It’s still early days for online casino in newly regulated US states, but already we are seeing several verticals gaining significant momentum and generating revenue that could one day rival that of sports betting.
Looking at the markets in which online casino is now live, what igaming verticals are really taking off, particularly in the states beyond New Jersey?
It is common knowledge that in the US, the land-based casino environment has a cultural resonance that is more powerful than in any other market worldwide. It naturally follows that many players will want to recreate the excitement of brick-and-mortar experiences digitally, through slots that have similar mechanics, themes, and IP.
However, we are also seeing that feature-rich international casino products have been very successful in the states that have so far gone live with igaming. It is still an evolving market and you can expect to see a coexistence of the simple three-reel, one-line slots with (for example) five-reel, dynamic ways content with wide-area progressives. It is an exciting time to be involved in the industry, where suppliers can help to shape the future direction of travel.
Given the broad diversity of states now online – and casino’s heritage across the US – how do you see individual states’ evolution being shaped by localized player preferences?
Vegas-style stepper slots will continue to be popular across the board, particularly in those states that have a strong land-based heritage. The narrative isn’t that simplistic though, as we have seen that players across the US have responded well to games with high production values that have been brought across from Europe.
As a games studio, we look carefully at an extensive range of data points to work out what might and might not work when developing a new title to roll out across the country. For example, when creating a sports-themed slot it is important to consider that a title based on a particular NFL or NBA franchise from the east coast might perform very well in New Jersey, but fall flat further west. Localization is important, but so is the mass-market appeal. We have also seen that state-by-state differences in regulation are translating to the popularity of one particular game type over another.
How does the revenue created by online casino currently compare with that of sports betting in corresponding states? What does this tell us about igaming’s prospects stateside?
If we look at the official figures from the American Gaming Association, we see that across the six states where igaming is currently permitted – Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – it generated $399.5m in revenue in January 2022, up 83.6 per cent year-on-year. Sportsbooks, both online and retail, generated $538m in revenue across 26 states in the same period. Those figures alone show the potential for igaming to ultimately eclipse the performance of sports betting as it rolls out to new states.
To what extent will sports betting need to remain an acquisition tool? Will online casino alone be enough to attract significant player numbers online without sports betting?
With sky-high acquisition costs being a hot topic in the US now, it makes perfect business sense for operators to look to cross-sell existing sports bettors into casino. For land-based casinos moving into the online space, they also have the chance to leverage their long-standing marketing power to bring players who know and love their brand across to online games.
As mentioned earlier, the revenue figures we are seeing for igaming – even at this early stage of the market’s development in the US – are highly encouraging. At the same time, in an ultra-competitive marketplace, no supplier can afford to rest on their laurels and the smart application of data will be vital in attracting and retaining new audiences. One vital question operators need to ask themselves is, how effective are their retention tools and cross-platform marketing strategies? If the answer is ‘not very’, then they risk missing out on huge revenues.
Looking to demographics – the ‘casino tourist’ who values their annual trip to Las Vegas or similar will always be a challenge to convert online. How can the digital space appeal more to this player?
For those players who enjoy a long, sociable weekend in Las Vegas, they will seek a digital environment that goes as far as possible in recreating the bells and whistles of that casino experience. It’s about stimulating the sort of excitement that on the gaming floor sees entire crowds gather around machines.
That’s a very difficult goal to achieve on a mobile device, but there are strategies you can undertake to heighten the player experience. One aspect is what some in Europe might consider a relatively new innovation, of bonus buying. In the US, these features have been integral in slots for a decade, and I imagine they will soon become similarly popular within online casino. I would also expect that in the coming years, we see a greater emphasis on the social aspect, with group play dynamics coming to the fore.
I also think that a careful and considered approach to branded content could prove to be very powerful in the digital realm in the US. As a country, it is the natural home of the larger-than-life superstar and by selecting the right IP, suppliers can tap into a ready-built set of positive values. At Armadillo Studios, we believe we have chosen a winning brand with widespread appeal in the shape of UFC star Amanda Nunes, and later this year we will be releasing the first game bearing her image.
The original version of this interview was published by SBC Americas under the title US online casino: 2022 forecasts and predictions.