The opportunity to play real-money casino games on a mobile phone is now available in five states. While the arrival of iGaming has not attracted the same level of media coverage as the legalization of sports betting in the U.S., it has sparked a race between operators for market share and among gaming tech companies for lucrative supplier contracts.
It is easy to understand why this has generated huge excitement in the industry. VIXIO Gambling Compliance’s analysis of official figures shows that in Europe’s two largest regulated markets, UK and Italy, GGR from iGaming outstrips that from online sports betting.
In both countries, it is usual for mobile sportsbooks to also offer slots, table, and live dealer games, which players can access from a single account. The model is now being rolled out by U.S. operators and the early signs are that American audiences like it.
During MGM Resorts International's Q4 2020 earnings call, CEO Bill Hornbuckle spoke about the success of its BetMGM sports betting and iGaming joint venture with the FTSE 100-listed international operator Entain. He detailed its launch in Michigan, the location of BetMGM’s number one operator, where “iGaming GGR per day in January was higher than in New Jersey,” and forecasted that new revenue associated with BetMGM would “grow well over 100%” in 2021.
The analysts on the call certainly seemed impressed by the potential of mobile betting and gaming. In between the inevitable questions about the recovery of the company’s resorts, there were lots of requests for information about how and why BetMGM had enjoyed such a successful period in several states.
In response to a question about the app’s January launch in Michigan, BetMGM CEO, Adam Greenblatt explained, “the technology that we use from Entain was built in a way that gives us a tremendous amount of flexibility in driving cross-product play. And we’re really seeing this come to life in Michigan. I think the key step that perhaps you’re looking for is multiproduct play. Recognizing that we’re in the early days of the market, we are seeing well over 30% of our customers playing both casino and sports.”
While access to Entain’s technology was a factor in BetMGM’s positive early results, other people within the market have seen similar trends to suggest that the European model of combined mobile sportsbook and iGaming platforms will also become dominant in the U.S.
Cathryn Lai, Scientific Games' SVP and GM, US-Digital, noted that the pandemic saw a significant boost in activity within U.S. iGaming markets, both among players who lost access to land-based casinos and state legislators pushing for iGaming regulation.
“We saw immediate spikes in online traffic with new players who, for the most part, continued to play even after the casinos opened up,” said Lai. “Michigan launched at the beginning of this year with iGaming alongside digital sports, and the amount of turnover in the first few weeks has been quite astonishing. We’ve found that operators are having success with migrating ‘brick-and-mortar’ players into the online casino space.”
“The other trend that we have been seeing is the crossover between sportsbook and casino players. With the introduction of sports betting in many new states, we’re seeing a subset of new players who are trying digital slots and table games for the first time.”
Nevada-headquartered Scientific Games is among the suppliers ready to assist land-based casinos and sportsbook operators keen to take advantage of the iGaming opportunities emerging from new legislation. It offers a full turnkey solution across online casino, retail sportsbook, and digital sportsbook, complete with services that allow a player to seamlessly migrate across the different channels, and a content library packed with titles that many U.S. players will recognize, such as 88 Fortunes®, Quick Hit®, and Shuffle Master® branded table games.
“Our digital portfolio consists of some of our best brands and franchises which have proven to perform on both casino floors and in the online space. We’re also able to leverage new innovations, brands, and game mechanics that have performed well in more mature digital markets outside of the U.S.,” said Lai. “Our long history in both the digital space and the U.S. gaming market gives us a competitive advantage in really understanding the U.S. player and ensuring their safety when using the platform.” The responsible gaming efforts here focuses on keeping online customers safe.
Marcus Yoder, SVP of Sales for GAN, also identified familiarity as a key factor in the market. California-headquartered GAN supplies iGaming platforms and associated RGS aggregation, loyalty management, and marketing services to a customer base that includes both tribal casinos and major brands such as FanDuel, WynnBet, Churchill Downs, and Cordish Gaming Group’s PlayLive!
“There's a clear correlation between the success of an online game and whether or not it has a land-based version,” said Yoder. “The players who go into the casino or their favorite casino’s online site, whether it be simulated or real money, are going to look for their favorite game. They're going to look for Double Diamond, they're going to look for Crazy Money, and so forth. And I think that will remain consistent.”
It’s not just a question of serving up players’ favorite slots in an online format though. Yoder has spotted another trend in apps where GAN’s iGaming technology runs alongside a sportsbook. He said: “Table games are definitely very, very popular. There’s a high correlation between a sports player and table games conversion.”
GAN will have more opportunity to explore that link between sports bettor and iGaming player moving forward. It has a successful track record of working in partnership with sportsbook suppliers, but in January of this year it completed the purchase of Coolbet, a European B2C sportsbook. Coolbet’s proprietary sports betting technology is now being integrated into GAN’s existing B2B technology stack to create a fully integrated mobile iGaming and sportsbook platform for the U.S. market, complete with the ability to link it to an existing casino loyalty program and offer game content from multiple suppliers.
The ability to offer a full solution and familiar games is likely to be increasingly important for American suppliers as the market matures. Developments in U.S. iGaming regulation have not gone unnoticed in the gaming technology centres of Malta, Armenia, and London, and European platform and content suppliers are rapidly entering the market.
Since the turn of the year, Playtech has signed a deal to license its products to Greenwood Racing Inc. subsidiaries in Michigan, Indiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, while GIG has announced a deal to supply iGaming platform technology to PlayStar Casino. Aspire Global’s content aggregation division Pariplay has inked a partnership with Rush Street Interactive, and Every Matrix has opened its first U.S. office and applied for a New Jersey license for its CasinoEngine iGaming integration platform.
Land-based casinos and existing mobile sportsbooks eager to take advantage of new iGaming regulations will certainly have plenty of choices for B2B technology or market access partners. What works in each state market and for each casino’s local customer base will differ greatly; and identifying the most appropriate iGaming supplier for their needs promises to become a key part of a senior casino executive’s role.