In what has been an ‘unbelievable year’ for betting operators and media and marketing companies alike, the vast majority of firms believed that they had benefited from the after effects of COVID-19, as was the consensus from the guest speakers at the SBC Digital Summit CIS event.
Mark McGuinness, Director of Marketing and Customer Success at Dam Mad Media and moderator of the ‘How 2020 changed the industry’ panel session, praised the innovation of firms which had experienced ‘light bulb moments’ during the lockdown.
“2020, let’s face it, has been horrific but there have been some positives to come out of it,” he said. “For me, the industry has come together which is great and people have come together. We’ve clearly become more agile in our approach and how we do business operations.
“The industry has made good strides forward, not just in the CIS region but across Europe, the UK, North America, working and centralising responsible gambling within the marketing operators.”
Additionally, diversification of niche products and esports in particular were pinpointed as key areas of interest for operators by CEO of Betbazar, Oleksandr Iaroshenko.
He explained how the company had expanded their reach into new markets to provide customers with more content than ever before: “Within Ukraine, Kiev and other cities we created our esports competitions. We actually started before COVID, but during COVID we had a very, very high demand for the product so we created eFootball events, like FIFA, and eBasketball NBA events and the same for MMA and NHL.
“In real sports, we handle two tournaments in table tennis and regular tennis, and these names I believe are now known worldwide; the Setka Cup and Esports Battle. Pretty much all bookmakers were using and are still using it in their live offering. So for us, we’re one of the success stories on the panel.”
Betbazar was not the only company to reap the rewards. Vedran Katic, COO of Pin Projekt, announced that the software firm had been nominated for an accolade amidst all the commotion of the Coronavirus.
“We were in the same position with esports, which is an emerging vertical,” he explained. “We are quite unique with esports betting and numbers, and with a lack of sports, casinos and live casinos, operators with whom we’ve already started negotiating have come to us in times of complete lockdown in order to complete integration and launch our product. So we’ve been in a very good position for the past seven or eight months.
“We’ve actually been shortlisted for the Best Live Streaming Product for SBC, and one of the requests in the shortlist was the success in the past year so we’re very lucky.”
Conversely, countries such as Georgia have struggled to stay afloat with a lack of tourists entering its borders for vacations due to travel bans, which has subsequently had an impact upon land-based venues.
CMO of Casino Adjara, Maka Gorgadze, detailed the online gambling company’s declining figures: “The situation is not very optimistic for land-based casinos. Statistically in the Batumi region, around 85% [of figures] are based on tourists and guests, and if we take a local market in Tbilisi, around 50% are tourists.
“So, our entire land-based casinos are based on tourists, which is 70% of tourists compared to 30% of locals. Money wise as well, locals are not the ones you can operate on. Most of our guests who gamble are from regions like Iran, Kuwait and Azerbaijan which are countries where gambling is prohibited so they would come here.
“We’ve been closed since March and we’ve tried to have meetings with government officials but they never came back to us. Employees tried to strike and do their share to the government but that didn’t help because the community looks at this business in a very negative way so most of the people are happy that casinos are closed.”
The conversation turned to how companies might have changed the way they reacted to the situation at hand, given the chance. Head of Business Development at Clever Advertising Group, Marcos Oliveira’s company grinded to a halt during the pandemic, underestimating the scale of the impact that COVID would have on the industry.
“The first mistake that we made as a company was not believing this was serious enough that at least sports betting was closing down for a while,” he conceded. “We didn’t switch to casino products or esports fast enough because we didn’t predict that the entire industry of sports would just stop. This is the first time in my life that I’ve seen the world completely stop. Back in March, I’d never have believed that the Premier League would stop.
“We always thought it would just be one week then two, three, four or five weeks. We just stood still and waited and we should have reacted more fiercely by changing the products and the cross selling, making a complete 180-degree turn.
“For example, poker was the winner of COVID-19. PokerStars skyrocketed, GGNetwork went completely ballistic and partypoker went wild. A product that was on the downslide since 2010 completely revolutionised.”
Katic concurred that the ‘social’ element of poker was the key factor in turning people’s attention back to the game during the self-isolation period, but reaffirmed that the only mistake Pin Projekt made was not capitalising on this upturn.
“My company also develops poker and we run it in three locally licensed markets and it went up 300% at least. It makes sense looking retroactively now as poker is very inherently social.
“We were not prepared for such a big rise and did not take advantage of after the lockdown ended and keeping as many of these active clients after lockdown. So we went back to normal right away because we weren’t ready to engage those users and retain them better.”
When asked what the future might hold for gambling businesses, Dainis Niedra, Chief Operating Officer at Enlabs, suggested it may be ambitious to expect major sporting tournaments to still go ahead as re-scheduled for next year.
Niedra’s company had their online licence suspended for two months after a state of emergency was declared in Sweden and only when it was lifted was it returned.
“I do not really believe the vaccine could help us that much,” he admitted. “I believe there will be some kind of light at the end of the tunnel somewhere but it’s quite hard to imagine how we, as a whole world, can run the Olympic Games and how we can run the European Championships. Even without having spectators, it’s still very unclear. Sports are under a big question.”