Has COVID-19 changed operators’ casino strategy?

Has COVID-19 changed operators’ casino strategy?

With coronavirus affecting the industry in terms of limited real-world sporting events and extremely reduced retail operations, we asked the CasinoBeats 100 Club if the pandemic will permanently change the strategic direction of the sector. 

The Question

“Has COVID-19 and the temporary loss of sports betting revenue caused betting and gaming operators to permanently change their online casino strategy?”

The options were: 

Yes – The importance of online casino revenue during the pandemic has highlighted its importance to the gambling sector.

Maybe – There’s been added emphasis on online casinos but a permanent shift in focus is unlikely once sports betting is fully back.

No – The pandemic was an anomaly, likely never to be repeated, and normal service will be restored soon enough.

The Response

The CasinoBeats 100 Club delivered a mixture of responses.

The most popular response, attracting 42 per cent of the vote, supported the notion that COVID-19 has permanently changed gaming operators’ online casino strategy.

With the second highest outcome, 32 per cent of members feel that even with the added emphasis on online casino during the pandemic, a permanent change is unlikely.

This group felt that once sports betting is fully back up there won’t be a need for a permanent shift in focus. Closely behind, 26 per cent of respondents believe that once the pandemic is over, ‘normal service’ will soon be restored.

James Myles, an analyst at Etadelta, was one of the CasinoBeats 100 Club members who felt that normality will resume post-pandemic, with the exception of poker stating that: “Those operators have had the opportunity to attract more engagement, and will look to retain the additional players.”

Dmitry Starostenkov, director at EvenBet Gaming, concurred with Myles, believing that the answer to our question really depends on the geographical location and the operators specific audience. 

Providing an example, he commented: “I would say the Middle East area easily switches between sports betting and casino verticals, because they aren’t so sports devoted. There is no established sports-fan culture and sports betting/casino are considered equally as a gambling entertainment.

“Latin America is another story. There is a strong culture of sports fans, especially soccer, and sports betting activities are naturally integrated into this paradigm. So there is no substitution for sports betting by other verticals.”

Yet, King Gaming co-founder, Mark Robson, who believed it unlikely there would be a long-term shift once sports betting makes a full return, highlighted his company’s focus on engaging customers in retention activities.

He noted: “The suspension of sporting events during the COVID-19 pandemic has indeed had an impact on sports betting, but for us, it was more important to engage customers in retention activities, rather than increase focus on player migration to other products. It also provided us with a great opportunity to review our own products, priorities and procedures.

“Our industry can also be somewhat hampered by lack of face-to-face interaction with our customers and geographical lockdowns also saw more diverse sectors impacted in this way too, so it was interesting to see how they handled it – learning from the mistakes they may have made (before we made them), as well as adopting some positive things we may not already have in place.”

Adam Doyle, head of gaming at Tru Narrative, offered a similar view, he said: “The casino sector will come out of COVID very well. It might not continue at the same levels but they will now have additional customers that they never previously saw. I think operators will probably cross-market their products against their casino and sportsbook and see how that goes initially”

On the contrary, Glen Bullen, chief commercial officer at DAOGroup, argued that the loss of sport betting ‘spooked’ many in the industry and made people shake the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ thinking. Bullen said: “What I’ve been seeing is a lot of operators who are now looking ‘outside the box’ as they review their strategies for overall competitiveness, new player attraction, player retention, and entry into new (especially emerging) markets.

“It’s all about making themselves much more resilient should any such an unprecedented shift in the landscape occur again. Future-proofing with a better offering, developed with a new way of thinking. And everyone will benefit from that.”

Agreeing with Bullen yet offering a different theory, Rhi Burns, CCO of Zimpler, expressed that the temporary loss of sports betting won’t affect the operators online strategy but highlighted the emerging market of esports and stressed the importance of operators taking the segment ‘more seriously’.

She concluded: “I don’t believe the temporary loss of sports betting has done much to affect operators’ online casino strategies, but I do think it has made some shifts in overall strategy. We’ve seen a significant movement into esports which, while huge as an industry, has not necessarily been hugely successful in igaming. I think this is the big push that operators and punters needed to take this segment more seriously.

“Then, what with the lack of sports and the new regulations in Sweden, cost cutting is once again becoming a priority for many operators who were coasting along before.”