Why is affordability such a focus right now and especially in the UK?
Since the 2005 Gambling Act has been under review from late 2020, affordability has been heavily discussed as being a central part of any changes to requirements that might be brought into force. It has become increasingly common for operators to be fined for failings relating to player protection and safer gambling – the Gambling Commission has handed out more than £54m in fines over the past two years alone – and many stakeholders believe these issues could be mitigated or greatly reduced with more comprehensive and robust affordability requirements.
Is it really key to helping better protect players? Or does it need to be combined with other additional safeguards?
Affordability has the potential to greatly improve player protections and ensure players are gambling responsibly. That is why as a result of the review of the 2005 Gambling Act affordability checks will likely become a key requirement for operators to support both their own player protection initiatives and their customers. But affordability is not the only saving grace for the industry. All areas of the industry must come together and collaborate on efforts and technologies in order to fully implement change. In short, affordability is just one piece of the puzzle that makes up comprehensive player protection processes and protocols.
What are the current requirements for UK operators regarding affordability? How might that change?
Currently, the Gambling Commission sees affordability as identifying vulnerable players and limiting the amount of marketing that operators can target at them. Regulation is quite ambiguous, so different operators have a different understanding of what is expected of them. But affordability requirements will undoubtedly be more clearly defined following the review of the 2005 Gambling Act. The Gambling Commission has directly said that affordability checks are something it is heavily focused on within the review and that it will play a more centralised role in its updated regulations.
How can operators meet these requirements without impacting the player experience? How does your Affordability for Gambling Tool help in this regard?
It all comes down to striking the right balance between player experience and player protection. With problem gambling continuing to rise, more focus needs to be placed on protecting players over the experience that is provided to them, at least to a certain extent. W2’s solution helps operators to strike this balance; it works seamlessly in the background of the onboarding journey or based on various markers of harm triggers so as to not impact the player’s journey. Of course, if something which needs investigating comes back from the affordability check, it is the responsibility of the operator to deal with it further.
Do you think the UK market is heading towards over-regulation? What about specifically when it comes to affordability?
As mentioned above, it is all about balance. I wouldn’t say it is heading towards over-regulation, but we can’t be naïve to the fact that operators need to balance player protection with commercial viability. Some current affordability solutions such as open banking (which requires players to agree to give their bank data) could be considered as impacting the player experience too much. A player could simply go to another operator if they don’t want to take the extra steps to pass affordability.
Our solution works seamlessly enough in the background to prevent the player experience from being impacted by affordability checks, whilst still ensuring that operators can truly protect players. It can be a fine line to tread, but that is why we have developed our affordability solution so that operators can be confident they are protecting players while also not negatively impacting their experience to the point where they go to another brand that is perhaps not as stringent in its affordability requirements and checks.
Do you think other regulated markets will look to tighten requirements around affordability?
The consultation from the Gambling Commission is being closely watched by regulators around the world. The UK gambling industry is being used as the litmus test for how safer gambling initiatives should be moving forwards. With regulated gambling rolling out across the US, and countries such as the Netherlands opening up their own online gambling marketplace in 2021, it is highly likely these jurisdictions will swiftly follow updated regulations should the work of the UK Gambling Commission be a success.
How can operators prepare for any changes that might come now?
It is often overlooked just how much work operators are currently undertaking when it comes to their player protection initiatives. The real issue within the industry at present is the lack of clarity and understanding as to what best-practice safe gaming actually looks like. The review of the Gambling Act has been rumbling on for two years now (with further delays likely due to Boris Johnson’s departure) and quite frankly the industry is still struggling. That is why collaboration between stakeholders is going to be key. W2’s affordability is one part of what the industry needs as a whole, but we believe it can significantly assist operators in protecting players when combined with what those companies are already doing from a safer gambling perspective.
A unique World Cup – on and off the pitch!
The World Cup is held every four years and this edition of the most famous football tournament on the planet is unique given the venue and the fact it sits right in the middle of the domestic season.
With that in mind, how does this affect user engagement and betting patterns over the course of this prestigious competition? We spoke to BETEGY CEO, Alex Kornilov who gives his insights into how successful engagement with players could be.
With football already Europe’s most popular sport, what new ways of user engagement have you put together for the World Cup?
This football season brought many ways to explore user engagement into the industry. The World Cup in Qatar is the real test to show the best approaches to customers’ experience. At BETEGY, we knew that online betting would thrive during the tournament, and we have managed to deliver creative visuals with live data from all the matches, which can be used in various formats and presented on different platforms.
The World Cup is being hosted right in the middle of the domestic football season across Europe. Does this make the World Cup more or less popular from a betting perspective?
The World Cup has always been one of the most significant events in the betting industry – and I see no reason for this iteration to be less popular than before. In addition, the tournament duration has been decreased to 28 days, meaning more matches squeezed into a shorter space of time. This is definitely going to help keep the audience’s excitement and engagement at their highest.
The only competitor for the attention of sports punters will be the upcoming holiday hustle when people will be getting all set for the festive season. However, I don’t see that as a big risk. With football fans watching the biggest football event of the year from the comfort of their own homes, it’s an excellent opportunity to attract a new audience to the betting market.
A Middle Eastern country is hosting the World Cup for the first time. How is this unique environment playing to BETEGY’s strengths, given the majority of fans are watching from home?
With more fans watching football from home, keeping them entertained with the most high-quality offering and products is very important. Players in the industry will compete for the fans’ attention and will do their best to build a scalable relationship with them beyond the World Cup. Live scores, statistics, and betting prices in various markets must be delivered to the users’ screens with no delay and with the best look and feel. This is one of the aspects BETEGY is the best at – and we have thoroughly prepared to help our clients solve the pain points related to it.
With Europe not due to host another World Cup until 2030 at the earliest, is it a positive for technology and engagement that the tournament is being held in nations where football popularity is on the rise?
The next World Cup will take place in 16 different cities across North America. This tournament is probably the most important in the context of how “soccer” has been promoted in the United States recently. On one side, the USSF and the MLS clubs have been working a lot to promote soccer locally by bringing top-class players into the league. On the other hand, the US has rarely stuck to the traditional European perception of sport and football in particular. Sport in the US serves its goal – to entertain the audience. Strategists at NBA or NFL would do almost anything to keep fans engaged and ensure all the remote viewers are enjoying the show.
Also, this new, next-gen audience is highly discerning – which pushes the market to deliver innovative solutions and ideas to engage, excite and entertain. For sports tech and entertainment companies, it’s a huge opportunity and a challenge at the same time to find a key to the hearts and minds of potential new football fans. Some best practices for the US market are already known, so bringing football to new horizons is a certain path to making this game even more beautiful.
How can companies capture this new wave of interest?
US sports fans are already used to high standards of the content delivered to them. Everyone who wants to surf this wave of delight should definitely focus on innovation and quality. I’ve noticed that people love to know what’s happening on the pitch and, at the same time, are always willing to guess what’s going to happen next. The rise of technology helps to understand the game better, it gives birth to new betting markets, but it also helps companies enhance the users’ involvement in the game.
With the US online betting market opening, many players from the industry are seeking an opportunity to test their best offering on new audiences. Since soccer is undoubtedly on the rise, a chance to attract American bettors became a significant pull factor for most industry members – and we’re very excited with what we’re doing at BETEGY.
It has been 20 years since a non-European country won the World Cup. Do you think a European nation will win this prestigious tournament this year given the first round of results?
The first round has shown that football has advanced at all levels, especially geographically. For example, some national teams from Asia have had tremendous results against supposedly much stronger rivals from South America and Europe. And it’s not only about the result – those teams’ performance and style of play are a delight to watch. At this stage, almost any underdog has the chance to proceed to the knockout stages and refute the odds.
In my opinion, some Latin American national teams have a high chance of winning the World Cup. Still, they’ll need to deliver their best performance against the highly-experienced European contenders. It will be fascinating to watch it all happening. And may the best team win!
Exclusive Q&A w/ Paul Buianov, Founder and CEO at BetCare
Why is customer service so important for online casino operators? How does it allow them to stand out from their rivals?
Customer service is one of the most powerful player acquisition tools available to online casino and sportsbook operators. It allows brands to quickly build trust with players, and to answer any questions they may have before signing up, depositing and playing. This makes it a very important part of the onboarding process. Customer support is very much the front line for operators and the first point of contact the player will have with the brand. It’s also vital to retention, with good customer service providing players with answers to any questions they may have, resolving technical issues and strengthening responsible gambling processes and procedures. This means that customer service can be a significant differentiator, making players feel better looked after and more appreciated than at rival brands. The personal touch should never be underestimated, as this is often what keeps players coming back for more.
What are the key challenges that operators face when it comes to customer support? Does this differ from market to market? If so, how?
The greatest challenge with customer support in any market is ensuring that player questions are answered and that requests are satisfied. This might sound easy, but it’s not. Customer support must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Agents must have a deep understanding of the online casino/sportsbook and how it works, while also being able to communicate with players with patience and empathy, and in a language they understand. This is especially challenging for operators active in multiple markets around the world – like the rest of their proposition, customer support must be localised.
How can these challenges be overcome?
To overcome these challenges, operators must build out a sophisticated customer support function with a highly trained team that can provide round-the-clock support in the market where their brands are active. What’s more, they must not be afraid to communicate with players – ultimately, communication is what makes customers feel valued and important to the brand. Internally, customer support must have a clear understanding of the business and the casino/sportsbook and have a direct line of communication with other departments and teams. This is the only way issues can be effectively escalated and resolved. As you can tell, customer support is a vast, all-encompassing part of the business and that’s why many operators look to outsource this part of the business to specialist third parties.
What does gold standard customer support look like? How can it be achieved?
In addition to the above, gold-standard customer support must be available to support players across all touchpoints and moments in their journey with the casino or sportsbook. This covers from the first time they land on the site through onboarding, depositing, playing, withdrawing and loyalty. That’s why it is so important for agents to be highly trained and also work hand in hand with other departments in order to be able to deliver the support players need with any aspect of the brand or their play.
Is customer service important from a responsible gambling perspective? How?
Yes, it is vital. Effective responsible gambling comes down to communication with players and customer support agents are best placed to do this. By asking the right questions, they can understand player behaviours and help to determine if they are displaying signs of problem play. Those with the right training can also make interventions and direct players to the support they need. But customer service can also be preventive, making players aware of the risks of gambling addiction and helping them use the tools available to keep in control of their play. Ultimately, prevention is the best approach as it stops players going on to generate gambling problems, and customer support is a very effective preventative tool.
Why should operators look to outsource customer support rather than build an in-house team?
Building out a customer service function is a significant undertaking, especially for smaller operators that tend to have to prioritise other areas of the business. Customer support specialists such as BetCare can take control of the entire function and localise it for each of the markets the operator targets. We have the experience and the expertise to know what it takes to deliver five-star support, and the team in place to provide it. We also offer a range of additional services and solutions, such as reactivation, attracting players including mass-mailing and SMS campaigns along with KYC, risk payments and analysis of players’ behavioural patterns.
We pay special attention to VIP players, not only by providing exceptional service in a range of languages but also by varying our communication channels. We initiate communication with VIPs and, even more importantly, via the platforms they want to use.
Exclusive interview with Vladimir Malakchi: Evoplay kicks-off in Ireland!
Capping off an outstanding year for Evoplay with multiple industry awards and deals with major providers, including Relax Gaming, Bragg Gaming Group and Fortuna, we sat down with Evoplay’s CCO, Vladimir Malakchi to talk through his plans for their Irish debut.
The burgeoning Irish market is one of the fastest-growing markets in the iGaming landscape, but what promise does it hold for Evoplay?
I would say that the Irish market’s steady expansion stems from a crucial factor – a strong demand for iGaming. The latest research illustrates that Irish gamblers constitute one of the largest iGaming audiences across Europe. To be specific, around 59% of Ireland’s population regularly gambles online, rendering it a particularly attractive jurisdiction for providers that are looking to expand into up-and-coming markets.
Our recently established partnership with Novibet has allowed us to unlock the Irish market and reach iGaming enthusiasts across the country with our highly sought-after titles, including 52 gamification-packed video slots and 10 instant games, featuring bestsellers such as our World Cup-inspired Penalty Shoot-out.
How are you looking to cater to Irish players’ preferences, and how does that impact your game development strategy?
Online casino is in good company amongst some of the most popular types of entertainment in Ireland, and our rich portfolio is more than suitable to provide its players with the experiences they desire. The people in Ireland are sociable, outgoing, entertaining, and enjoy participating in healthy competition thanks to the nation’s rich heritage in sports.
Evoplay’s games are well-known for their innovative and gamified elements, which are core tenets of the development process surrounding each product. For this reason, we can rest assured that the variety of content we provide caters to all demographics of Irish players, with titles stacked full of social features such as leaderboards, live chats, progress systems, and tournaments.
The inclusion of these features ensures maximum excitement for players, thanks to their support of social interaction and healthy competition between players, with the experiences further enhanced by strong betting features, customisation, and well-designed peripherals.
Is there a particular demographic of Irish player that your products have seen success with?
As our development strategy is to create products that capture the imaginations of a broad audience, our games are popular with a real variety of demographics, from conservative players all the way to the next generation. Those coming from a background of traditional casino games will find a lot of joy in our impressive selection of our retro slots, such as the Fruit Super Nova series, while next-gen players seeking something fresh and unique can dive into our collection of modern experiences, featuring innovative yet easy-to-understand titles stacked full of social elements.
With almost half of the Irish population being interested in football, supporting football clubs and consuming a spread of sports content, our renowned football-themed instant game – Penalty Shoot-out – has every chance to become the next big hit in the market during the World Cup and beyond.
How have your Irish-themed slots been received by players in the region?
We already have Irish-themed titles in our portfolio, and that’s not only in regard to slots but instant games too, which have become the perfect accompaniment to Saint Patrick’s Day and a portion of our more traditional content.
Ireland as a country has a very rich culture and supplies us with so many exciting opportunities to develop themes and plots to create leading experiences. I am sure that the distinctive charm and the local peculiarities of Irish culture will inspire us to develop more titles that feature elements of Irish heritage in the months ahead.
Having recently taken your sought-after games portfolio live with Novibet, do you have any other operator deals on the horizon?
Ireland is a high-potential market with an online casino vertical generating more than €200 million year on year. Establishing an agreement with an operator as respected as Novibet is the first step in reaching Irish customers and making a statement about what we do at Evoplay. We definitely see more partnerships within the jurisdiction on the horizon and welcome opportunities to further establish a solid footing in the region.
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