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Silent Partners

Platform integrators work behind the scenes to make technology work and grow the brands of their partners

Silent Partners

The gaming industry features prominent brands, each well-known in what is a variety of disciplines that enable operators to grow. But what many don’t regularly hear about are the companies working at the back end of these disciplines.

Sportsbooks may face the public as a brand like FanDuel or the brand of an individual casino. Online casinos carry casino brands as popular “skins.” Casinos have their branded slot clubs and marketing programs. But more often than not, these brands are able to excel because of the behind-the-scenes companies that provide the tech stacks—the platforms that fuel the engines supporting the brands, integrating their technology into the ecosystems of these services.

Sportsbooks are perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of back-end platform providers. For instance, one of the most well-known, FanDuel Sportsbook, uses the IGT PlaySports platform for its retail operations in the U.S., and its online business in Canada.

IGT PlaySports, part of the company’s PlayDigital business, supports more than 80 sportsbooks in 30 jurisdictions across North America, and also provides the platform for the retail sportsbooks found in Boyd Gaming casinos and that operator’s popular mobile app in Nevada, and supplies sports betting kiosks for bars and taverns across Ohio. IGT also supplies the platform for the Rhode Island Lottery’s sports betting offering and provides a full turnkey solution for customers such as the Oneida tribe in Green Bay, Wisconsin and Resorts World Las Vegas.

In May, IGT PlaySports was named Sportsbook Supplier of the Year in the SBC Awards North America. Joe Asher, president of sports betting for IGT, says the reason for the success of IGT PlaySports is that it provides sportsbooks a one-stop shop for everything needed.

Joe Asher, President of Sports Betting, IGT

Joe Asher, President of Sports Betting, IGT

“It’s a turnkey solution,” Asher says. “We supply the hardware, the software and the trading services, which is the setting of the odds and managing the risk. Customers can choose some or all of these features.

“The platform, fundamentally, is the betting engine, a system that allows you to set up events and take bets on those events, and then grade and score the events. Then the other main component would be what’s called the PAM, the Player Account Management System, which is effectively an electronic wallet, so that you can set up your account, and then deposit money and wager.”

He notes that these services apply whether the book is in a retail environment or an online/mobile setup where legal. About 20 of IGT’s trading advisory team members set up the events in the system, and then moves the odds as circumstances warrant, accept bets that are coming in, and manage the risk from that. “There are two dozen casinos that use that risk management component,” Asher says.

He adds that the IGT platform is robust, and can integrate easily with third-party technology suppliers. “You can integrate with different payment sources, for example,” he says. “This funding is a big part of the business, so the flexibility for these third-party integrations is something that people find attractive.”

Another big-time back-end supplier in the sportsbook space is Kambi Group, with a client list currently numbering more than 40 sportsbooks on six continents.

Kambi technology drives several of the leading sportsbook operators in North America, including betPARX, Rush Street Interactive and Unibet. The company recently agreed to a long-term partnership with Bally’s to power its sports betting.

“We are also partnered with multiple tribal gaming operators, including Desert Diamond Casinos, Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment and Seneca Gaming Corporation,” says Sarah Robertson, senior vice president of sales for Kambi. “They have some of the strongest local brands in their respective jurisdictions, and have been at the forefront of gaming and entertainment for much longer than sports betting has been legalized.”

Sarah Robertson, Senior Vice President of Sales, Kambi

Sarah Robertson, Senior Vice President of Sales, Kambi

As with the other top platform suppliers, Robertson says the key to success is mastering the many parts and disciplines involved in a successful sportsbook operation. “Sportsbook is the most complex piece of enterprise and end-user software imaginable, with intricacies in processes,” she says, “(with) regulation that renders it far more complex than the likes of Netflix or Spotify.

“Operating a best-in-class, high-performance sportsbook at scale is a huge challenge on a structural and technical level, to say nothing of the need to develop new product innovations and the latest functionality players expect. Keeping up with the competition and speed of innovation in this industry by investing in the product is not only costly, but very time-consuming, and so having a partner with the know-how and track record to deliver a successful, revenue-driving sportsbook can be an important step on the path to long-term success.”

That competition has heated up as sports betting has spread across North America. One of the newer entries into the U.S. market is Malta-based Gaming Innovation Group (GiG), which has won several awards the past few years as a platform supplier both in sports betting and iGaming.

“Currently, we partner with Playstar in New Jersey, who have only been in the market for a short time, but have shown how you can utilize the GiG Platform to grow quickly and efficiently,” says Martin Collins, director of sales and business development for GiG.

Martin Collins, Director of Sales and Business Development, GiG

Martin Collins, Director of Sales and Business Development, GiG

“Their solution is very unique in the marketplace, driving a tailored experience for the customer. This ability to create a personalized approach has certainly helped them build on what is an already unique brand and concept. We are also about to launch Crab Sports in Maryland, which is a well-publicized local brand, driving their understanding of the state and the potential customer base. We believe our unique sports offering, combined with our powerful PAM, take this relatively small operation and give it the opportunity to compete and drive value across the jurisdiction.”

GiG also partners with bet365, which utilizes the GiG Comply affiliate marketing compliance tool.

“The GiG Platform is built to add flexibility to the operator’s approach,” Collins says. “The architecture is event-driven, so it allows for every interaction the customer has with the brand to be recorded, but also to be actioned against. This allows for massive capability around personalization and truly engaging with your customer post-acquisition.”

Growing Marketplace

These days, platform suppliers are hard-pressed to keep up with where the next emerging jurisdiction will be, and modify their technology as needed to comply with regulations as they are being written in new states and provinces.

“Our strategy for emerging jurisdictions involves a combination of several key factors,” says Kambi’s Robertson, “including market research, regulatory compliance, and continuous innovation. We are constantly monitoring developing sports betting regulations in different states and jurisdictions. This includes analyzing regulatory framework and identifying operators who may be interested in our sports betting products and services.

“By staying ahead of market trends, we can proactively position ourselves to take advantage of new opportunities. Our platform is designed to be scalable and adaptable to different regulatory environments and market requirements. We understand that each emerging jurisdiction may have unique legal and operational considerations, so we ensure our technology and infrastructure can quickly accommodate new market entries. This enables us to offer a tailored and compliant solution to potential partners in these jurisdictions.”

“The sports betting business in the U.S. has already become a big business, and obviously it’s going to grow further as more states legalize it,” adds IGT’s Asher. “The latest (predictions) you see out there are $35 billion to $40 billion of revenue.

“Wagering has very quickly become part of sports in the U.S. You see Gronk (former NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski) trying to kick a field gold for FanDuel during the Super Bowl. There’s a focus on advertising, and rationalization of marketing spend, making sure the advertising is appropriate, both in terms of content and repetition.”

He adds that the most successful platform companies going forward will be the established giants. “When these new states come on board, the top handful of operators have something like 90 percent market share at present, so there’s obviously tremendous economies of scale,” Asher says. “FanDuel, DraftKings and MGM have emerged as the top three. You’ve got a little bit of a gap then to Caesars and Barstool, and then some regional players in certain places— Wynn in Massachusetts, for instance. Fanatics is just starting to enter the market and bet365 has made a push into Ohio.

“So clearly, there’s going to be a handful of major operators who have the advantages of scale, which is so, so important.”

Still, there is room for the smaller suppliers to expand as the market grows, and many jurisdictions where the right partnerships can generate good returns.

“(The larger proprietary operations) were built in-house, but they all use third parties to some extent,” Asher says. “FanDuel is using IGT for its retail in the U.S., and online in Ontario. Caesars is using NeoGames for the PAM. Companies are using some third-party tech, but then, you have the others who, for various reasons, want to operate their own sportsbooks. They have a license in a given jurisdiction, and they want to monetize it. They turn to leading technology suppliers like IGT.

“The tribes in Washington are a great example of that, or Wisconsin with the Oneida tribes, or Catawba Two Kings Casino in North Carolina. There’s rightly a lot of focus on the major operators, but there are many others who are differently situated, in different parts of the country.”

“Sports betting certainly continues to expand,” says GiG’s Collins, “and with the experience across the GiG platform of 36 regulated markets, we certainly understand the regulated landscape, helping brands worldwide continually enter new jurisdictions and expand their operations in North America.

“At GiG, we believe data is the key to all decision-making. Although we are committed to the U.S. market, we carefully consider all opportunities, including the jurisdiction and operator in question, ensuring they match our strategy and that there are obvious synergies between our technology and what they want to achieve as a brand. Without this partner-led approach, it can be incredibly difficult to achieve success, yet, when established, the opportunities are endless and can be capitalized upon.”

“One characteristic that is becoming increasingly clear is that the initial rush in the U.S. among tier-one operators to own the entire technology stack is receding, and giving way to a more measured approach,” adds Kambi’s Robertson. “The question should always be framed not as whether an operator is better served by outsourcing the sportsbook or operating it in-house, but rather to what extent they wish to outsource elements of the sportsbook. It should be emphasized that there isn’t a sportsbook active today that operates with a 100 percent reliance on proprietary technology.”

That technology is still developing and expanding—right along with the iGaming and sports betting markets in the U.S.

Partner in Data, Payments

Acres Manufacturing’s technology works behind the scenes to build business and brands for casinos—and other system vendors

Platform suppliers in the sports betting and iGaming markets are certainly getting their partners a lot of attention, but one of the most effective of the behind-the-scenes technology suppliers is Acres Manufacturing.

Acres’ Foundation technology has added functionality to several well-known legacy casino management systems. The Foundation system super-charges any existing system by collecting data directly from each slot machine—according to Noah Acres, one of the company’s principals, 1,000 times the data collected by a traditional CMS, collected and revealed to casino operators in real time, enabling casino marketers to take actions to boost loyalty before a customer has left the casino.

Noah Acres

Noah Acres

More recently, the Acres Cashless Casino module has speeded up moves to add a cashless wagering option quickly for a rising number of casinos, again, working with technology already in place from other vendors.

“There are nearly 30 different companies that have integrated their services into Foundation,” Acres says. “And there are definitely a lot more that are interested in coming in. They’re not putting out Acres products to the public. What they see is the Konami CMS, or a different CMS.”

Foundation collects data just like a legacy CMS, except it collects the data in real time. “Every single (slot) meter is available in real time, and we just expose that data,” says Acres. “The operator owns that data, and we give them authority to share that data stream with any third party provider that they want.”

Real-Time Rewards

A lot of casinos are using this to intervene with players while they’re still in the casino. “Real-time rewards are crucial to growing revenues,” Acres says. “Casinos are really built upon this old model of direct mail, where the player comes in, nobody really talks to them, they play, and after they leave, the play is analyzed and they’re sent an offer via direct mail. We think that there’s a huge opportunity to increase revenues by marketing to players while they’re there, in the seat.”

Acres notes that players arrive at a casino with three budgets—time, money, and the “boredom budget.”

“If someone runs out of time, there’s nothing we can do to get them to stay longer,” says Acres. “If they run out of money, again, nothing we an to. But if they run out of interest—if the game is not entertaining to them and they’re leaving—at that moment, we can hit them with a bonus or a message that changes the dynamic and gets them to continue to play a little bit longer.”

The data generated by Foundation can build a database that tells casinos the budget level a player has been willing to expose in the past. If the point approaches where a player has reached his budget limit in the past, a bonus or free play can be offered. This data can be analyzed by hosts—the Acres Kai module can alert hosts when actionable situations appear—or can link up with an artificial intelligence module that will cause the player interventions to occur automatically.

In addition to integrating with legacy casino management systems like Konami’s Synkros, Acres technology has been instrumental in speeding up the transition to cashless play options in many casinos.

“Everi, Sightline, FabiCash, Marker Trax—those are all external payment processors that are connecting to the slot machine via Foundation,” Acres explains. “We’re giving them essentially what we call the keys to the kingdom, where they get all the data that they need, and they’re able to send their transactions directly to the game.

“We don’t require the cash as wagering account, which is a major burden to casinos and to players. You can do cashless without the cash as a wagering account. You can select any payment processor that you want without any integration fees. And it’s perfectly scalable across multiple properties.”

 

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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