Scientific Games’ Keith O’Loughlin: Sportsbook reliability key for future US sporting events

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As the popularity of legalized betting sweeps across multiple states, do operators have the technical capabilities to welcome vast numbers of new customers around major sporting events? Sports fans and bettors grumbled about significant downtime during the big game earlier this month, and Keith O’Loughlin, Senior VP, Sportsbook at Scientific Games, highlights why platform stability is key within a market that is growing exponentially.

In the sporting world, all the talk in the lead up to a big game counts for nothing if you fail to perform on match day when it matters most. It is exactly the same scenario for the sports betting industry, as operators must offer a seamless service that meets the expectations of new and existing customers during a peak period of trading. Following all the hard work of targeted marketing campaigns to attract the interest of a wide audience, a sportsbook needs to be firing on all cylinders during a major event to maximize the full potential that it brings. 

Yet the big game earlier this month illustrated how the burgeoning US sports betting market is still in its infancy and discovering harsh lessons when it comes to platform reliability. As Tom Brady was working his magic on the field to win a record seventh title in American football’s biggest prize, off the field numerous fans and bettors took to social media to complain of difficulties when trying to place a bet on the big game. 

The performance of operators during major sporting fixtures provides real insight as to how far the US market has developed. While it is fantastic to see growing numbers of fans becoming involved in such an entertaining experience, it is clear that the back-end functionality of a sportsbook needs improving to accommodate such a high influx of new customers.

When huge volumes of bettors look to place wagers during peak times, in effect this can cause similar issues as to how distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks occur. Operators and their servers experience an overwhelming flood of traffic, but crucially this is caused by users who simply want to engage with a form of entertainment and not by cyber criminals.   

It is incredibly important for sportsbooks to have robust systems in place that deliver customers a world-class service, not just when placing a bet but also when claiming their winnings. These are key moments within the user journey and disruption of any kind will lead to an unhappy customer, which can have a lasting and negative impact on a brand’s image.

US sports fans are very passionate and expect the best customer service. The unsavory scenes of law enforcement officers having to deal with angry bettors who were simply trying to claim their winnings illustrates just how important a frictionless service is to them.  

Avoiding downtime at all costs

Downtime is simply not an option for bookmakers around major sporting events. They are huge revenue drivers for operators and present an opportunity to acquire a high volume of new customers. Technical issues, such as those seen in previous weeks in the US sports betting arena, will only lead to loss of transactions. Customers expect to be able to transact and engage with their bookmaker of choice at the peak times, as well as their normal custom.

As sportsbook operators jostle for position in front of an increasing crowd of sports fans and bettors that are turning to online betting, consumers have ample options to choose from. While price can often be a key battleground, providing an excellent customer service is also a high priority during big sporting events. When encountering problems in placing a bet, it does not take long for a consumer to lose patience and look elsewhere. 

This is particularly true when understating the habits of the recreational audience, who are likely to switch sites should they encounter a technical problem placing bets or depositing funds into an account.

This is an important demographic during major sporting events, which is why our OpenSports platform provided more than 700 special markets on the big game that were appealing to this audience. Fun markets, such as who would win the coin toss and the color of the sports drink thrown at the coach, proved very popular and accounted for 13% of the total stakes during the big game. 

Preparing for the next big event

As the industry readies itself for March Madness, which offers another huge opportunity to engage with sports fans and bettors on a large scale, the reliability of sportsbooks will unquestionably be put under the spotlight again.

Operators wanting to achieve a strong performance will do so by putting their best foot forward in terms of marketing, but this can only be achieved when they trust their platform can support all new business activity. After reporting zero downtime for NFL’s biggest game of the year, the OpenSports platform from Scientific Games is ready for a bumper month ahead of college basketball and is offering a wide range of markets. 

The debate as to whether sportsbooks should turn to in-house technology will also continue. While there are benefits to this approach, it is our belief that third party providers still play an important role, especially given how they have access to new technology and are constantly improving their core offering to meet with growing demand. 

Above all else, the reliability of a platform and its ability to cope with vast transactions at peak times must be the number one priority. Sports fans are eager to experience different forms of betting markets to elevate the entertainment factor, but as we have seen recently, they will only accept a high level of service from a sportsbook operator.