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The Social Game

Today’s social casino players are tomorrow’s online for-money and casino customers.

The Social Game

Gaming has a lucrative on-deck circle.

Waiting to hit next: patrons from social casinos.

An app-driven, multibillion-dollar market surrounds this lighthearted, low-stress gambling academy. Customers play real games without risking real money, interact with friends and conduct the social-media equivalent of a live brick-and-mortar community slot tournament.

Casinos wisely embrace this turnkey recruitment vehicle.

The social casino, in its generic sense, is an app or website enabling players to enjoy popular casino games like roulette, video poker, slots and blackjack with online friends. One plays after downloading an app to a mobile device or computer, or by using a web browser. Even Facebook offers a social-games lineup.

It’s all free, but money is spent through in-game purchases when players resupply their virtual-coin stock with real funds. It’s not true gambling, as action resembles one adding quarters to an arcade machine, but the image is vivid. These are future gaming customers, already able to sample games, sign up for an online account and become part of what a property offers.

Many turn recreational activity into real gambling, and this is a burgeoning revenue source. Operators who exploit this dynamic will be well-positioned to thrive on the other side of the pandemic.

A Prominent Footprint

Game Account Network (GAN) is a big player in this space.

“GAN Simulated Gaming platform offers a catalog of 800-plus games, along with our patented iBridge/loyalty linking framework that takes our partners’ loyalty program to a new level with their players,” says Marcus Yoder, its senior vice president of sales. “Our operators are able to seamlessly register their players, and give them the ability to link their loyalty card number to immediately start earning on-property rewards by engaging in their favorite casino games.

“Players on GAN’s platform are rewarded for linking their loyalty card, spinning our free ‘Fortune Wheel’ every four hours, Daily Login Bonuses, personalizing their account, inviting friends, and participating in various other free-to-enter promotions. In addition, players have the option to purchase additional virtual credits packages in exchange for real money on desktop and mobile to extend their play while earning valuable loyalty points.”

Yoder says operators add GAN’s Simulated Casino for strategic reasons, including new revenue and digital-brand establishment. Players can extend their playing time through the Simulated Casino games by purchasing packages of additional credits.

GAN’s loyalty linking framework allows social players to link their loyalty card number to immediately start earning on-property rewards

“By familiarizing and educating players with a digital platform, there is a natural progression of brand extension, loyalty, 360-degree player engagement, and net new user growth, resulting in monetized play in a fun, risk-free environment,” Yoder says. “Rewarding players for online play also allows operators to increase traffic back into the casino for on-property play through distribution of comps including hotel stay, slot tournaments, buffets, gift cards and special events.

“GAN’s strategic model is to emulate and simulate the on-property casino floor,” he adds. “The ability for players to experience their on-property look and feel once they leave the physical casino across any device is a very strong value proposition to a casino operator which allows them to extend their brand outside of their existing four walls. Offering product features such as leader boards, slot tournaments and free spins mimics that excitement that a player experiences on-property, now online.”

Simulated Casino games also help operators hit the ground running whenever their states regulate real-money gaming (iCasino or sportsbook), he adds. This acts as a key advantage as other B2C competitors will enter into the market at the same time regulation is approved, according to Yoder.

“As a B2B supplier, GAN’s all-in-one platform focuses solely on one vertical-digital online gaming, which includes social, real-money casino and sportsbook,” he says. “We offer additional services such as marketing and customer services that take the operational lift off of the operator, while educating them on the new digital landscape.

“Unlike real-money online gaming, with a Simulated Casino, in most cases the server is not required to sit within the state or on-property. We house and manage the servers that support our Simulated Casinos from a centralized data center in Las Vegas. The operator continues to own their database; we are simply an extension of their casino.”

Rob Norton, president of Cordish Gaming Group, endorses the GAN platform regarding Live! Casino Maryland and for new online casinos in Pennsylvania. “With our established relationship, GAN was the logical provider of our enterprise platform for launching real-money internet gambling, and offers Cordish the ability to extend on-property rewards into the online channel, which has been shown to increase loyalty among players of Simulated Gaming.”

Yoder offers an optimistic forecast for 2021. “We are excited about the new look and feel of our product offering,” he asserts. “Moving into a fully native mobile app solution allows our players to play anytime and anywhere on any iOS or Android device. Our game catalog continues to grow, offering custom games developed from our in-house studio and third-party partner games known for their popularity in social play and familiar to what players see on the casino floor today.

“Additionally, with our new product additions like Simulated Sportsbook through JACK Entertainment’s ‘PlayJACK’ social casino, we continue to offer new product enhancements that keep players coming back for more.”

The company just announced its acquisition of CoolBet, an industry-leading sportsbook operator based in Tallinn, Estonia. “CoolBet has some of the industry’s best technology and user experience processes, which elevated them in our analysis of multiple sportsbooks companies during the acquisition process,” he says. “We are excited to bring the CoolBet sportsbook as a B2B supplier to the U.S. market when our acquisition looks to close in late Q1 2021.”

Understanding B2B

The B2B social casino of supplier Aristocrat Technologies offers operators a mobile gaming platform to keep their brand on the forefront of their player’s entertainment experiences. The solution enables Aristocrat clients to directly provide a “freemium” social game offering to their customers with the ability to purchase virtual coins to unlock games and features. The business model is to offer a managed service where Aristocrat runs the campaign and the app on behalf of the operator, working closely with the operator’s marketing team.

Aristocrat previously launched and sustained a successful Heart of Vegas social gaming platform that has been running for more than eight years. The company’s B2B Social Gaming solution leverages modern technologies that consumers use daily to create new levels of interactivity for the player. Overall, Aristocrat is confident that its broad portfolio of casino business solutions in games, systems, services and experience in the B2C social casino space has offered the business the unique position to execute the operator’s digital experience plan with B2B Social Gaming.

The company says this product is a state-of-the-art online and mobile gaming solution based on the Heart of Vegas gaming platform. The new B2B Social Gaming solution allows operators to directly provide a freemium (a free game where you can buy credits) social game offering to its players. B2B Social Gaming is filled with Aristocrat’s best-known and most popular proprietary titles, allowing operators to give their players a fun digital experience playing Aristocrat’s best-performing games by purchasing virtual coins.

The enterprise operators can choose to brand the app to the entire enterprise or to each individual casino. B2B Social Gaming is strictly intended for entertainment and social game play, where the player is never able to redeem their winnings for anything of value or for real-world prizes. The B2B Social Gaming platform offers a comprehensive patron engagement application converging patrons’ on/off property on/offline. Aristocrat provides a strong integration layer that allows the B2B Social Gaming platform to integrate with any casino management system. The platform is a cloud-based solution hosted on Google Cloud Service, providing an extra layer of security.

Aristocrat officials say this impacts the operators in several ways. One is the enhancement of patron engagement. Operator benefits include extending the brand and the ability to stay connected with patrons on and off property. The product also extends engagement through proven bonusing mechanics and enhanced marketing tools.

Aristocrat touts revenue diversification and digital customer experience as further benefits to its social casino platform.

More than Just ‘4Fun’

Rush Street Interactive (RSI) operates eight Casino4Fun sites, spanning a launch period of more than five years. The first was for the former SugarHouse Casino (now Rivers) in Philadelphia in July 2015, and the most recent involves a B2B supplier partnership with Coushatta Casino Resort (Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana) in August 2020.

The Coushatta Casino4Fun site is powered by RSI’s proprietary iGaming Platform. The new social site offers gaming enthusiasts a large and growing catalog of over 300 online slots, table games and live-dealer games, as well as the ability to use the platform’s virtual economy to engage with a world-class sportsbook for free, all while offering Coushatta a digital platform for customer acquisition and engagement.

The RSI iGaming Platform powers Casino4Fun, the same technology driving RSI’s real-money gaming sites, as well as in its omnichannel retail sportsbooks. The product has been built for the U.S. market from the perspective of a U.S. land-based casino operator.

“The inspiration for our Casino4Fun platform is to be a B2B provider of a brand extension/retention tool to help land-based casino properties make more money, and allow their customers to play free casino games on the go and at home,” says Richard Schwartz, president of Rush Street Interactive. “We also use our Casino4Fun platform as a lead generation tool in future regulated markets. Casino4Fun is also utilized as a testing environment for casino game content before launching in real-money online casino markets.”

Rush Street Interactive offers free virtual currency (VC$) and other free games, allowing players to be engaged without having to make a purchase. But a good number eventually do. And then they go one step further. Schwartz says he has seen a double-digit conversion rate from social

Casino4Fun players to real-money customers.

A Casino4Fun site, just like low-limit electronic table games on casino floors over the years, becomes an instructional aide for customers. It provides the knowledge of how games work without the pressure of making a big bet. Schwartz says all games have help options along with pay and tutorial information. This enables customers to learn each game on the 4Fun platform, and, in turn, the real-money environment.

Casino4Fun is uniquely positioned between the brick-and-mortar property and the online player.

“We operate the platform to encourage online players to return to the property for prize redemptions and other promotions,” Schwartz says. “Similarly, we work with the properties to encourage their brick-and-mortar players to give Casino4Fun a try, especially during this time when many people are looking for at-home entertainment, and casinos are closed or operating with restrictions.”

Schwartz indicates that the Casino4Fun platform can be used to acquire new players, activate lapsed players, and create engagement and strong retention from active land-based players.

“A casino can use Casino4Fun as a retention tool to keep players engaged when not at the property,” he indicates. “Ideally, players will connect their land-based loyalty rewards account to their Casino4Fun account. The casino then has wider visibility into their customers’ brick-and-mortar and Casino4Fun activity.

“Even without connecting the loyalty rewards program, we encourage our properties to offer special promotions, game play, and online behaviors that are rewarded with prizes that are redeemable during on-property visits. This facilitates the online/brick-and-mortar redemption cycle.”

Casino4Fun also had Covid-19 implications. Several properties promoted their social sites, engaging patrons whose customers were not able to benefit the property. This allowed players to remain connected with the brand. When it is safe to return, the customer and casino property will have maintained their connection, a key element to maintaining business.

Rush Street Interactive continues aiming more resources at this area.

“We have a large and ever-growing library of content from industry-leading game suppliers,” he says. “We are unique in that we offer Live Dealer table games from Evolution Gaming, slots from AGS, Everi, Konami, Incredible Technologies, Greentube/Novomatic and many more. The experience our customers have on our Casino4Fun platform is more authentic than other social casinos, as we offer content that more closely resembles the experience the customer can expect from a real casino floor.”

Throughout the industry, riches mark the convenience of mobile technology. In the sports-betting world, New Jersey alone recorded a record $800 million wagered in October, more than 90 percent from mobile apps. It’s logical that the apps, tablets and computers linked with modern technology will fuel the next generation of gamblers, in all areas.

The gaming customers are waiting on deck. Almost any inducement will send them to the plate.

Casino Connection Sports Editor Dave Bontempo is an award-winning sports writer and broadcaster who calls boxing matches all over the world. He has covered the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs, as well as numerous PGA, LPGA and Seniors Golf Tour events, and co-hosted the Casino Connection television program with Publisher Roger Gros.