For any major slot manufacturer these days, designing and building physical slot machines—regardless of how groundbreaking or amazing the newest hardware may be—is no longer enough to compete.
That is, of course, because of the meteoric rise of online gaming, including mobile sports betting, even before the boost it invariably received from shutdowns early in the current pandemic. The largest and most successful slot manufacturers are currently focusing on boosting their digital business in the growing iGaming market.
That’s why, in September, International Game Technology PLC broke off its iGaming business from the Global Gaming division to create a new digital and betting division, IGT PlayDigital, appointing Enrico Drago as CEO of digital & betting.
It’s also why Drago moved quickly to bring experienced talent into the new division. In November, Drago named Gil Rotem, a 20-year veteran of the European internet gaming business at 888 and bet365, as president of iGaming within IGT PlayDigital.
After five years heading technology and other operational roles for 888, Rotem spent 10 years running iGaming business for bet365, leaving as group director of gaming strategy before spending the last four years as an independent consultant for the U.K.-based iGaming and sports betting giant, as well as others—including IGT.
Rotem says the key to success in the growing iGaming market is simple: put out good games.
“Content is king, as they say,” Rotem says. “My focus is to build the best environment for players to play, and it comes from the quality of the games. The key is to have games the players like, and brands with which they are familiar.”
But it’s more than that, he adds—producers of iGaming content must pay attention to the entire experience of players choosing that content. “What is the experience you want to give to the players when they play?” he says. “How is the engagement, the frequency of the bonuses?” At bet365, he says, he concentrated on the “proprietary concept for bet365.”
That, he says, means the entire experience. “What I bring to the table is really the knowhow in how to engage with the player, how to create content that players really like—and this is on top of the well-known, good-working content IGT is developing, and which has been proven on the land-based side.”
Under this product philosophy, the next step is to continue to expand IGT’s digital footprint. “Our plan is to utilize the land-based content we know has been working quite well in every jurisdiction—all the European jurisdictions, plus the U.S. and Canada,” Rotem says. “Cleopatra and brands like Wheel of Fortune are very well-known for the player’s engagement, but the other thing we’re going to do is to increase our in-house ability to develop proprietary content.
“We currently have very good relationships with the big operators in Europe, and we’re going to extend it and expand it by adding more and more content… We are planning to accelerate the performance and delivery of the games. One thing we’re not going to do is compromise our quality. This is our strength.”
Over the coming year, expect that delivery to accelerate. “We’ve increased the cadence of releasing new games,” says Rotem, “and we’re enhancing our platform, to allow that quality to develop. What we are going to focus on is the quality of the games, because we feel this is what distinguishes us from our competitors.”
Rotem says the opportunity to work with Drago is one of the reasons he left his independent consultancy to join IGT full-time. “Enrico is one of the reasons I joined, because I had been consulting for Enrico for quite a few months,” he says. “We really see eye-to-eye; we have the same vision on what we plan to do and what we want to do with IGT content and IGT operations.”
For 2022, Rotem says the goals are simple—retain IGT’s leading position in all iGaming jurisdictions, and to be first in every new jurisdiction.
Rotem’s hiring in November coincided with an announcement during an investor day of a realignment of the digital division, even with the possibility of a spinoff and listing of IGT PlayDigital as a separate entity. Rotem says that even though the potential changes were part of the reason he was brought on, his focus remains the same.
“Right now,” he says, “we’re focusing on continuing our growth, and continuing our good performance and quality.”