ve also collaborated with NZRB to offer a variety of game-changing elements that already resonate with punters. For example, the user interface is now the same across mobile and desktop, so bettors have easy access no matter which platform they’re using. Withdrawals directly to a bank account, combining all your bets into one “shopping cart” with a final pricing total, and fewer in-play suspensions also improve the experience.

We constantly keep our finger on the pulse of sports betting customers, and we’re using that knowledge to make improvements like those above to keep current punters happy, and hopefully encourage new ones to learn the ropes.

Crystal clear view of customers and market

SBC: The new platform was originally expected to go live in August of last year; can you explain the delay in bringing this to market?

KOL: We’ve been working closely with NZRB to ensure that their required product set was in line with punter expectations. NZRB had a robust and crystal clear view of their customers and their market; we made it a priority to stay true to that vision.

They’ve been instrumental in driving us to deliver an innovative solution with a long-term deliverable in mind. For them it’s always been about a top quality solution. It’s quality over speed, and we’ve been a team from start to finish, working towards that goal.

SBC: New services to market often experience ‘teething’ problems; what sort of issues have you encountered and how have you gone about overcoming them?

KOL: Its’ been quite an easy ride in that perspective. We had the usual release and migration change issues that a release of this size and nature encounters. With the level of testing that we’ve benefited from, these issues are of pretty minor nature, and generally customers are pleased with the new offering. Our experience in other markets prepares us for any day-one, week-one, or even month-one issues that arise.

We have the expertise to quickly address any problems, and we’re pleased NZRB’s was a smooth launch with limited fixes required. We wanted their sportsbook to make an amazing first impression with bettors, and we think it has. Now, we continue on the upward trajectory to the next level.