Playtech Sports terminals took a quarter of a million bets on darts and table tennis totalling close to €6 million in the first month after the UK’s betting shops reopened from the first national lockdown in June.
These numbers, said Lee Drabwell from Playtech Sports (pictured), show that the demand for these ‘alternative sports’ – which enjoyed such an unexpected surge in popularity while the likes of football and horse racing were on hiatus – remained even when the mainstream betting sports started to return.
“While it’s not too great a number in the grand scheme of things, what I am really happy about is the retention rate,” explained Drabwell, the firm’s Regional Director for the UK, Ireland, Belgium and Italy. “It shows that if you provide the right information and live data, particularly when it comes to in-play, then customers will always be happy to consider alternatives beyond the traditional sports.”
As the in-play experience is only available on a terminal rather than over the counter (OTC), football remains a clear favourite with Playtech Sports users, but these ‘lockdown sports’ and horse racing are increasingly part of the “strong shift” towards terminals and the more “digitised way of betting”.
“There’s also been a strong shift in shops towards terminals for other sports, and racing is a clear example of why that’s been happening,” added Drabwell. “Football punters have always loved our SSBTs but racing punters have been traditionally less quick to adapt to a digitised way of betting. Retail reopening enabled them to give it a real try, and it didn’t disappoint.
“Our Racing Post app has been the real driver here, and given customers have everything in one place – meetings and form, placing their bet, putting money in the terminal (all without staff interaction required), has made it an attractive proposition.
“I see this as a strong sign of the direction retail is going to take in 2021, as everything is going to be about fast and easy transactions. Of course, terminals and self-service are going to be key to this as they’re the quickest and easiest way to place a bet in-shop.”
As we enter the second half of Lockdown 2.0 in the UK, Drabwell was speaking to SBC News about what betting shops can learn from the first ‘coming out’ phase, and why he believes self-service betting terminals (SSBTs) should be the main focus of all promotional activity this winter.
“The success of our terminals when it comes to driving incremental revenue and engagement this year would certainly suggest that they should be the focus of all promotional activity once ‘Lockdown 2.0’ in the UK ends,” he said.
“Historically Christmas has been the strongest period in the calendar, and I expect it to remain the same this year, assuming the sporting calendar is here to stay of course! Racing, boxing day fixtures, darts – you name it, bookies should feel confident about seeing a repeat of what we saw in terms of June’s success.
“At the end of the day, we need to remember customers want to come back to betting shops once it’s allowed. Of course, the offering needs to be right, and the correct products provided to make sure they can succeed despite restrictions – and that’s where we come in.”
While Drabwell acknowledges he is making an assumption that the sporting calendar remains unaffected, there is of course the issue of where betting shops come in should the government persist with its regional, tier-based response to the coronavirus post national lockdown.
Last month, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) accused the government of behaving in an “ill-informed and arbitrary” way by including betting shops and casinos in the list of businesses forced to close in areas under Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.
Drabwell agreed that the retail betting industry took all the right steps to keep punters safe. “There were clearly customers who were keen to get back into betting shops, and the restart was also aligned to the return of major football leagues, so it was a perfect way to get things rolling,” he said.
“In terms of precautions, the new normal we have seen has been relatively consistent across most operators’ estates. There are door-entry systems, which allow monitoring of how many customers are allowed at one time, as well as a combination of staff present on the shop floor.
“We’re also seeing strategically located, or in some cases, completely replaced seating. The most important thing has been the partitioning screens, with dividing space between gaming machines and our SSBTs to ensure customers are protected at all times when in shops.”
The concern from the government’s perspective relates to the level of interaction traditionally seen between punters and shop staff for the placement of bets, something lowered of course by the popularity of SSBTs, but also the potential desire to ‘transact’ in the more traditional way post lockdown.
“My main concern before shops opened was that customers may have preferred to go to counters to transact, and whether that was going to change their behaviour in a way that would not be good for our terminals business,” Drabwell admitted.
“However, it was actually the opposite; pre-opening, everyone was talking about using contactless to transact and the desire to minimise contact with other people, which in turn made people feel safe and prefer to use our terminals when returning to shops.”
He concluded: “Given my extensive retail experience, I believe our SSBTs are integral to retail’s future success, and when aligned with the quality staff interaction that customers value so much, then we’re going to be onto a real winner.”