Last year saw the rapid expansion of sports betting across the US, but also a number of regulatory and advertising clampdowns in Europe.
As the new decade gets underway, industry experts share their thoughts on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
In part five we hear from technology and innovations specialists. In our final installment, we'll cover regulation.
Vigne Kozacek, director, Innovation Squad
Russell Karp, VP Media & Entertainment, DataArt
Will Mace, head of Kindred Futures
What were the defining developments or events of 2019?
Vigne Kozacek: Both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) games took a significant technological leap forward in 2019, with virtual casinos growing significantly in popularity and complexity as developers focused more on the player experience. The ability for players to interact with both the casinos and other players by either voice or chat messaging proved to be increasingly popular. Continued growth in the esports sector cannot be ignored either as this vertical saw the introduction of new competitions and year-on-year revenue growth.
Russell Karp: It was a big year for the growing relationships between professional sports leagues and operators. The NFL finally joined the ranks by signing three deals: with Sportradar for data, with DraftKings for daily fantasy, and with MGM as a casino partner. Meanwhile, the NBA, which was the first league to sign a partnership with an operator (MGM), increased its footprint by signing deals with FanDuel and Fox Bet. Not to be left out, the NHL soon followed suit and provided William Hill their first partnership with a professional sports league.
Will Mace: From a technology perspective, a hugely significant event of 2019 was Apple rewriting or perhaps just choosing to enforce old App Store rules, which served to remind everyone how vulnerable we are, without control or even influence over a major distribution channel. Perhaps the most interesting technology event, however, was the emergence of Pluribus, a poker-playing AI programme. In a series of experiments against some of the top-rated professionals in the world, it achieved a ‘superhuman’ level of performance at multiplayer no-limit Texas hold’em. The jump from headto-head to multiplayer was a hugely significant step.
How do you see these continuing to shape the iGaming space in 2020?
VK: As the technology for both VR and AR continues to exponentially improve, game developers are going to have to continue to expand their offering by developing more immersive and engaging game offerings, including, but not limited to, expanding their real-time multiplayer games beyond the current most popular casino games. I also expect to see more VR/AR games emerging across the casino floor in landbased casinos in order to maintain its appeal to the next generation of punters.
RK: This year we will see a growing number of companies from various industries entering the world of sports gambling and seeking their piece of the revenue pie. The rapidly expanding sports gambling market will require a forward-thinking approach and adoption of new emerging technologies serving the industry. In 2020, we expect that leaders will increase their investments in IT and strengthen partnerships with technology consultancies to increase scalability in order to keep up with expected growth.
WM: How Pluribus will change or influence how humans play poker may become better understood this year – it certainly won’t be ignored by any pro worth their chips. Rather aptly I’m writing this from CES, the world’s largest technology show, where I am surrounded by flying cars, ping pong-playing robots, folding and rolling screens, swarms of drones and even Alexa-enabled lavatories. CES provides a glimpse into the future of consumer technology and also into tech that could influence the gambling industry over the next year.
What do you see as the biggest challenges ahead for the sector in 2020?
VK: Keeping with the theme of VR/ AR games, I expect one of the biggest challenges in 2020 to lie with game developers being able to reduce their development life cycle significantly enough to release high quality games to market more efficiently than the current rates, as well as improving the time to production for operators to remain competitive.
RK: On a large scale, to offer the most effective solutions, companies will face some technical challenges. A betting platform with a properly planned UX/ UI strategy and well-designed user engagement features (be it real-time gaming video streaming, personalised content recommendations or helpful insights) will have better customer engagement and retention rates, leading to it building a strong brand.
WM: Rapidly evolving regulation will, of course, continue to dominate the landscape – but the particularly interesting technological components of that evolution in 2020 may well relate to digital identity and data-sharing to better protect problem gamblers. In addition, 5G may well start to come close to the mainstream, further changing performance expectations and providing real challenges to those operators still operating from single data centres on small islands many miles from their customers.
Related articles: Industry 2020 predictions: part one – operators and suppliers
Industry 2020 predictions: part two – finance
Industry 2020 predictions: part three – marketing
Industry 2020 predictions: part four – people