This story first appeared in SBC Leaders Issue 18 – Click here to read the full issue.
Avi Howard, Sean Carroll and Rob Henderson discuss how USAbility is helping companies set up a compliant, scalable and future-proof business in the US
Three years have passed since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was repealed, and the US has since become a global sports betting powerhouse as more sportsbooks look to get in on the action.
But with more and more states opening up to legalised betting, operators must err on the side of caution when it comes to setting up shop in the US – ensuring that they understand the colossal task ahead of them. This is where USAbility comes in.
With its market-leading compliance and business transformation consultancy, USAbility offers an end-to-end solution for planning and delivering complex regulatory compliance and product integration projects – ensuring that sportsbooks and iGaming businesses eyeing up the US market get through the process with ease and confidence and set up a compliant, scalable and future-proof business.
The brainchild of Avi Howard, Sean Carroll and Rob Henderson, USAbility specialises in two key areas: analysis and delivery. This laser focus, according to CEO Howard, is what gives USAbility the edge.
Speaking to SBC Leaders, Howard walked us through the typical process that takes place when working with a partner – highlighting that USAbility can help companies identify all of the areas which must be adapted to the US market from a regulatory and competitiveness standpoint.
He said: “Fundamentally, we offer two main types of projects. One is analysis, and the second is delivery.
“It can take approximately two months to carry out a complete Gap Analysis on a single US state – but that analysis isn’t just looking at the regulatory aspects of that state, it’s assessing the organisation readiness as a whole too. We conduct deep assessments of the client’s capabilities and readiness for multi-state operation in business areas such as HR, finance, legal, compliance and other sports betting and iGaming operations units.
“Our benchmark to carry out an assessment is up to two months, which is us approaching the company without any prior knowledge of their business, very quickly educating our team about the client and their ecosystem and then being able to give them a very deep assessment of how to meet and exceed the regulatory bar in each state they have access to. It will take internal teams of any company much longer to achieve the same results and guarantee 100% strict adherence to the legislation to start their compliance journey smoothly.
“With the delivery side of things, what we’re after is for a business that lacks the market experience and bandwidth to trust us and ‘give us the keys’ to temporarily drive the implementation project for them while we support the setup or scaling up of their Stateside business. We don’t drive it alone, of course.
“We put a multi-disciplinary program team in place, all with prior and recent US experience to deliver the client’s requirements while working shoulder to shoulder with their team and mentor them. Essentially, we consolidate and centralise the market-entry effort to ensure efficiency, strict adherence to the regulations, and minimal disruption to clients operations during this period of rapid change and intense corporate effort.
“If a client would like to deliver their solution into one state, let’s take New Jersey for example, we would expect to have that company ready for market entry within 12 months from the start of our Gap Analysis exercise. That would be a good benchmark.
“As you can imagine, though, for some companies that haven’t prepared for the US at all, that process can take up to 18 months. We can cut such timelines short with our experienced team and create a higher quality product as we’ve been working in this market from day one of post PASPA repeal.”
Drawing upon his own experience in the banking sector and project management, Henderson described the USAbility team as “delivery experts, project managers at heart”, specialising in a niche part of the gaming industry sector.
During his time as a consultant, two key areas which he identified as being wholly underestimated by prospective US sportsbooks are data migration and operational readiness.
By using the team’s knowledge of the gaming sector, USAbility can help its partners to navigate the complexities associated with data and platform migration by setting up, and executing, thorough plans to make the whole process both less risky and less costly.
“Re-platforming projects, which quite a few operators in the industry are going through at the moment, and specifically the data migration element of that is an incredibly challenging thing to do to ensure zero impact to patrons,” Henderson cautioned. “A company will usually complete a data migration and then throw away everything they’ve learned from the process. But fortunately for us, we have a team of real experts that can repeat the process.
“A data migration process can last up to six months to make sure the migration will meet a regulator’s expectations. That process can span more than 18 months if an inexperienced team tries to go it alone.
“Everyone seems to think it’s a case of picking out data and inputting it into another database; it’s not that simple. Offering that service to help facilitate a data migration is one of our USPs. Our team has been running such projects in the industry for the last 10+ years.
“Another area often underestimated by US market entrants is the readiness of the non-tech and non-product units. While tech and product teams are naturally designed to self-organise and work in an agile way, business units such as legal, compliance, HR and finance find it hard to self-manage a complex project involving every part of the organisation and often a very long chain of external suppliers.
“These units need to be managed closely by a team that sees the entire process clearly and ensures that outputs from these units get to the right party at the right time to ensure a healthy and productive cadence.
“Our Business Readiness Practice supports the design and implementation of the Target Operating Model for a stateside compliant and scalable business, provides talent-hiring lists that tackle first the requirements of each regulator, map out the legal and compliance work and breaks down the licence application process in each state into manageable pieces of work.”
For Carroll, one of the core components which makes USAbility unique is treating US market entry as a textbook Change and Transformation exercise – an interest sparked by his experience in the telecoms and banking industries. as well as his time working in government programmes and over 10 years on some of the largest projects in the gambling industry.
“At USAbility, we can expedite change,” he noted. “People in this industry are adaptable and flexible and have experience in a fast-paced regulatory environment – but to enter the US market, companies must fully understand the scale of the task ahead of them. It is not “just another market”. There are specific, complex parts of Compliance – particularly the Wire Act – which will prohibit them from launching in a way they originally envisioned.
“The US regulators are interested in compliant companies and tax revenues generated in a compliant way. While some state regulations are stricter than others, all regulators want to ensure that their licensees are not just implementing statutes in a literal way but demonstrating a deep understanding of the Regs and creating a safe environment for their patrons.
“Compliance is of the utmost importance. That is the focus of our engagements with our clients – let’s get them live in the US as quickly as possible, but let’s also ensure that they are fully compliant with every bit of legislation set out by the regulator and help them create differentiation in the market. We see very little innovation in the marketplace currently as the constant race of operators and suppliers alike to prepare their teams and their products to each market/state and just meet the regulatory bar leaves little to no time for product innovation.
“The struggle is real. However, we are changing that very fast as we quickly remedy the multi-state compliance challenge and free up the product teams of our clients to create the products they want while we are there to support them and ensure that their ideas will be compliant.”
Carroll disclosed that as more states begin to open up, the battle for market share in some of the ‘larger’ states is becoming much more difficult, not to mention costly. For USAbility, however, the aim is to make sure that its partners can gain a market advantage.
He added: “What we’ve found is that across the US, there are some states which may be more attractive from a statute perspective. Nobody wants to go to the US. to enter just one state. It’s costly to enter just one state and will never justify the effort. That’s why multi-state considerations are at the heart of the advice we are providing our clients with.
“We analyse the differences and commonalities across the states they have market access for and provide hundreds of recommendations for every part of the organisation on creating a compliant, scalable and competitive business that will satisfy all the state regulators they work with.
“The number of multi-state projects we are running in the US gives us a very wide view of the latest trends and best practices and a constant flow of real-life lessons learnt from projects on the dos and don’ts of US market entry.
“What we say is simple: it doesn’t have to be a costly, lengthy, uphill struggle to make your way into the US There is another way. We do it, one project at a time.”