When an unassuming yet intelligent and progressive patron, the imaginary protagonist of this story, took a sabbatical year in May 2018, he didn’t expect to come back and continue his life where he left off; everything changes. No matter how vivid his imagination was, despite hours he spent pondering on gambling zeitgeist — either sailing or cycling around the world, which explains six months extension of the voyage — he could not have conceived the giant leap the U.S. sports betting industry took in the last year and a half.
Envisioning is always endless until real-life limitations kick-in when it has to give way to the determination in overcoming obstacles and ensuing joy; what better way to master this notion than to circumnavigate the world.
Our protagonist, though, was facing quite the opposite challenge in interactive gambling scenery he found back home — boundaries were not there anymore, boundless reality has surpassed his mind by far.
When he left, the PASPA’s iron hand was holding sports gambling in a firm grip, cryptocurrency was ugly duckling lost the nest of endless mining, players were left to their own devices to protect against predatory online casinos, horse racetracks and few land-based/boat casinos’ sportsbooks were only options available, HTML5’s takeover of Flash was the news of the day.
518 days later…
A dozen U.S. states have legislations instituting iGaming or interactive sports betting, cryptos benefit from endorsement by the IMF and deployment in leading world corporations in a swan-like manner, gamblers enjoy protection in well-regulated markets spanning across the globe, legalized online sports wagering brings major leagues at their fingertips, while the in-game betting, gamification, and augmented reality are technology standards — and yesterday’s news at that.
That’s a lot to take in, he thought.
It was a matter of benevolence to land him a guiding hand.
We decided to take him on a sightseeing tour through gambling landscapes that changed progressively, even radically meanwhile, and to even peek into the future which patiently waits for inpatient players right behind the line of the interactive horizon.
Of course, we wouldn’t do such a thing without you.
By the time our protagonist was dropping his first anchor, or fixing one of many tire punctures, lawyers on the legal team of New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy were probably enjoying the bottle of champagne.
It was May 14, 2018. The Supreme Court of the United States has just ruled the PASPA as unconstitutional and the gambling renaissance in America begun, coinciding with similar developments around the world.
Though reminiscent of on-again, off-again repetitive occurrence throughout the history of gambling regulations in the United States, the opening of floodgates was different this time.
Mixing the national proclivity to play at large with the exploitation of tax revenue opportunities — molded by extraordinary technological strides in control of gaming operations — the seminal change in legislations’ approach was governed by state-by-state principle grounded in the suppression of gambling addiction.
In other words, the latest legalization was, and still is economically driven bipartisan political effort which avoids entanglement in social ramifications.
As a result…
Interactive sports betting or iGaming markets are now legal in Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.
Sports wagering bills were passed though not yet enacted in the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Montana, Tennessee, North Carolina, and New Hampshire.
California, Connecticut, Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan (long story), and Missouri could join the circuit in 2020.
They’re at the tipping point; Kentucky await upcoming gubernatorial elections in November — the democrat challenger is pro, looking to expand gambling to shore up the state’s pension system, as the GOP incumbent is contra — while Kansas has first to resolve the internal debate issue about who’s running the show and who gets the cut.
From five states exempt from the PASPA back in 1992 — New Jersey, Delaware, Montana, Nevada, Oregon — to a majority of the Bible Belt states embracing gambling or considering to do so, in eighteen months; that’s fast, our protagonist thought.
Markets in the UK, Sweden, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, which follow the same principles — on occasion on a shorter leash as some are more mature than the U.S. — only substantiate prevailing gambling appetites and economic inevitabilities of national revenues in the 21st century.
Africa is widely considered as one of the last gambling frontiers — quite untapped at that. Mobile devices penetration is close to 85 percent, one-third of all interactive gambling comes from handheld devices, well-regulated South African sports betting market paints a picture of an enticing financial potential as nations across the continent tackle gambling regulatory debates driven by operators and affiliates rushing in.
Regulated Ceilings, Measured Floors
In December 2018, Japan passed the bill to authorize the opening of three land-based casinos integrated into tourist resorts.
The long-lasting and intransigent restraint in the fascinating gambling scene in the Land of the Rising Sun gave way to the future of the rising sum driven by players’ gross gambling wins. Japan ranks third in the world in brick and mortar segment and second worldwide in online gambling (the latter is banned, by the way).
In the same month, Brazil passed a new law catalyzing the regulation of online sports betting in the next five years. It’s a significant departure from enduring ban policy which may create a new giant market of the iGaming industry.
These are all leading economies of the world that recognize the value of legalized sports betting and interactive gambling, which is to say — they are not desperate but very calculated political moves.
Another captivating moment is the prevailing orientation to simultaneously establish well-regulated conditions for liable business practices by operators and to increase awareness of responsible gambling and patrons’ protection.
As the history of worldwide gambling teaches, it’s the only possible way, although it's a long way — human nature is an amazing thing; sometimes we just don’t hear when we listen, on both sides of the aisle.
Fast-paced eighteen months of legislative activities have been intertwined with indispensable appeals about knowledge, prudent approach, self-mastery, discipline, a lot of practice and analytics, and just a bit of luck necessary to prevail in gambling.
Equally so, the period has been marred by rogue operators’ affairs. Dinosaurs of the shoot-and-scoot era of shady jurisdictions, fake content and unlicensed operations seem to be slow to catch up. Fortunately, hefty fines imposed by regulatory bodies often speak louder than regulators’ words, particularly in Europe.
While edges and measures are still sharp and harsh, occasionally oriented more toward the most visible issues instead of the most critical ones, they keep both patrons and operators on the edge through open and public dealings with all aspects of a healthy gambling ecosystem.
One Screen Fits All Veins
Such transparency is probably the most significant breakthrough of legalization, particularly when it comes to tracking of players’ habits and transactions, as well as casinos’ data and practices — enabled by technology, required by the law.
We live in times when privacy and anonymity are rare commodities, so why should gambling be any different? After all, the locks of vaults with the most precious treasures are always very complex.
As an inseparable part of this living equation, technology runs deep in its veins and hotspots.
And just as it reshaped the business ten or twenty years ago — and paved the way for IoT, artificial intelligence, products and services unthinkable and unfeasible before — it is set to influence online sports betting on a scale never seen thus far.
The only question is: are people ready?
The real-time play-by-play reporting, video streaming and broadcasting, multi-channel platforms, in-game communication, augmented reality, CRM integration, instant platforms mixing the gaming and social media — these are the things already in place, available in one click, anytime.
Through partnerships with the U.S. major leagues which authorize the usage of official statistics, sports betting behemoths today exploit big data across their websites, mobile apps, social media channels.
The NBA has four official partners (William Hill, MGM Resorts, FanDuel, The Stars Group). The MLB has three (FanDuel, MGM Resorts, DraftKings), just as the NHL (William Hill, MGM Resorts, FanDuel). The MLS opted for one partnership (MGM Resorts).
The NFL, the most bet-on league, remains without sports betting partner although the league has an official casino partner and official sportsbook data provider.
Big data give bettors increased opportunities to win as sportsbooks offer significantly better, more diversified services. Enhanced statistics also create market niches for companies that offer betting insights and analytics through subscription-based content. It’s a win-win situation.
All of this is a potential positioning game, a prequel if you will.
The main prize is yet to come on the heels of national and international television broadcast rights partnerships. All of them expire in the next couple of years: ice hockey 2021, soccer 2022, basketball 2025, and baseball 2028.
Big Bada Boom Operators
Thus, it is not farfetched to envision major sports betting operators in the U.S. as sponsors of broadcasts while they provide statistics, real-time betting trends, and various wagering options to viewers which in turn may or may not fuel their decisions to bet on the spot.
Questions of how much and where might be as well replaced by when. In Europe, close to 70% of wagers are already in-play bets.
The most recent merger between Flutter Entertainment and The Stars Group — worth $12.41 billion — only underlines such possibility and creates the largest betting group in the world, pending regulatory approvals expected to be concluded in 2020.
Flutter owns FanDuel while The Stars Group — besides owning PokerStars and Sky Betting and Gaming — also joined forces with the FOX Bet sports betting platform, the latest business launched in September 2019. (Yes, Rupert Murdoch is in the business as well.)
The newly formed, no-proper-adjective behemoth could have up to 25% of the U.S. market share and 30% in the United Kingdom.
As all of this is not enough…
The mainstream media projects that technology giants might be interested to take a piece of this multi-billion dollar pie when national TV broadcasting contracts come up for renewal.
How hard it would be for Amazon, Google, Facebook, or Apple to join this table? Not difficult at all.
Notwithstanding that anything regarding online gambling and sports betting has to do with their core businesses, they have one more attribute in their pocket — cryptocurrency: all of them except for Apple already employ them.
Jennifer Bailey, VP of Apple Pay — which processes close to one billion contactless transactions monthly — told CNN in September that they “think [cryptocurrency] has interesting long-term potential.”
If this may sound like hard sell today, look at it this way: 518 days ago all of this was in the domain of science fiction; now it’s the reality. To have any of these companies taking part in the legalized interactive gambling and betting renaissance almost exclusively driven by technology is entirely feasible; the only unknown is the capacity.
There are only a few boundaries left in a boundless reality of interactive gambling.
Short of markets’ developments, technology, and regulations’ progressions, which are to serve as the gatekeepers and not allow for infamous history scandals to repeat, the most decisive margin in shaping the future of sports betting in America will be patron itself.
The Brand New Consumer (V8)
The 2020 sports bettor is, in short, the most mature player of all time.
He or she is a mishmash of resilient PASPA gambler, who had to navigate all limitations to emerge victoriously, and generational shift which adds the mindset of people who grew up with mobile devices into the mix.
These gamblers are way ahead of jurisdictions they play at. They expect nothing less than pure value, benefits, and enhanced possibilities in the games they choose. Kurt Cobain probably summed it up best in six words — “here we are now, entertain us.”
Ten years ago, patrons wanted things for free. Today, players seek for increased chances to win when making good deposits. They demand premier experience, superb service, outstandingly smooth and fast processes, and endless options to choose from across a number of different channels.
These customers are well aware of big data — they’ve been using them forever — and are infinitely more knowledgeable than an average pre-PASPA gaming Joe.
As such, they are not an easy target at all.
To no surprise…
NDC (new depositing customers) became the crucial KPI in evaluating operators’ and affiliates’ success. More than a few have overhauled mid-level and senior management in the last year and a half to increase NDC and overall customers’ experience. Most progressive ones don’t shy away to use big data and change their strategy on the fly to adopt.
Industry oriented media talks at large about hiring personnel outside of the gambling scene to induce innovation, creativity, value-based marketing, high-end content, and other business activities to suppress deeply rooted and understandable complacency.
Before the SCOTUS decision players did not have so many options at their hands; casinos and affiliates took them for granted. Now, the options are aplenty.
Instead of dealing with yesterday’s customers which were an easy catch, the industry deals with consumers which are quite slippery ones; hence the standard operating procedures and people management enhancements.
Gambling Darwinism at Large
By the end of the sightseeing tour, our unassuming world traveler was thinking whether to unremorsefully embrace it all or to unapologetically run away on another circumnavigation, as we were accompanied by internal dialogues on evolution and revolution.
These developments are the inevitable outcomes of progressive growth of global human society and everlasting desire to gain, again and again. Considering achievements in other industries, one might argue they’re happening slowly.
On the other hand, they also represent a fundamental and sudden change that marks a departure from conventional ways people see and handle gambling. To that end, one might argue it’s all happening way too fast.
At the time, no one truly knows the correct answer to this dilemma.
To realize it, we’ll have to be patient. We’ll have to go across the horizon, into the future, and take a look back. Hopefully, once there, we’ll be better in hearing what we listen, seeing what we’re looking into, and believing in our skills much more than luck.
If not, we’ll always have two options at disposal, to either ban gambling or go globetrotting — again.
However, it would be infinitely better to earn some money while playing legally and responsibly, and then spend it traveling around the world.
[Author’s note: dedicated to all two-wheel riders and players.]