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Automating casino

| By Hannah Gannage-Stewart | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Sam Hobcraft outlines the vision behind millennial-facing casino Omnia

A little over 18 months since he left his role as PokerStars’ casino MD, like so many Stars’ alumni, Sam Hobcraft has embarked on his own millennial-facing venture

Unveiling Omnia in late July, Hobcraft told iGaming Business that having done his time at major brands; Ladbrokes, Betfair and PokerStars, the cost of technology had fallen enough for him to set up his own venture.

“The advantage of tech developments in the last few years is that it allows cost-efficient cloud based storage at such a level that the massive amount of data required to operate an AI-based platform can be stored and leveraged,” he says.

Omnia’s USP is that it uses AI technology to, in Hobcraft’s words, create a “Netflix-like” personalisation experience for users.

“The millennial generation is more demanding than traditional players. For a long time the casino gaming industry has been able to do mediocre stuff because there wasn’t much choice but now users can get more games. They can play social games like Candy Crush for example,” he explains. “It’s about capturing people’s time rather than just their wallet”.

The AI-technology driving Omnia is currently developed out of house, but Hobcraft says this may change as the technology, and the know-how behind it, becomes more affordable.

“We’re not 100% AI from day one. It’s a new area so we’re trying to lead the way in this. Once people come onto the site, we’re using the AI to give them the right product recommendations and continue learning about them and what games their playing. The product piece is very automated,” he says.

“Then the next stage gets a bit deeper in terms of automating the promotions and CRM, understanding customer experience and churn”. The product will also use AI to identify the best time to bonus and what the rewards should be.

Needless to say, AI plays a critical role in identifying at-risk players. “We need to build a trust relationship with our customers, so what we’re doing is starting with the mindset that this is at the core of our business. How can we go that slight extra mile, how can we make the experience around responsible gaming as engaging?”

Over time, Hobcraft also expects the investment he’s making in AI now to lower overheads through better automation.

“We’ll have less staff and we’ll look to have chatbots to reduce customer service overheads. That will then allow us to go into markets where taxes are a bit higher or, in the longer term, to do some M&A,” he says. He estimates that ultimately AI could strip 30% of costs out of the business.

Hobcraft describes Omnia as “a technology business first”, and a gaming business second. “We’ve always tried to think about how we do things differently. What’s the Silicon Valley approach?” he says.

Half his 10-strong team is from outside of the gaming industry, which he says was a deliberate decision to bring in alternative knowledge and perspectives.

Among a panel of investors are several from outside the industry including; Douglas Barrowman, chairman of private equity firm Knox Group, and YYX Capital’s James Cox, who founded the Simba mattress brand.

Cox, whose investment house specialises in ecommerce and consumer internet businesses, has been particularly active in Omnia’s marketing strategy, according to Hobcraft.

“The influencer marketing piece is a large part of what we’re doing. It’s just learning from these guys and understanding best practices from other sectors,” he says.

Hobcraft’s vision for the fledgling casino is for it to be in 3.5% of regulated markets within five years.

So far the casino has launched in the UK in March, following a soft launch the previous month, and went live in Sweden in June.

Omnia’s white-label partner IGC has also applied for a licence, which is currently being processed.

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