As more and more US states come online, the surge in demand for key verticals and full-service delivery has never been stronger. We sat down with Brandon Walker, Head of Amelco USA and Jeff Millar, Commercial Director North America at Evolution, to talk through the tier one suppliers’ view of the latest on all things stateside.
The regulation of online sports betting in the US continues apace. Why has the progress of online gaming been markedly slower?
(BW) While online igaming has been legal in a handful of states since as far back as 2013, the main issue has always been traffic. The US has a rich gaming heritage, but it has traditionally always been a brick-and-mortar casino-based activity.
It’s only the emergence of sports betting as central to America’s online revolution that has really opened the market to other verticals, such as igaming and esports – and players are willing to give it a try. As more states come online, as they soon will, gaming will form a central part of the online entertainment mix.
The opportunity to bet on sports as well as getting into the live casino experience, presents Americans with a wealth of exciting possibilities for their entertainment. Looking at FOX BET and FuboTV – we can already see adoption fast-underway.
(JM) Every state in the US has its own political climate and distinct stakeholders, so it is quite difficult to predict when legislation will pass. However, we are optimistic online casino gaming will follow in the footsteps of online sports betting. In states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where players may place bets on sports at casino property or online, the majority of the revenue comes from online, and smartphones specifically.
Moreover, those two states also have online casinos, and the majority of the online revenue is coming from online casino games. That is not to say that one is better than the other, but online sports and online casino wagering certainly complement each other.
When do you anticipate the speed of regulation to improve and what are the major opportunities for tier one suppliers?
(JM) Most US states are in need of fresh revenues as budget deficits have grown as a result of the pandemic. I think states that had online casino gaming legalized were grateful they had another source of revenue as their brick-and-mortar casinos closed. Our focus is on educating and teaching legislators and regulators about our operations, controls and procedures. When states are informed about our practices as a technology provider, they quickly see the high level of integrity we maintain throughout our business.
(BW) I agree it’s all about the technology – we’ll see the speed of regulation improve as the tech improves. This is happening in real time, and as operators develop the ability to rollout across multiple states simultaneously with minimal compliance fuss – we’ll be sure to see supply creating demand.
Looking at it from the state’s perspective, revenue’s too hard to ignore not to speed up regulation. They can see the money that is being made for the state’s budget, and if your citizens are driving to another state to bet, why not keep them here? New York’s a clear example of this, with boatloads of punters decamping across the Hudson into New Jersey – which means that three years of revenue has quite literally gone down the river.
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ – and that process will inevitably speed up as other states before them learn how to speed up the process. From the supply side, things are changing fast too. We offer a singular central hub that can reach across numerous jurisdictions – all accessed through a single app – which is a gamechanger for those US operators that are embracing the new technology.
Which states should feature prominently on any US roadmap strategy?
(JM) We keep an eye on new legislation being introduced in each state. We try not to get too ahead of ourselves though, until the state governor actually signs the bill into law. We are watching states like Connecticut, Illinois and Indiana. Of course, we also keep an eye on all the US states considering online sports betting, such as New York.
(BW) Let’s start with Washington – the State Gambling Commission has approved sports wagering licensing, which will become effective at the end of August. This will pave the way for online tribal sportsbooks to be ready soon enough – and it’s going to be a key place to watch.
Moving further south, Arizona’s another dark horse that’s going to emerge soon enough – as well as Florida. Given the extensive tribal networks, we’ll be doing what we do best, and have done to great effect in Colorado, which is helping our land-based partners get online and scale fast to capture market share.
Of course, no US prediction would be complete without a mention of New York, and with DraftKings and FanDuel fighting to the top of the queue, it’s going to be an interesting market to watch. You’ve got a fantastic range of demographics across the state, which means there’s going to be a seriously diverse range of sports and markets in demand – which is certainly something our team is looking forward to!
As online gaming comes to the fore of US gaming, what major opportunities are there for suppliers?
(BW) It’s all about having the best Player Account Management (PAM) system. This means a full-service ecosystem that brings together all parts of the betting experience, across sportsbook, igaming and more. Most of the major US sportsbook suppliers are simply not able to instantly deliver a comprehensive, 360-degree offering that can accompany the player on the full customer journey – yet those that do can really make a difference for operators. After all, when it comes to tech and the user experience, I’m sure Silicon Valley would agree that there are few more demanding users out there!
Another key area is risk management – the ability to deliver tailored price-per-channel across multiple betting points – enabling operators to have the full multi-channel control they need to adjust the betting experience to suit various markets and also locations.
For most Americans, casino remains a land-based experience. What can online operators and suppliers do to familiarise customers with the digital environment?
(JM) Land-based casinos who also operate online casinos have a tremendous opportunity to cross promote their offering. There are many strategies and tactics, but probably at the top of the list is ensuring the loyalty program rewards players regardless of where they choose to play – online or at the property. At Evolution, we have several products that help land-based operators with cross-channel marketing. For our live casino games, we can provide them with a dedicated studio environment that matches the branding of the land-based property, including the uniforms of the dealers and the background images. To take it one step further, our Dual Play product allows brands to actually place a live casino table on the floor of their casino property, allowing them to stream to online players from their casino floor.
(BW) Ease and convenience are key here. Looking at it from the platform perspective, it’s really all about the wallet. So the implementation of KYC protocols needs to feel ‘instant’ to the player and thus make the onboarding experience (almost) as simple as walking into a brick-and-mortar casino. Aside from that, there’s a number of lessons that can be learned from the wider US online entertainment industry. Essentially what you need is data and segmentation, and the ability to tailor a spread of games to each player’s preference.
Another important element is the UX. The design, feel and presentation of such an app is essential in giving the US customer the user journey they expect. Efficiency, comfort and security are the basic foundations, but bonus campaigns are another key asset for onboarding, and a point of difference between online and offline. Bonusing can provide plenty of incentive to explore the casino lobby.
While we’re on the casino lobby, let’s not forget live dealer studios – they’re as close to real as possible, and this is in many ways the closest on offer to the Vegas experience for many. I see this as the perfect way to onboard customers as it’s a virtual extension of the world they already know and love.
What is the current adoption rate of American players to live dealer games?
(JM) The adoption rate is high. In our experience, most Americans are first and foremost amazed that they can play against a real person from a video feed over the internet. Regulated online casino gaming is brand new to many of them, so introducing live casino gaming takes that experience to another level. Live dealer is also known to be an excellent product by which to introduce sports bettors to casino, which will set us in good stead as new states regulate.
(BW) We’re seeing growth across the board as multi-state rollouts continue and, in many ways, a number of states are only just becoming familiar with live dealer and casino. From this point, the only way is up. After all, live dealer – especially from the likes of Evolution and Playgon – presents the first opportunity for US players to experience the most authentically ‘Vegas’ digital experience.
Paramount to fostering that growth is having the foundations in place to support scaling up, rapidly when necessary. This means a robust platform that can offer live dealer (or indeed any other vertical) as one – a 360-degree offering that can deliver the full customer journey. If that is available, and indeed it is, the ability to deliver the same casino experience stateside that we already see in Europe will become commonplace – and online gaming will continue to see exponential growth.