Six of the iGaming industry’s most successful leaders discussed the hottest topics in the industry in our ‘The Return of the Leaders and Legends’ webinar on 2nd February.
Powered by EGR, it attracted the biggest ever audience for one of their virtual events with more than 1,000 registered to watch. Following on from the success of our inaugural Leaders and Legends discussion at ICE London 2020, we went virtual this year and were delighted to welcome a panel of iGaming industry A-listers:
- Matt King, CEO, FanDuel Group
- John Coleman, CEO, Microgaming
- Shimon Akad, COO, Playtech
- Jordan Levin, CEO, Scientific Games Digital
- Yaniv Sherman, Senior VP, US, 888 holdings PLC
- Matt Kalish, Co-founder and President of North America, DraftKings
Here’s our choice of the top 5 takeaways from what was a fascinating debate.
1. Impact of the Pandemic
All of the panellists acknowledged the challenges created by lockdowns, but they also agreed that 2020 had also been a valuable learning experience from a business and industry perspective. The impact of the pandemic drove all leading businesses in the industry to find new ways of working, and to think even more creatively about how to engage with customers – all of which will be taken forward. As in many other business sectors, the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the pace of change in all aspects of the iGaming industry. Reflecting on the past year, Jordan Levin said:
“It was a year of learning from a team perspective. No one had all the answers, and there was a lot of improvisation.”
He went on to explain some of the challenges that were also faced by leading businesses across the industry, such as how to bring in new employees and open new offices while everyone was working remotely. As you would expect from a panel of such successful business leaders, their ‘can-do’ attitude enabled them all to find answers to the unique challenges faced by their respective businesses, and even positive outcomes from their experience of the crisis. John Coleman, for example, spoke about learning to communicate far better and more effectively, and added that he and his colleagues had never been more organized than they were in 2020.
Looking ahead, there was a consensus that 2020 had changed the way that leading businesses in the industry will work in the future – and that a ‘hybrid’ model based on a balance of working in the office and from home will become the norm. It could also change attitudes towards recruitment. Talented professionals may have previously chosen not to take up certain positions if a condition of employment was relocating to another country – but the wider acceptance of remote working now gives much more flexibility for employees and employers.
2. US Sports Betting Market
Again, there was agreement among the leaders and legends that the pandemic had accelerated trends which were already emerging before it began. 2020 was a significant year for sports betting in the US in terms of it becoming more widely accepted by sports fans, leagues, teams, media and regulators. A great example which illustrates the accelerating pace of change was given by Matt King: “We rolled out two new states – in Virginia and Michigan – over the span of 18 hours, and I think when we started this journey in sports betting it took us six months to do the first two states.” Another interesting anecdote from Matt gave an insight into how the perceptions of sports betting are changing in the US, and how the industry is moving towards being part of the mainstream. “There are changes going on in terms of acceptance,” he said. “If you look at the first game back of the NBA after the pandemic shutdown in August, you had Charles Barkley talking about the FanDuel odds on the Turner pre-game show – that would have never happened the year before. So I think we are starting to see the gradual introduction of sports betting not just in the local sports conversation, but also in the national sports conversation which creates some really exciting opportunities.” Barkley, a Sports Emmy Award-winning analyst and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, agreed an exclusive multi-year partnership with FanDuel in December last year.
Shimon Akad said 2020 was a fantastic year for Playtech in the US, most notably because of their launch in New Jersey. He added that Playtech see the US as the biggest opportunity for online, anywhere in the world – and they expect the market to be worth tens of billions in the next five years or so. A key factor behind the rapid growth of the market, he said, was the fact that US players are already accustomed to eCommerce.
3. Emerging Markets
While the US will continue to dominate, Latin America, Canada and Eastern Europe were all mentioned as important emerging markets. The speed of development in all of these jurisdictions will of course be largely dependent upon creating robust but pragmatic regulatory frameworks. The panellists discussed their views on the challenges that regulators face in striking the right balance between responsible gaming, taxation, data security considerations, while creating a framework which allows businesses to thrive. Jordan Levin said that one of the most important factors when new markets are opening up was finding the taxation ‘sweet spot’ – high enough to generate meaningful income for the host jurisdiction, but low enough to make it economically viable for operators and suppliers. From a regulatory perspective, he added, it’s essential to have the right balance in place ‘from the get go’, especially regarding player protection. The best way forward, in Jordan’s view, is to be proactive and work with legislators, lobbyists and politicians, to ensure that regulations are set up in a responsible way for the short and long term – and that’s even more important in countries that don’t have experience in iGaming or sports betting.
Yaniv Sherman got the ball rolling on this topic, and he focused on why innovation is particularly important for the growth of the US market. The US, he said, was special in the sense that while it’s at an earlier phase in its development compared to other regulated markets, it’s also the world’s most highly developed eCommerce market. Consumers are used to seamless, frictionless product experiences and this creates a necessity for innovation in order to match their expectations – but it also creates an opportunity to exceed those expectations by creating ground-breaking products. Yaniv explained: “Most of the products in the marketplace today are, in my opinion, the result of a rush to market and are sort of adaptations to a more European classic sportsbook. I think the Daily Fantasy is much closer to what an American product looks like in that regard, and this creates an enormous opportunity to innovate. Also, with the finance applications like Robinhood it looks like there’s an overall convergence between betting and trading – if you want to look at custom-built products that are tailor made for the US consumer we should take a page off of those and have a look at the good things about the customer experience and the language they speak. There are also some challenges around that – regulation on the one hand because we’re in a highly regulated space, but on the other hand the customer experience of opening an account and playing our products can be rather cumbersome due to some of those constraints. So I think we need to develop a more frictionless experience.”
Matt Kalish said he expects to see a lot of growth in in-play betting in the US very soon, with more TV networks starting to integrate that into coverage of live sports to give consumers the type of in-game experience they’re looking for.
Shimon Akad said that leading businesses need to give their product and technology teams the time and resources to experiment so that they can generate the ideas that will lead to the next level of innovation – just as Playtech do with their innovation lab. He said: “Sometimes those ideas will fail because by definition innovation has an inherent risk, but a lot of the time they will come up with amazing things.”
5. Security & Compliance Risks
John Coleman led the debate on this subject. He said: “As we look at new and emerging regulated markets – and even changes within existing regulated markets – the more changes there are in terms of diversification creates a real technological challenge. For my organisation I feel that’s our single biggest compliance risk right now, just how to stay compliant across multiple regulated markets. All of these regulated markets have the same reason for being, which is to protect their players, which all of us on this webinar are hugely supportive of. But it would be nice if there was more co-ordination amongst jurisdictions – it would certainly make our lives easier and I think it would protect the players even more than they are now.”
Moving on to look at the main challenges from a security perspective, he said: “We [Microgaming] have development teams across six continents, we have multiple companies, and hosting sites in multiple jurisdictions. The security landscape and risks grow even greater every day. Traditionally it’s been DDoS attacks, which we’ve all faced – and thankfully we have a great partner with Continent 8 who help us mitigate those attacks every single day. But now we have to be aware of ransomware attacks, and that’s been exacerbated in 2020 with remote working. Obviously, a lot of organisations have rapidly adopted cloud technology, and I suspect that adoption has come before their security teams have caught up, so there’s certainly a risk there.”
He concluded with a neat analogy for non-IT specialists: “I sit down with our security team a lot, and the way they explain it me – as an accountant – is that we can no longer rely just on high walls to protect your house. Now we need bright lights, security guards, bars on the windows, motion sensors, security patrols, alarms and Doberman Pinschers.” In reality, that means adopting best practice regarding security – an example of that is Microgaming achieving the ISO 27001 certification. Working with the right people, the latest technologies, and always ensuring that you are following best practice is the key to effective security, he concluded.
Speaking about Microgaming’s long association with Continent 8 – which spans more than 20 years – John said:
“We see Continent 8 as family. There isn’t a market we have entered without Continent 8, and there isn’t a market that we would enter without Continent 8 – it’s as simple as that. They are a core partner for our business and I’m looking forward to entering many, many more regulated markets side by side with Continent 8.”
We have only listed the highlights – there were many more talking points so please click below to watch the webinar in full.
A huge thanks to our panellists, and to Micky Swindale (Partner, KPMG Global Gaming Team) whose legendary status in the industry made her the ideal choice as moderator, EGR, and of course everyone who attended the webinar.
View the webinar with Spanish subtitles here
View the webinar with Portuguese subtitles here