Charles Cohen will be the first to tell you that he’s not an expert on sports betting. He got into the game late, compared with his peers, but he’s made a huge impact already on sports wagering in the U.S.
Now heading up IGT’s PlayDigital sports betting solution from his San Francisco office, his experience with sports betting began when then-GTECH worked out a deal with MGM Resorts to develop a mobile sports betting solution in Nevada, which had just legalized that way to wager.
“I was in charge of mobile, so it was going to be a mobile solution,” he says. “I knew a bit about sports betting from Europe, but had never really experienced the U.S. version.”
Simple, thought the British-born Cohen. GTECH, now IGT, was very well prepared.
“We didn’t think it would be that difficult,” he explains. “We had an extremely mature sports betting system and a big team of developers. Sure, the prices are different, but it really shouldn’t be that difficult to convert our sports betting platform to one that works specifically for Nevada and now the U.S. But it took us about three years and some crazy number like 200 man-years to get it done. It was a major effort, but it was worth it, and they are reaping the benefits now.”
The PlayDigital system looked and felt different than anything on the market at that time. And there’s a reason, says Cohen.
“We came at this from the angle of being consumer-facing mobile people. We looked at the products that were in the market at the time and thought they were very functional but not particularly great user experiences. The world that I’ve been in for the last 20 years was all about understanding user experience. We wanted to deliver an experience for the player that they enjoy, that they instinctively understand, and that is fast, reliable and works for them.
“We were able to take advantage of technologies that were brand new so we could deliver an experience that wouldn’t have even been possible five years ago.
“With the help of our clients, we came up with some bold ideas. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t work, but it worked for the players and for our client.”
Cohen says mobile technology is advancing so quickly that the products they can offer their customers are also changing.
“If you look at the work we’ve done in New Jersey for FanDuel, it’s a completely different user experience, which just shows how technology and expectations are advancing.
“There’s a saying that things move at internet speed. Well, mobile speed is even faster than internet speed.”
But IGT isn’t just about mobile. The company provides solutions for new sports books in the casino as well.
“The platform that IGT brought into the U.S. is offered worldwide, and is a very successful retail solution as well,” Cohen says. “Retail outside of the U.S. means tens of thousands of terminals in bars, convenience stores, all the way up to full-scale betting shops. So we have that capability in that platform.
“But we did have to change it for the U.S. because sports betting here is focused around the casino. And a casino is not a corner bar or convenience store, and it’s certainly different than a betting shop on the high street. We treat the retail and the mobile as equal citizens. We’ve been working on providing a streamlined retail experience in a casino that is equal to our mobile experience. Not an easy task.”
He cites land-based considerations such as ticket writers, tellers, maintenance, back office,
W-2G, Title 31 and all the other items that are involved in running a physical sports book.
“That’s why doing this at IGT is a fabulous experience, because there are people here who have lived and breathed casino operations for decades,” he says.
One thing IGT will never do is operate a sports book inside a casino.
“We offer a turnkey solution,” he says. “But we won’t go into properties and operate a sports book like William Hill does. That’s an IGT principle. We’re not a B2C business and we won’t cross that line. As far as we’re concerned the players are our customers’ customer.”