James King: the missed cross-sell opportunity on sports betting, casino and poker

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James King, Head of Content at CasinoSites.org, says that the past 18 months have shown the power of cross-sell and that US operators should be doing more to drive customers between sports, casino and poker. 

Since the repeal of PASPA three years ago, the industry has mostly been focused on the sports betting opportunity in the USA. And why wouldn’t it? The opportunity is a significant one and there is absolutely a first-mover advantage to be had. 

This has led to something of a gold rush, with states passing enabling legislation and operators and providers applying for the necessary permits to launch a break-neck speed. But then the pandemic happened and for almost 12 months there was a total global sporting blackout. 

Understandably, this took the wind out of the market’s sails. But it is these challenging times that often lead to the greatest innovations. And in this instance, operators really had to think outside the box to keep customers engaged and entertained when there was little to wager on. 

This saw many operators in the USA push other gaming products and, in particular, poker in the states where it is permitted to offer the game. As a result, poker saw something of a boom during the initial global lockdowns. Indeed, Google searches for “online poker” hit a five-year high. 

The return of live sport has popped the poker bubble to some extent, but player engagement remains above pre-pandemic levels. This, I believe, provides a significant opportunity that operators are potentially missing and should be doing more to leverage.

The huge cross-sell opportunity 

It could be argued that US operators are taking a siloed approach to player acquisition and retention. Sports bettors are sports bettors, slots fans are slots fans and poker aficionados are poker aficionados. But the trends seen over the past 12 months show this not to be the case. 

While the pandemic forced operators to cross-sell players, the result should make them want to drive forward with additional cross-sell activity. And with the cost of player acquisition so high in the US – I am hearing figures of $500 plus – retention is key to extracting the highest life-time value. 

The best way to retain players? Provide them with a comprehensive entertainment and gambling experience across all the available vertices in each individual state. Given the right incentives, poker players will bet on sports, and sports bettors will enjoy a few hands of blackjack at half time. 

So how can operators drive cross-sell between players, especially in the states where only certain online gambling verticals are permitted.

Driving cross-sell in the fledgling US market

Bonuses are a powerful cross-selling tool. They allow players to try different gambling products without risking their own cash (no deposit/free bet bonuses) or by matching deposits or bets to deliver added value in exchange for the player engaging with a vertical for the first time. 

Operators should also consider rewards and prizes – if the prize for winning a poker tournament is VIP seats at the Super Bowl, then sports bettors are far more likely to participate and remain engaged with the operator’s poker product, especially if the competition is run over several weeks. 

Operators must also ensure they stock content built to aid cross sell. For example, there are several providers in the market that have developed the next generation of poker games designed to appeal to casino audiences and younger demographics engaged with mobile/video games. 

Themed slots can also play a crucial role in driving cross-sell around major sporting events. In the UK, for example, operators stocked a greater number of soccer-themed titles during the recent Euro 2020 tournament to aid cross-sell between sports betting and casino. 

Then you have skill-based slot games, which are becoming increasingly popular. These titles combine elements of skill with random number gameplay and are particularly effective at pushing poker players towards slots and vice versa. 

Live dealer is also proving to be effective at bridging the gap between different verticals. Traditional live table games are now being complemented by “money wheel” and “gameshow” titles that have greater appeal among slot players. 

Finally, operators should be using cutting edge technologies such as AI and machine learning to gain a comprehensive understanding of player preferences and then use this to push players to their different gambling products. 

By understanding each player and the type of content they engage with, bonuses they enjoy, payment methods they use, etc, they can then effectively cross-sell them to other games, promotions and so on. 

The past 18 months have proved there is huge cross-sell potential but if operators are not careful they will miss the opportunity on the table. Those that can harness this will be able to retain players at an unprecedented rate and unlock the highest value from each customer.