Posts Tagged ‘disruption’

London: ICE Totally Gaming 2018 Re-cap

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

ICE Totally Gaming likes to style itself asthe only B2B gaming event that truly brings together the international online and offline gaming sectors”, here is some future thinking about the sector fresh from last week’s annual event.

  • The biggest event headline was a pointed article in The Guardian questioning the industry’s evolution in a #MeToo world (overt sexualisation of products). For a sector, whose branding has heavily relied on testosterone-fueled excitement, it is an awkward question with few, if any, obvious answers. When for example, over 50% of Las Vegas revenues arise from non-gaming tourism and events, “what happens in Vegas may no longer stay in Vegas” might need to be the new logo, at least in the corporate events market.
  • Caesar’s Entertainment, arguably the must public US corporate casualty in the 2007/8 financial crisis, is back on the front foot. After 10 difficult years, the Mark Frissora-led business has a spring in its’ step. The ex Hertz and GE executive is exuding confidence, exploring multiple partnerships and projects. Often in ways the Caesar’s brand has never successfully been positioned in adjacent markets internationally.
  • Italy remains a gaming paradox. Wrapped in regulation and taxation issues like many US markets, operators and investors can see ripe apples hanging on the trees but their attempts to grab them are constantly frustrated.
  • US sports betting and the US Supreme Court judgement. Everyone is gearing up to get in on the act, not least the US tribes, who with smaller, more entrepreneurial business models may be ideally-placed to bring the most innovative ideas.
  • UK sports betting is approaching a huge fork in the road, ahead of the Government’s ruling on fixed odds betting terminals or “pokies” to my Australian friends.  Stick with limits of four machines per betting shop and a £100 stake per play, a ferocious political and media wind (Daily Mail front page hardship stories. Restrict stakes to £2 per play (prevalence of social welfare issues), see sports betting “majors” (Ladbrokes Coral, William Hill) and others dependent on their largesse (UK horse racing, UK government tax take) face a seismic change to their business models (30% reduction in gross gaming revenues, closures of 30-40% of their betting shops, 1000 of redundancies). Should we care? That depends on your view as to who is responsible for an individual’s actions. My personal opinion is that I am firmly against any form of gambling where there is not a fair and equitable chance of the punter winning long-term. If you applied my principle, we’d be closing down swathes of automated gaming machines, online card/roulette games and pools betting in casinos, bookies and so forth, where the “house” has a huge advantage (size of take out). We’d have more revenues directed to “equitable gaming and betting”.
  • 2018 is arguably the most profound and volatile year for gaming and betting’s adaption to changing societal mores, regulation and tax.  Yet for the smartest investors and regulators, this might well be the greatest year of opportunity (upturn in incumbents business models and branding, new markets, new value propositions, new ways to attract and retain customers, new ways to adapt to regulation and tax risks).

© James Berkeley 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Transformation of Sports Betting

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

A recent conversation with one of the most colourful characters in global sports betting, Harry Findlay, reminded me how rarely most entrepreneurs have a truly transformative idea.

The advent of betting exchanges, in particular Betfair, has had a 3-dimensional impact on European bookmakers (margins – the profit on every transaction; velocity – the speed at which they collect cash; volumes – traded bets).

Today’s sports betting business resembles a fraying rope, at one end, the commodity or mass market giants, Bet365 and Paddy Power Betfair dominate with huge marketing budgets driving increasing mobile betting volumes amongst the £5-£10 recreational players. At the other lie a small number of “premium” boutiques and large international (Asia) betting firms, competing on differentiated service and a volition to “lay” a £1,000+ bet.

Mass-market sports betting is akin to retail supermarkets. High volume, low margin and viciously cut throat competition will prevail over the next 3 years.

The “premium” player end is no less competitive. The need for scale, a powerful brand, the passion and competency to deliver a high-touch premium customer experience and a competitive balance sheet will defeat many of today’s incumbents. Too small, too niche, too busy prioritising commodity players and too weak.

Yet the sports betting industry despite increased regulatory pressure, changes in societal mores and disruptive technology, doesn’t lack for wannnabe entrepreneurs. Most though never end up with anything more than a small business. There is a pressing need today to think bigger.

The big opportunity in sports betting is not in isolation, a rival trading platform to Betfair. The transformative idea is a business that is able to transform the market size exponentially, professionalise it and turn it into an institutional quality, alternative investment class. That’s why businesses such as Stratagem, Smartodds and Starlizard are an object of serious interest to investors, outside the confines of the professional gambler’s lair.

The naysayers decry the randomness of sports results, to support their argument that this will never happen. What is not random about catastrophic Gulf hurricanes, Mexican earthquakes and California wildfires?

Parallels can be found with the way that insurance risk was “trapped” amongst insurance and reinsurance players upto the late 1990s. Offering non-correlated risk to professional investors and healthy yields, today close to 20% of the total pie is now diverted to the capital markets via insurance linked securities. Why should sports betting risk be “trapped” amongst existing incumbents with relatively small balance sheets?

Just as with insurance risk, the evolution requires a business with

  1. Discernible and practical value. Superior data and analytics to turn data into information, information into knowledge and ultimately, knowledge into wisdom consistent with the investor’s strategic goals.
  2. A clear, accurate idea of the professional investors of today and tomorrow?
  3. The intellectual firepower to attract and retain professional players and investors (structuring and matching capital with risk)
  4. Intelligent pricing skills and judgement (quantitative and qualitative).
  5. Commitment to constant innovation and reinvention (new products, new markets, new technology and new relationships)

Perhaps that is one of the above businesses or an entrepreneur quietly making waves but yet to attract the glare of media attention. Either way, the sports betting industry is primed for dramatic reinvention just not in the manner most market observers have presumed.

© James Berkeley 2017. All Rights Reserved.