Maybe it took a former land-based casino executive to explain the opportunities of internet gaming to U.S. casino operators, but when 888 Holdings CEO Brian Mattingley arranged a deal with Caesars Entertainment to use the systems built by his company, it was a turning point. Mattingley, who previously was with bingo operator Gala in the U.K., has built his company into a major force internationally, and now in the U.S., 888 is the only company active in all three states in the U.S. where online gaming is legal. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros from the exhibit floor at the ICE trade show in London in early February. To access the podcast of this interview, which includes discussions about payment processing, branding, and more, visit ggbmagazine.com.
GGB: As an online gaming executive who came from land-based casinos, you know the differences between land-based and online. Why did you make that change?
Mattingley: The opportunity arose when 888 was going public on London’s stock market. I had retired from the land-based businesses, and it’s something which I had toyed with while I was at Gala. I had launched Gala Interactive, which was possibly the first opportunity that the U.K. had to start an online bingo business. We changed ownership, and the new owners of Gala were not interested at all in online bingo, so that fell away, but I still retained an interest.
Once you get involved with iGaming, you see your customers are completely different from land-based. That had a real interest to me—you can immediately identify your customers, you know who they are, you can monitor their play. It gives me the safety of knowing who I am dealing with, so I find the whole thing very fascinating.
Do you think it was an opportunity lost when the British and European land-based casino companies did not get in on that?
Yes, I do. I think we could easily have been at the forefront of what was inherently our core product, which was bingo and land casinos.
What is your impression of what’s going on in New Jersey?
Someone said recently that New Jersey was pedestrian in its start-up. I disagree. I think there were a lot of things which were absolutely correct when you start up a business in a territory where you wanted to be seen to be very clean. And I think what the DGE did there, with GeoComply, and all the technical providers, and the way they structured the regulation I think was absolutely correct.
I think all of the operators, if we were really honest, believe that there still is a long way to go. At 888, we’re not unhappy, but it was a relatively slow start, so if you’re going to make mistakes, it’s best to make mistakes when we’re all making them before a small audience.
But there have been no major technical or verification problems.
Exactly. And therefore, the DGE, in doing that, I think is superb. And they must feel that they’ve achieved what they wanted to achieve.
What are some of the hurdles you see in the U.S. right now?
If we have a wish list, one of the things that I would quite like to see happen would be some form of interstate operation, particularly with poker. Poker is definitely liquidity-led. To get a real decent player experience, you need a good number of people. I think that’s difficult for Delaware and Nevada. With the population in New Jersey, I don’t think that’s an issue.
I would like to think at some stage that Nevada, which is renowned for its casino business, may adopt online casinos. I think that’s where the brands will really come in. I think once you’ve got an online casino, the idea of this convergence will be able to ensure that you can earn points online, surrender those points in the casino, maybe even get rooms cheaper. I don’t think poker’s quite as strong in those loyalty programs. And therefore, those would be two of the things that I would like to see. And of course I would like to see more states come online.
What makes the technology that 888 has developed so player-friendly and also good for the operators?
The website—the bit that the customer sees—is literally just the tip of the iceberg. And by and large, that presentation to the customers is bound to each individual brand. WSOP has created an environment for their customers, which is different than the 888 brand. Where the real differentiation occurs is what happens beneath that website. We have got the largest data center in Europe. We have information trends going back to 1997. We have tracked every individual customer play, every turn of the card, every spin of the wheel, going back years.
So we have massive amounts of data. We then use that data to learn more about people’s playing preferences, and we have built a predictive model, which actually will predict your lifetime value within the second of your depositing. And that’s within a tolerance of 5 percent. Likewise, sitting underneath all of that is a massive analytics department. And then, again, using all that data, we have fraud detection, know-your-customer technology, and a social gaming experience and model which does all of the work for tracking you—if we think you’re getting into a problem habit, we will contact you. I think all of those features probably have given people the confidence that we are not just a website; we are a technology-driven business, a marketing business, with a good history and a good reputation, and we really have got a great CRM team.