In preparation for the “Betting in Face of COVID-19” conference, the organizers sat down with Slotegrator Head of Sales Vadim Potapenko to discuss the current trends in the gambling sphere and the consequences operators are facing as a result of the coronavirus, as well as to talk about the industry’s post-crisis future.
The impact the coronavirus is having on the industry is one of the most popular topics of discussion at the moment. How is Slotegrator coping with the crisis? Have you had to make any changes in your offering?
— Slotegrator’s workflow has not changed much. Regardless of whether employees work remotely or from the office, we still have the same tasks, although the amount of work has increased. That should come as no surprise, as the online gambling industry is currently going through a new phase of development, with new operators and players entering the market, making it crucial for all industry participants to grow. We are no exception. Slotegrator is not fighting the crisis, but adapting to the current situation.
I would also highlight our active cooperation with game developers and the many new partnership enquiries we’ve received. It’s also interesting that some providers have raised their products’ prices, while others have had to temporarily suspend their activities because of the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.
How have the demands of gambling operators and bookmakers changed during quarantine?
— Let me emphasize two main trends here. First, the demand for game content has increased significantly, which is hardly surprising, as operators know how to attract and retain their audience, starting with the most basic but essential element, quality game content.
Second, we’ve noted an increased interest in online casino software, from both operators starting their own business and those intending to shift their projects’ focus from betting to online gambling. Slots, live dealer games, card games, and lotteries are all universally appealing content that significantly broadens the scope of potentially interested users, expanding the target audience.
What about virtual sports? Have you noticed a significant increase in demand while traditional sports are suspended? Have there been more inquiries?
— We can’t say there has been a significant increase, but demand has definitely grown. My colleagues and I had many discussions weighing the main risks for operators, and we came to the conclusion that most operators are not sure whether virtual sports can replace real sports. But think about the following example: when you look for a product from a certain producer and it turns out that he is not on the market anymore, what is your next step? You choose a new one, right? It is the same in this case: virtual sports are a great alternative at a time where there’s no competition with traditional sport disciplines.
Virtual sports products are also facing rising expectations for quality, and as far as I know, content providers are jumping on the development process. It is possible that virtual sports were not ready to come to the forefront so fast, but the current situation is a real opportunity for the entire virtual sector to reach a new stage in its evolution.
It would be interesting to know which of the products you offer have become more popular during the pandemic and which products have experienced a decrease in demand.
— I believe it is too soon to talk about some global changes now as we would need more time to pass in order to assess the situation objectively. We can only note a few trends. Paradoxical as it may seem, the demand for betting products keeps growing rapidly. It could be because of the good chances of getting a profitable commercial offer, or it could be that as many entrepreneurs risk losing their business, they are looking for alternative sources of income, so they turn to the online gaming industry. Therefore, the services related to the launch, maintenance and development of online casinos are some of the most popular now. Also, to attract players, operators are interested in providing high-quality, diverse game content, and our API protocol, which integrates games from the industry’s leading developers, is enjoying high demand.
Coming back to bookmakers, have they become more active in developing their fantasy sports and esports betting lines?
— In fact, the situation is quite controversial. People say that esports, virtual sports and fantasy sports are perfectly suited to replace real sports during the coronavirus outbreak, which is absolutely true. However, we are not seeing an increase in sportsbooks promoting esports, for instance - which is surprising, as bookmakers’ target audiences respond best to a well-thought out marketing strategy.
On the other hand, I would like to mention the betting operators who are promoting their products responsibly with new offers that catch players’ interest, attracting and retaining both new and experienced users. Moreover, some projects are already offering odds related to the current circumstances, such as the results of the pandemic, who will come up with a vaccine against the virus, and many others. One betting supplier - and our future partner - has already started working in new directions to offer the most relevant products. Bookmakers who have not started promoting their services yet should now take a step forward and embrace the situation, as the old industry model, based solely on real sport events, isn’t viable at the moment - and we can’t be sure if it will start back up again at the same level.
And what is your opinion? Is it possible that the real sports betting industry will function the same way it did before the outbreak?
— In my opinion, there are two main scenarios of how things could work out in the future.
The first one, which is also the most probable, goes as follows: real sports events come back to life and reclaim their spot at the top of user demand. Virtual sports and esports keep developing, but in the shadow of traditional sports like football, hockey, and basketball.
The second scenario is possible as well, but only under certain conditions - if the quarantine takes a longer period of time, say a few months, stretching into the fall. Virtual sports and esports develop at a rapid pace, offering the highest possible quality and, thereby, creating a new betting reality. Classic sports have historically been in high demand, but the course of history could be changing, and we are ready to change with it - Slotegrator is constantly expanding its virtual sports game content offering and keeping an eye on esports, a discipline that is likely to rise in prominence in the sports betting market. We are trying to convey this idea to our customers. Moreover, some of our clients who at first did not consider the option of virtual sports have already contacted us with inquiries to integrate virtual sports content now.
However things unfold, I am sure that virtual sports and esports will only grow in importance. The generations that come after the Millennials will spend more and more time in the virtual space, and smart businesses will follow them there.
How much time, in your opinion, will the gambling business need to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic?
— There’s no definite answer yet, since the gaming industry consists of both land-based and online sectors. While the first has been almost universally paralyzed by the emergency measures that have been taken, such as quarantines and border closures, the second is flourishing, with new players coming in and users spending more time playing their favorite games. However, things may not be as simple as they seem. The betting sector is in a very difficult position due to its close connection with sports, so its ability to recover depends on factors beyond its control.
It is hard to predict the consequences of the situation we are currently in, and it is even harder to determine how much time it will take for the industry to get back to where it was. But no matter how much time it takes to recover financial losses and overcome the other consequences of the crisis, there is always an alternative way to achieve maximum results. Esports, virtual sports, and live dealers games are helping the industry to function properly today and will keep it going strong in the future. These areas are constantly evolving and progressing, but more importantly, they have already established themselves in the iGaming space. The race for the future of iGaming begins now, and I would advise all operators to integrate these products in order to get a head start.
As a networking sponsor of Betting in face of COVID-19, what do you expect from the event?
— While everyone is talking about the adversity the betting industry is facing due to the suspension of the world’s most popular sports events, it would be even more interesting to hear about some of the best practices bookmakers can adopt to cope with the situation. I am hoping to see some specific examples backed up by hard data, such as statistics on user activity and the most popular bets. It will also be intriguing to hear expert opinions regarding the future of the industry. Will virtual sports stay at the same level of demand when real sports events come back? Is it worth it to bet on esports? How will betting evolve as a whole? In other words, I am looking forward to practical experience, fresh data, and expert forecasts.