At GGB Magazine, we’ve published dozens of articles down through the years on the power of the brand—how to build the brand, why a brand encourages player loyalty, how to promote the brand, what the brand means to different players, and many other aspects of a successful brand. The big corporations like MGM and Caesars have spent millions of dollars in building their brands, and with generally good results.
But what about when it comes to iGaming? How valuable is a brand then?
Looking at New Jersey as the canary in the coal mine, it appears a brand is tremendously valuable. It was assumed in the beginning that the already existing brands of the Atlantic City casinos would dominate, but that was not necessarily the case early on.
When sports betting first started three years ago, we had two dominant competitors, DraftKings and FanDuel. But when it came to sports betting, neither company had much experience. They were, of course, daily fantasy sports experts, and had compiled a database that was second to none of people who had an interest in sports. But how important was the brand in these initial transactions? Could they maintain that edge as more familiar gaming brands entered the fray?
As bookmaker Art Manteris told me in last month’s 5 Questions podcast, an app has only two purposes at its very heart: to allow bets to be made easily and seamlessly, and to be able to collect winning bets. That’s it. All the bells and whistles are nice, but they are in the end extraneous.
So the experience of betting online is only as good as the product. Are the DraftKings and FanDuel apps any better than the BetMGM or Caesars apps? Probably not, but the power of the market share of the DFS companies is the power of their database, not necessarily their brands.
When it comes to online casinos, the Atlantic City brands you know and love have been dominant. Since 2013, the Golden Nugget has produced the most online casino revenue. But of course, GoldenNuggetCasino.com didn’t keep all that money. Skins that operate under the Golden Nugget license include PlaySugarHouse.com, part of the Rush Street Interactive family; Betfaircasino.com, now part of Flutter; and BetAmericacasino.com, part of Churchill Downs.
In June, the Borgata overtook the Golden Nugget in revenues, but the same applies here. Operating under the Borgata license are sites such as PalaCasino.com, part of the interactive division of the California Indian tribe of the same name; PartyPoker.com, part of the Entain group; and of course, BetMGM. And Caesars has recently been gaining market share, with its collection of Caesars brands—Caesarscasino.com, Harrahscasino.com, and WSOP.com, but also including the 888 sites and now WynnBet, kind of a strange online coupling of two disparate brick-and-mortar brands. In addition to its own brand, Resorts is hosting DraftKings.com, MoheganSuncasino.com and PokerStarsNJ.com.
So are the brick-and-mortar brands making a comeback? Hard to say, because of the also-powerful brands that act as skins to them. Will your real-life experience at any of these casinos translate to their online cousins? Again, hard to say, because there truly hasn’t been any major effort to capitalize on your online players to bring them to the physical casinos.
As Joe Lupo, the president of Hard Rock Atlantic City, told me, “Anyone gambling online with HardRockCasino.com is literally within a two-hour drive of our casino. What can we do to get them out of their house and into the casino? That’s my challenge to our new corporate online gaming team.”
As iGaming and sports betting spread across the country, competition is heating up. Brands are going to be crucial to success. But just as it is for land-based casinos, the experience is going to be the big differentiator. “Live” table games have helped some brands gain traction, but what if all “live” games start to look alike? Will gambling start to look more like game shows? Our friends at Evolution Gaming have created quite a few unique game show platforms that could produce revenue.
So the challenge is to build your brand online to gain market share and customer loyalty. The next few years will tell who understands the online gambler and who is pretending.