Entering a single market in North America is a daunting proposition, but Marina Bogard, Managing Director of Betsafe North America, has led the launch of the brand in two crowded jurisdictions over the last couple of years. What she has learned from that process offers some valuable lessons for the entire industry.
This is perhaps particularly true, given that Betsafe is not a straightforward B2C offer in the region. Part of the Betsson Group, the brand is designed to showcase the international betting and gaming powerhouse’s B2B sportsbook in the US and Canada, giving Bogard unique insights into both sides of the industry.
Betsafe launched in Colorado in March 2022 and in Ontario in February 2023, with both apps utilizing its parent company’s proprietary sports betting technology. While Bogard identified one similarity, that both markets are “highly competitive”, she has also noticed big differences.
“In Colorado, some of the bigger players, such as FanDuel, Caesars and BetMGM, their marketing spend in the state has definitely decreased,” she said. “They are moving more of their marketing spend to new states that have opened up, but I have seen a decline in that constant bombardment of advertising, particularly on television.
“Ontario is more regulated with respect to ATL marketing and advertising. Everyone is on the same playing field, because you cannot advertise promotions in Ontario, so you have to work on brand positioning and then individual promotions to the registered players.
“From an industry perspective, this is a positive because I haven’t seen the large promotions, up to $5,000 and so on, often. Those things are really unnecessary and difficult to maintain with any hope for profitability. So it’ll be interesting as things progress and how players react.”
The other major difference between the two markets is that iGaming is a key part of the regulated market in Ontario, but remains unavailable in Colorado.
“From the numbers I’ve seen in Ontario, online casino is driving most of the revenues – 70 to 75% is coming from online games,” Bogard revealed.
“Colorado doesn’t have iGaming and it’s much harder to compete with just a sportsbook product versus having other categories that you can put in the mix. So that makes it a bit more interesting in Ontario.”
Learning the lessons
There has been plenty to get to grips with since launching in Colorado and later Ontario, but Bogard is happy with the progress to date and that the Betsafe and Betsson B2B teams are learning the right lessons as they go along.
“Since Betsson has been entering different markets across the world, we were very organized in terms of what needed to be done [at launch],” said Bogard.
“The knowledge is reinforced by also working with the regulators. Sometimes you can get intimidated by regulators -‘what are they going to say? what are they going to do?’ – but they want the process to be successful, they want it to be as smooth as possible.
“You can create a relationship with them and once that relationship is built, I’ve found that they’ve been terrific to work with. They respond very quickly to questions to ensure that we have a clear understanding of what is and isn’t allowable.
“Regulations are constantly changing, and I expect them to continue to evolve. Being on top of that and having that outreach to your representative and that trust is really important.”
The other big lesson has been in player tastes, which have emphasized the need for new entrants to really get to know their market.
“Surprisingly in Colorado, table tennis garners a lot of betting. Before I joined Betsson, I’d always thought about the big sports – football, basketball, soccer, – but table tennis is really coming on. There’s a lot of game play in that,” Bogard revealed.
“Basketball tends to be the highest revenue sport in Colorado almost throughout the whole year. But they also have more games, when you look at NFL versus NBA, so that drives a lot of play.”
She added: “In Ontario, it’s still early to see, but casino games are really what’s driving the revenue. So we’re really focused on making sure we have the right content, fun content, being able to regenerate content, and having a full library of the games that people are interested in. And live casino is definitely an area of interest for our players.”
Tech is an ever-evolving entity
The multinational sports betting and iGaming group’s approach to North America is not solely focused on B2C. In fact, Betsson sees a much bigger opportunity in the B2B space, as it owns advanced sportsbook technology that is proven to work at scale in markets around the world.
It is this Betsson sportsbook product and associated services that have powered the progress Betsafe has made since its North American debut. In doing so, it has achieved one of the group’s main goals for the project by demonstrating that it is a highly-effective choice for new operators and those looking to upgrade their platform in the region.
“As the Betsafe B2C brand, we utilize everything that an operator would want to utilize from our own internal organization. From the platform to customer service, AML, product feature functionality, all of that,” Bogard explained.
“An operator coming in using the Betsson B2B offering can take the full turnkey solution, which is essentially what we’re doing with Betsafe, or components of it. Or take the full turnkey solution and phase out certain aspects of the service that they may want to pick up themselves over time, once they have the expertise.
“It’s a suite of services, a menu item type of arrangement that they can utilize whatever they think they need to get into the space.”
She continued: “I have worked with many different companies and I have to say coming into Betsson, because I’ve only been here less than two years, the amount of support, expertise and talent that I found in this organization is second to none.
“Any operator coming in and using Betsson as their provider will find extraordinary support from the team. The goal of the Betsson team is to make their partners a success, as that also in turn makes Betsson successful.”
Among the ways in which the Betsson B2B team has supported Betsafe is with ongoing enhancements to the app UX and functionality, as well as in how wagers are presented to players.
Bogard said: “We’re always evolving and developing the UI aspect of the product. One of the most important things is how easily and efficiently players can navigate through the app. So we’re removing any friction, allowing for as many betting opportunities as possible, making it easy for them to find their favorites.
“Then, because we know how important it is to players to be able to deposit and withdraw funds quickly, we’re adding additional payment journeys that will help to make that a frictionless process for them. Everyone has a personal preference.
“We have quarterly releases that enhance feature functionality and also add more pre-built options. Pre-built parlays and player props are great for novice bettors who aren’t yet comfortable with how to build them out themselves.”
The updates to the Betsson sportsbook and iGaming products are an ongoing process, and Betsafe players – as well as those with the group’s other North American partners – can look forward to some additional user-friendly features and exciting new content in the coming months. What they are will, however, depend on which market they are in.
“For Ontario, building our iGaming content portfolio is a priority, which means being able to offer high-quality games from a wider range of studios,” Bogard explained.
“On the sportsbook side, we’ll be offering more pre-built combinations and we’re definitely focused on being competitive on odds as we go through the NFL season and on to March Madness. So we’ll be looking at more price boosts.
“And finally, we are planning more social elements across the app, like being able to share your bets and your wins with your friends. That, of course, will only be available where we can do it from a regulatory perspective.”
Advice for the new kids on the block
Given her experiences of running an operator in two highly-competitive jurisdictions, what advice does Bogard have for those planning to launch a new sportsbook?
“First do your research. Really truly understand what the regulations are. And then, look carefully at the financials because it’s expensive. To start from scratch and build everything yourself is an extremely expensive endeavor,” she stated.
“Really look for partners that want you to succeed and have the expertise and talent available to help you do that. Because it is not easy, it’s a hard business to be in. It’s hard to get to profitability – even the big four brands are not consistently meeting targets on a quarterly basis.
“Most operators coming into this market are not going to have everything to begin with, so concentrate on your core strengths and partner with companies that have been in business a long time and that will allow you to benefit from their expertise.”