There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in the iGaming industry.
A sector that was once very focused on core markets such as the United Kingdom, the USA and China, is becoming more global by the day.
New markets are opening around the world, with high growth opportunities aplenty and some encouraging regulatory progress being made.
Asia continues to thrive, despite the lack of sound regulation; eastern Europe is slowly beginning to embrace the “dot country” model; Latin America, led by Colombia, is making encouraging progress; and parts of Africa are witnessing an unparalleled growth in mobile betting.
But most exciting of all is the United States, which saw its federal ban on sports betting, PASPA, repealed earlier this year, opening up the possibility of legal sports betting for the very first time.
Land of the free bet
Of course, the United States has long been seen as the biggest prospective prize in iGaming. It is home to a huge, wealthy, sports-loving, tech-savvy population already culturally attuned to gaming as a result of trips to Vegas and the online poker boom of the 2000s.
And those early states that have already made moves towards embracing iGaming are performing strongly.
Take New Jersey, the first state to regulate online casino in the United States, as an example. For full year 2017, New Jersey iGaming revenues were up almost a quarter to $245.6 million.
The trend has continued this year, too. In August, New Jersey reported its eighteenth consecutive month of revenues above $20 million, with a 16 percent increase on the same month last year.
It was also among the first states to regulate and launch legal sports betting in the US. The results were similarly impressive; more than $95 million placed in bets during August, with revenues of $9.2 million.
And this could be just the start. If New Jersey, a state of nine million people, is posting figures like these, the potential for the US market when other states are online is quite simply game-changing.
That could be sooner, rather than later. Sports betting bills are progressing across the country. The likes of New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Illinois and Kentucky could be live with legal sports betting in 2019.
A big wide world
This is not to say the US is the only game in town. As already mentioned, new, high-growth iGaming markets are emerging globally at an unprecedented rate, bringing with them all manner of opportunities for innovative and adventurous operators.
Perhaps the most obvious place to start is Asia.
The grey markets of Asia are nothing new. Although tough to measure, it remains the largest iGaming market in the world by some way, and is big enough for both tier one operators with an appetite for some risk, as well as smaller companies looking to carve out a niche, and a name, from themselves.
Despite the lack of sensible legislation, many Asian markets are reaching something approaching a degree of maturity. Chinese sports bettors, for instance, have become increasingly discerning in recent years, their tastes evolving beyond traditional handicap markets.
On the casino side, the entrance of a number of trusted European slots suppliers has seen RNG content enjoy significant growth in markets which were formerly dominated by live dealer games.
And more than anything, for a sector that once suffered from a lack of trust, younger consumers are more willing to deposit and play with operators which have now proven their reliability.
These shifting dynamics present opportunities, but local expertise is required. We are seeing many operators and suppliers look to grow their Asian footprint by onboarding additional staff via BettingJobs.com.
Remember, Asia’s iGaming market is now extremely competitive. The days when rolling out a European product into China or Vietnam and hoping for the best have passed.
Similarly, it is important to consider which countries to enter. Obviously, Asia is a vast region and it can make sense to focus on a handful of markets.
China remains the largest, but also the most competitive. Accordingly, many operators are beginning to look into other markets where iGaming is showing signs of growth, such as India and Cambodia.
With the consumer, marketing and regulatory landscape constantly evolving, moving fast and decisively is critical.
Fortunately, there is a wealth of talent with experience working in these iGaming markets across product, marketing and support. Accessing this talent, and carefully weighing up the risks of each individual market, is the only route to success.
Latin America is another region which has iGaming execs the world over watching closely.
In May 2016, Colombian gaming regulator Coljuegos rolled out the region’s first legal framework for licensed iGaming, and thus far the signs have been encouraging.
The country has issued more than 10 licences already, and growth has been strong. While official figures have yet to be released, according to gaming association Fecoljuegos, the country witnessed an estimated 35 percent increase in online bets during the 2018 World Cup alone.
Regardless, Colombia actually remains a relatively small market compared to what we could see opening up in the region.
For many years now, Brazil’s lawmakers have discussed introducing sports betting and iGaming regulation to the country, and while progress is slow, it is expected to eventually pass.
In the meantime, many continue to operate in grey markets across Latin America, with a heavy focus on football betting. Operators with experience in Spanish-speaking markets are particularly well-placed to capitalise.
Indeed, we are increasingly seeing European operators hiring talent from Spain and Latin America to explore the potential of a region that is well-placed to be the next big thing in iGaming.
Perhaps a simpler approach to new market expansion for those operators already established in western Europe’s regulated markets is a short journey eastwards.
Many of Eastern Europe’s jurisdictions are moving towards or have already regulated with models not dissimilar to the likes of the UK, Italy or Spain.
However, these markets are not as intensely competitive as those aforementioned Western European ones, and as such also provide opportunities for smaller, innovative operators without large marketing budgets.
Currently Romania is probably the pick of the Eastern European bunch; others, including Poland, are suffering because they have failed to enact sensible iGaming legislation.
Generally speaking, retooling existing product offerings for eastern European markets is not as dramatic a process as it would be for, say, a UK-based operator expanding into Colombia.
But nonetheless, there is a wealth of industry experience that can be hired within Eastern Europe, not least because many of the world’s most successful iGaming operators and suppliers have development hubs in the region.
Time for Africa
There are many reasons to be optimistic for the future of African iGaming, but it does require operators and suppliers to rethink the way they deliver their products. As ever, the most agile will succeed in the long run.
African markets, particularly the likes of Kenya and Nigeria, have shown an immense appetite for iGaming and sports betting in particular.
However, the model is likely to be very different to how we observed the sector grow in Europe, or how we expect it will develop in the US.
For one, a relatively small proportion of the continent have a fixed internet connection, so the sector is dominated by a combination of retail and mobile experiences.
But both sides are enjoying impressive growth. In Kenya, for instance, the mobile-based M-Pesa payment system is being leveraged by savvy operators to deliver sports betting to millions of customers via their mobile devices.
However, it is important to note the mobile experience in Africa must be tailored; limited bandwidth and a tendency towards older mobile devices means a more stripped back product offering is essential.
Nonetheless, the opportunities are there, and with low barriers to entry those who make intelligent investments in local markets will be well position to reap lucrative rewards.
That’s not to say there aren’t significant risks for established operators, including different cultures and ways of doing business, but with such high margins on offer, the opportunity is too good to miss. And if operators can find the right local partner and recruit experienced talent, these challenges can easily be overcome.
The small guy advantage
The growth and fragmentation of the global iGaming industry offers smaller operators - and suppliers - the chance to compete with tier ones on a more level playing field.
The introduction of the dot country model across Western Europe, beginning with Denmark in 2012 and the UK in 2014, saw a vast swathe of consolidation and M&A activity.
The logic was simple: with a higher taxation burden for operators, scale was more important than ever.
At the same time, regulatory requirements made it harder for new entrants without significant financial backing, while new, consolidated gaming behemoths like Paddy Power Betfair and GVC Ladbrokes Coral could blow all competition out of the water on the marketing front.
Against this backdrop, things were not looking bright for smaller, innovative operators looking to carve out a space and grab market share, at least in Europe’s mature markets.
But it is a different question in newly-emerging markets, like those listed above.
Indeed, the consolidated giants have tended to be extremely risk averse when it comes to these markets, in many cases withdrawing from grey jurisdictions out of concern that activity will preclude them from a licence should the market ultimately regulate.
Accordingly, those willing to take bold and considered moves in markets where larger competitors are absent can assume market-leading positions before legislation arrives.
Certainly, there are risks attached to such a strategy, but it is also a fairly established business model: grab easier grey market revenues to build the scale required to compete in regulated white markets.
Winning the race in iGaming’s emerging markets could be the only way to compete on a global scale over the next decade.
Cashing in on the future
So how to achieve success in the US, Latin America, Asia and beyond?
Of course, there is no single solution, but rather a set of principles that can ensure you build an operation that can react and adapt to the multitude of challenges posed by a disparate set of emerging markets.
Top of the list is recruiting the best available talent. Even jurisdictions without a regulated iGaming sector tend to have a pool of talent that has worked for grey market operators, or for parallel industries.
Using resources such as BettingJobs.com can make it a simple and pain-free process to access this talent and kickstart your expansion in these territories.
By teaming local talent with global iGaming expertise, even far flung markets where you may not have a base are not out of reach.
Aside from talent, there are other questions to consider. For one, it is important to select which markets you intend on targeting.
We have already shown there are opportunities to be had globally, from Asia, to Africa to the Americas. But expecting to be able to make an impact across the board is unrealistic. Even the largest tier one operators, perhaps with the exception of bet365, pick their battles wisely.
Look for markets with similarities, where you may be able to pool resources and expertise; launching in a handful of Latin American markets simultaneously is a wiser play than trying to conquer Peru, Kenya and Vietnam.
On top of all this, look closely at the United States. This is the most exciting iGaming market in the world right now, with almost limitless potential to become the global leader for the sector.
Even if you are not yet a major player in iGaming, there will be opportunities if you act shrewdly. With each state regulating independently, and often in very different ways, some states may present the chance to gain a foothold.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and you would not want to miss out.
There is a brave new iGaming world out there. Adapting to this new reality faster than the competition is the only way to survive.