Casino and sports betting group GAMING1 is by far one of Belgium’s best-known suppliers, with over 42 gaming halls and casinos across Belgium, Switzerland and France – as well as 20 online operations globally.
Offering some excellent insight into how land-based vs. online has played out this year, we caught up with GAMING1’s Co-founder and COO, Sylvain Boniver to hear the latest on Europe’s market developments.
First off, for those who don’t know you – can you tell our readers about GAMING1 and what you do?
GAMING1 is a casino and sports betting group, which leads the land-based and online market in its native territory of Belgium and beyond. Leveraging almost three decades of industry experience, our unique business model remains as invaluable as ever.
Combining the network and brand power of a top land-based operator with advanced proprietary technology, we create cutting-edge digital channels for casinos and sportsbooks looking to step up their online operations. In total, we have more than 42 gaming halls and casino resorts in Belgium, Switzerland, and France, as well as managing a portfolio of online operations in regulated markets across the globe.
GAMING1 has a strong track record in Portugal, how has the market performed there this year?
GAMING1 was the first online operator to go live in Portugal with Estoril. The venture has been fruitful, and we’ve enjoyed cultivating such a productive commercial relationship with our valued partners at the company.
Although we’re proud to lead the way in Portugal when it comes to market share, we have no plans to rest on our laurels, and our sights are firmly set on continued growth in the territory. In the first quarter of 2020, we recorded an overall increase in GGR of 19% despite the hiatus on sporting fixtures. With the country’s most popular competitions now back up and running, the future looks promising.
How do you see the current state of the country’s iGaming market? Do you think it differs from other European markets? If so, how?
Portugal is a market which is becoming increasingly competitive. At its inception, commercial activity was restricted to local companies, but it long since attracted widespread international attention.
From a legal perspective, the tax review conducted earlier this year was welcomed by operators. The previous system stifled competition, driving the market underground to the benefit of illegal actors.
The current regime, however, remains burdensome. The black market still comprises more than half of the Portuguese gambling industry’s total commercial activity. The situation isn’t helped by needlessly restrictive regulations, but I’m optimistic that the situation will be resolved in due course.
How much of a land-based tradition do we have there? Is it harder to convert land-based players than in other markets?
It’s fair to say that Portugal’s land-based market is unique. It differs radically from that found in neighbouring Spain, for example. Casinos are the only place where you’ll find land-based bettors enjoying their favourite games – the slot machines seen in Spanish bars, arcades and even street corners do not exist in Portugal.
The country is currently home to just 10 casinos, three of which belong to our partner, Estoril Sol. That makes it a lot more challenging to create an omnichannel experience for players throughout Portugal, so we’ve chosen to focus on the regions where we are physically present.
When it comes to player behaviour, land-based customers have a different profile to those who only bet online. The cultures that exist around both verticals can also be very different, so the idea that it’s easy and effortless to bring land-based players online is fatally flawed.
Regarding player behaviour, land-based customers have a different profile than pure online customers and also different ‘cultures’; so, the idea that the conversion from land based to online is natural and easy, is not that simple.
How has COVID-19 affected the online partnerships through and betting and gaming services you offer to land-based operators?
The closure of land-based establishments has underlined the imperative for operators in that vertical to expand their online activities. Our partners have been successful at redirecting land-based customers to their digital operation, thus limiting the financial impact of the outbreak.
The pandemic has also accelerated many of the partnerships that are in our pipeline, but have not yet been finalised. We’re in discussion with a number of operators looking to step up their online offering which, in today’s market, is a matter of survival given the temporarily reduced presence of land-based.
Why are these better for operators in the current climate than a traditional supplier agreement?
The difference is that we win or lose together. Traditional suppliers often continue to charge for services regardless of the commercial success enjoyed by their operator clients. GAMING1, on the other hand, shares the same interests and objectives as its partners.
With more than 27-years of industry experience under our belt, operators know that GAMING1 is a partner that can always be relied upon. Focusing on a small number of projects means that we can invest more time and resources into a given partnership than traditional suppliers would. Unlike conventional providers, GAMING1 proactively helps operators bring land-based players online.
What does the short-term future hold for Europe’s casino industry, and how can you help your partners during this turbulent time?
Changes in player habits, coupled with Covid-induced restrictions, are likely to create challenges for operators without an online outlet. Those who have a synergised land-based and digital offering, on the other hand, will be much better equipped to weather the storm that is sweeping the global economy. For those in the former category, GAMING1 stands ready to help deliver an omnichannel experience to their players.
Which new European markets are on your radar? Are there any we should be keeping a close eye on?
We have our sites firmly set on French expansion, and are creating a land-based network in the country with our exciting new brand, ‘Circus’. We currently operate 6 casinos there, including a Club in Paris, and have undertaken a joint venture with valued partners JOA, who run 33 French-based casinos.
Of course, we are also eagerly awaiting online casino regulation and expect that the covid crisis will accelerate that process.
The Netherlands market also offers interesting prospects. Its authorities have just adopted a law to regulate the gambling industry, and we are preparing to enter the country with a top tier partner, so stay tuned for more info soon enough!
From Esports to Emerging Markets: Deep Dive into Sports Betting Trends 24’ with Alexander Kamenetskyi
As each new year begins, there is a growing interest in anticipating the trends that will shape the months ahead. Could you provide insights into the sports betting trends that are expected to be relevant in 2024?
Our SOFTSWISS Sportsbook team has reflected on the past year and observed that the sports betting landscape largely maintains its trajectory, with several key trends that the industry is already familiar with.
Firstly, esports is set to continue its solid rise within sports betting. Over the past few years, esports has steadily climbed the ranks, with games like Counter-Strike gaining significant traction among bettors. With projections indicating a substantial increase in viewership, reaching an estimated 640 million viewers by 2025, according to reports from Newzoo, esports presents a lucrative opportunity for operators to tap into.
Additionally, the dominance of mobile betting is expected to persist, with mobile devices driving the majority of operator gross gaming revenue (GGR). This trend underscores a preference for convenience, particularly in live betting scenarios. That is why we continually enhance our mobile applications and websites to cater to evolving consumer demands.
Also, with the emergence of newly regulated markets, operators are prioritising certification and compliance to ensure the integrity of their offerings. This includes obtaining certifications such as GLI-33 and licences such as MGA, which the SOFTSWISS Sportsbook received last year.
Overall, the sports betting trends in 2024 underscore the importance of adaptability and innovation. Operators must navigate an increasingly dynamic landscape driven by technological advancements and regulatory changes.
You have named a few trends that seem relevant for both casinos and betting projects. Does this mean that both types of projects should focus on the same aspects?
Yes and no. While the iGaming market shares common trends like regulations, each area has specific considerations. I would mention one interesting point between sports betting and casino betting.
Last year, analysing the results of the FIFA World Cup and talking with our partners, I found out that there was a 10–20% drop in online casino betting turnover during this sports event. This shows that even casino-only projects have at least 10% of players interested in sports. In practice, it means that during every major sporting event, a casino will more likely lose a minimum of 10% of its turnover. That does not sound nice.
That is why adding sports betting opportunities to online casinos would be a great option, especially since it’s now possible to give players a seamless experience. And I am talking not only about the SOFTSWISS Casino Platform. Our Sportsbook can be easily integrated with every casino platform on the market.
We have cases when casino projects not only opened a sportsbook but also migrated to our sports betting platform. By the way, promoting sportsbooks is much easier than casinos, as sports events help a lot. Also, player conversion in sports betting is many times higher because, in my opinion, it is more socially accepted.
What do you mean by seamless experience?
A player simply sees no barriers moving from casino to sportsbook. In most cases, it looks like an additional tab on the website. The most convenient thing is a seamless wallet. Players can use the money they deposited at the casino for their sportsbook activities.
We make the experience seamless not only for players but also for our partners. Our suite of products offers operators a comprehensive range of solutions, including Affilka, the Casino Platform, the Game Aggregator, the Jackpot Aggregator, and a payment gateway. These products are designed to integrate with each other, creating a cohesive ecosystem.
Going back to trends and predictions for this year, which markets would you say are the most promising?
In our market focus, we are looking closely at Latin America, especially Brazil, and Africa, with a specific eye on South Africa and Nigeria. These regions offer exciting growth opportunities, and our strategy is geared towards unlocking their potential to better cater to the unique needs of these markets.
This year, SOFTSWISS has already acquired a majority stake in Turfsport, a leading South African provider of multichannel wagering software for sports, horse racing, and lotto. It helped us officially enter the African market and extend our product portfolio.
Paving the Way for Regulated iGaming market: Will India See the Rise?
By Dr Aruna Sharma, Practitioner Development Economist & Retd Secretary GoI
Could you provide insights into the current market potential for iGaming in India, and what key challenges do you anticipate the industry facing in the near future?
The popularity of online gaming as a form of entertainment in India has surged with the widespread availability of inexpensive smartphones and affordable internet access. Global investors, developers, and other industry stakeholders are keenly watching the growth story of the Indian online gaming industry which has witnessed a 28% CAGR between FY20-23 and holds a market valuation of ₹16,428 crores.
However, instead of direct contribution in the economic growth story of India the online gaming industry is contributing in terms of increasing revenue (direct and indirect tax) collection (year-on-year). Additionally, the sector has attracted budding tech developers and entrepreneurs by providing them employment opportunities and fueling innovation to keep up with the rising demand for AI and other such immersive gaming experiences.
After some crucial and elucidative changes in the regulatory and taxation policies by the government in 2023, one can hope that 2024 for iGaming will thin the clouds that are shadowing accelerated growth of iGaming in India. 2024 holds promise for iGaming in India. While full regulation may take time, positive court ruling and increased focus on non-RMG segments could cause a casual gaming boom, potentially unlocking a multi-billion dollar market. However, regulatory uncertainty and potentially high tax rates remain a hurdle for attracting investments and interest of other stakeholders in this growing market and industry.
What are the main challenges facing Indian iGaming and how different are these challenges within the different regions of India?
- The government is focusing on reducing threats like false information, mental health problems, money laundering, and financial losses for users by bringing rules and regulations such as the IT Rules, establishing SROs and SRBs.
- Adequate regulation, that is conducive to doing business, is needed, first of all, to protect the Indian players. Because in the current situation, Indians are being abused by countless nefarious parties. Checking and curbing the illegal gaming platforms and enhancing mechanisms to ensure increased user awareness and behaviour while indulging in online gaming.
- A pressing concern that requires governments urgent attention is to put in place parameters that differentiate between games of skill and chance for taxation.
- As a fallout of high and retrospective taxation the industry is facing job losses, advertising and spending cuts and reduced investments in research and innovations.
Additionally, policy and regulatory compliance for the platforms have become increasingly complex with both center and state governments legislating on the same subjects and multiple ministries regulating the industry.
Delve into the necessity for a regulatory framework that is both balanced and adaptable.
Unregulated framework where user base is large leads to spread of iGaming in gray market with all its vices. By regulating the iGaming industry, the government can unlock other positive outcomes, such as increased tax revenues, economic growth via attracting more foreign investment, job creation, and better consumer protection. A thorough regulatory framework will enable transparent parameters to distinguish and license the game of skill accordingly and rest will fall under game of chance.
Regulations always bring in transparency and ensure there is no misleading advertising or non-payment of legal taxes. Additionally, regulations such as the IT Amendment Rules, 2023 have ascertained a robust grievance redressal mechanism by setting up of the SRBs and SROs.
Further a balanced and stable regulatory framework could provide assurance and confidence to the international iGaming companies in paying taxes while doing business in a regulated and transparent market, create jobs, and invest in the country and its people. Thus, comprehensive regulations, that are conducive to doing business and protect the Indian players, who are being abused by countless nefarious parties are necessary in the current iGaming landscape.
Consequently, foreign iGaming companies operating legally have consistently demanded that the Indian government establish an adequate and stable regulation and taxation regime. Instead, the government has consistently chosen to unwisely prohibit it, thus pushing this whole industry underground. Furthermore, iGaming companies face unfair persecution and baseless lawsuits from India.
The new 28% GST on online gaming has produced divided opinions about the industry’s future in India. How has the industry reacted to it?
Industry initially panicked at the 28% tax, fearing slow growth and reduced investments. The partial relief, clarification on the regulatory compliances have brought cautious optimism. Smaller firms remain anxious, fearing the high rate still discourages players and favors larger businesses. Long-term impact depends on pending Supreme Court judgment on game classification and potential tweaks to the tax structure.
The applicability of a flat 28% tax on the total value of bets placed in online gaming, irrespective of whether they are games of skill or chance has upset the applecart that was moving smoothly with the evolution of agreed principles among SROs and the oversight by SRB with clear distinction of the regulatory body between Games of Skill (permissible games) with that of Games of Chance.
The matter is now being reviewed by a Group of Ministers (GoMs) comprising of officials from ministries such as the Home, Finance, MeitY, etc. to reconsider the GST and how to counter episodes of money laundering and other such scams and frauds.
Finally, what can we expect from Indian iGaming as a whole this year, if you were to sum it up in three key points?
It is expected that 2024 will set pace by bringing in clarity in rule making, consistency of rules, inculcating a more stable policy environment that enables India to not miss the bus of becoming a hub for developers. The iGaming industry is expected to tighten its grip for filling the digital divide, enabling learning of cognitive skills and enhance conscious citizen messaging to further tap into the positive side of iGaming.
Additionally, iGaming industry should leverage technologies like blockchain to further the purpose of transparency and tracking of digital payment as a technical solution and for permanent storage of records to curb money laundering. Alongside formulation of regulatory policies, a stricter implementation of policies such as IT Rules (establishing SRBs), mandatory KYC, and compliance with Advertisement Standard Council in India (ASCI) norms for iGaming industry need to be inculcated in ensuring safe and secure gaming platforms.
The future of the gaming industry holds promise of growth, however, there is still a hazard that due to absent market regulation and destructive policies, international iGaming companies shun India, sending an unwelcoming signal to many other potential foreign investors.
Software is complex and success hard to achieve, Q&A w/ Max Francis Founder of Black Cow Technology
Online gambling operators continually engage with different software projects but the rate of failure remains incredibly high. This is usually due to time pressures placed on the project. To learn more about software development, and some of the pitfalls operators need to be aware of, we spoke to Max Francis, founder of Black Cow Technology and 25 year veteran of software development. Max also talks about Agile and Rapid Application Development, and how by adopting these approaches, and working with a specialist software developer, operators can hugely increase the chances of success of any software project.
What are some of the main challenges operators and suppliers face when it comes to software development?
Software development is about solving a problem and the very nature of this means that we don’t know how long it will take. This is one of the biggest challenges operators and suppliers face when it comes to software projects. They struggle to understand that software development is a creative process and that we are trying to solve a problem we haven’t tackled before and we simply don’t know how long it will take to do this. This doesn’t reconcile with the date-based mentality of most organisations when it comes to deadlines and completion. This often sees projects rushed and hurried to meet an arbitrary deadline and this usually results in the project falling short of the mark or failing completely. It’s much less painful for all involved if there is a universal, upfront understanding that we can never know how long a software project will actually take.
What do companies need to consider if they are to complete software projects successfully – on time, on budget and in a way that effectively solves the issue?
Operators and suppliers need to make business commitments of their own and they need to be able to rely on the software provider they are working with on the project. To be able to do that, both sides need to accept the project is going to vary and evolve over time, and that they will have to trade off three crucial dimensions if it is to be delivered successfully: features, quality and timescales. It is impossible to secure all three and at least one will have to give. So, if a project needs to go live by a certain date, that might be fine, but functionality can’t be fixed for that date. If the project needs certain functionality, then you can’t set timescales. If certain functionality is absolutely required by a certain date then the quality will have to give. Most projects try for all three – features, timescales and quality; and this is why they fail.
It seems that being realistic about what can be achieved is key.
It is indeed. When it comes to it, a software development project ends up in one of three places. Good with all the features but not quick; good and quick but not with all the features; or all the features and quick, but not good. The latter approach, perhaps surprisingly, can be useful for prototyping and proof-of-concept projects but care must be taken when developing without quality. All too often, trial projects end up seeping into mainstream production and people wonder why the quality is so poor. In my experience, it’s much better to be realistic about what can actually be achieved rather than trying to run a project with blindly perceived “needs” that just can’t be met. This doesn’t mean scaling back ambitions, it just means understanding the compromises. That said, to be able to predict what can be done, we need to understand and deliver small useful chunks of what we know rather than failing to deliver based on what we want. It’s always best to be realistic, and Agile and Rapid Application Development principles help us to do this.
Can you tell us more about Agile and Rapid Application Development principles?
At Black Cow we have the mantra “something useful to someone, sooner”. It’s essentially about partnership-oriented iterative delivery. Satya Nadella of Microsoft put it quite nicely: “set and repeatedly meet short-term goals”. The central idea of any Agile development practice is that we don’t know what we’re going to eventually need, so expect change and collaborate to deliver for the biggest difference to the business now. Think vertical slices rather than layers: do some of it fully rather than lots of it partially. Everything flows much more easily in our projects once our partners understand that it’s ultimately about delivering to their imminent business need. For me, the most important aspect is the partnership – all parties are delivering this project. We’re not trying to ruin your day by telling you that it can’t all be done; we’re trying to help you plan! Choose the compromises before they choose themselves.
Can you give a few real-world examples of what these approaches look like?
So, it’s good to have a plan but make every effort to base your plans on what can actually be achieved now rather than what you ultimately want to achieve. Then you need to recognise that plans always change. It’s important to tackle small enough chunks to allow yourself a better chance of success by predictably delivering, then delivering to the imminent business need. And be sensible about what that need is. To determine this, look to solve today’s problems and not the problems you might have tomorrow (unless that is in itself today’s problem). Recognise that there will always be compromises.
Think progress and not perfection. Success comes from delivering as consistently as both sides can manage and seeking to optimise at all times. Adjust the process based on the progress you are making. Don’t believe anyone who tells you they will deliver on time – they are only saying this and can’t guarantee it. This includes the customer providing material to the software developer such as specifications and responses – this is also a form of delivery.
Finally, always treat timescale requirements with suspicion. You must ask if time really is of the essence or whether it is just a desire to get something done as quickly as possible. A real deadline means the project fails completely if it’s missed. This is usually not the case.
What do operators and suppliers need to look for in a software development partner? And what should the working relationship between both parties look like?
Working effectively and with the right software provider is mission-critical. The supplier and the customer need to deliver, support and commit to each other. There are no sides here, this is a partnership of equals. It’s a relationship that works best when the customer keeps the supplier focused on the requirements and the supplier keeps the customer focused on what’s technically possible. In this way both parties converge on a solution and are equally committed to the shared goal. “I’m the customer and this is what I want” doesn’t get software delivered. A more intelligent approach is needed.
Software projects are highly complex interactions between several parties with requirements that change on the fly. Projects also continue well after delivery – it’s never about providing a fixed bunch of requirements as a package and then you’re done. That’s why we ensure we take the customer on the journey with us, acting as a true partnership. This is why non-software businesses should engage good software experts for their software projects, allowing both sides to get on with what they do best and allowing the project to succeed.
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