Truly, player interest and a desire to combat illegal online sports wagering has been a driver for online betting innovations among legitimate providers. And while provincially-run sites like Loto-Quebec's Mise-o-jeu are a strong example of where the industry is headed, initiatives like BCLC's PlayNow.com upgrade and Cantor Gaming's mobile gaming work in Nevada demonstrate more recent advances in the sports wagering field.
Upping the game at PlayNow.com
This July, BCLC enhanced its online game site, PlayNow.com, with the addition of more sports, leagues, tournaments, and innovative features such as live betting (aka “in-running” or “in-play” betting), which allows players to place live bets on specific in-game events and outcomes.
“Our players told us for a number of years that they wanted a more competitive sports betting option,” says Rhonda Garvey, VP eGaming with BCLC. “Based on our player feedback and demand, we have changed our sports betting platform to provide a much more robust and competitive site.”
The latest upgrades are part of BCLC's ongoing efforts to redirect traffic from illegal online gaming sites and offer players a feature-rich and legitimate online wagering experience. “Part of the rationale for BCLC moving into online gambling was the reality that British Columbians are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on off-shore competitors websites. We wanted to repatriate that money back to our province and keep that money within our jurisdiction. In order for us to do that, we have to be competitive against the competition, so that was major driver for us in terms of initially adding sports betting to our PlayNow.com.”
While sports betting may not be the bread and butter of PlayNow.com's business, it is a significant contributor – so much so that the BCLC plans to bring its winning PlayNow.com formula to Manitoba in the near future.
“Our growth year over year indicates that we're doing something right and our players like it. It's meeting our players' expectations, and delivering on the standards, the safeness, the security, the legality of what we're providing,” says Garvey. “We feel very strongly that the approach we're taking is correct.”
Paddy Power support
Fuelling PlayNow.com's sports betting evolution is Paddy Power, an Ireland-based company which provides BCLC's online gaming portal with the events, pricing, and risk management. Powered by teams of sports experts and quantitative analysts, Paddy Power uses human expertise and complex algorithms to set up sporting events from a trading platform hosted in Dublin. Once generated, these events and odds are then pushed to PlayNow.com, PaddyPower.com, PMU. fr in France, and to Paddy Power’s Australian business, sportsbet.com.au.
“The trader is actually trading only one event, but that event could be pushed to any number of clients,” explains Colm Sevastopulo, Head of B2B Operations with Paddy Power. “For example, in any given soccer match we could have 150 different betting options within that one event, but for the trader who's pricing up the event, he only has to enter in a few parameters and then our algorithms generate all of those bets accordingly.”
Paddy Power makes it possible for BCLC to provide both pre-match bets and in-play bets; the latter of which Sevastopulo notes is becoming one of the most popular products in the business as it allows fans to back a large variety of bets throughout a single match based on Paddy Power's odds. “In-play betting is the fastest growing product within sports betting because we're offering more of, and a wider variety of, betting opportunities through different types of bets, and a higher number of events.”
Speaking to other trends in sports wagering, Sevastopulo points to the rise of smartphones, tablets, and online streaming technologies; a mix of technology that is making it easier for players to wager whenever and wherever they prefer. “The combination of mobile and in-play betting is quite a potent one because you can be in a bar watching the game and you can then make a bet. The two complement each other extremely well.”
Taking the mobile lead in Nevada
Advancements in mobile sports betting are also cropping up south of the border, specifically in Nevada where a bulk of the US's wagering takes place; and where companies like Cantor Gaming are blazing a digital trail with the development and support of online sports betting systems.
In 2005, the company became the first to be licensed as an operator and manufacturer of mobile gaming systems by the Nevada Gaming Commission, making it possible for players to engage in casino style games through an eDeck, a mobile tablet supplied by Cantor Gaming which can be taken anywhere within the resort it is issued in.
Since then, Cantor Gaming has continued to introduce innovations to the Nevada market. Last October, it launched an Android-compatible mobile sports wagering application, and this summer Cantor Gaming introduced an Apple-compatible mobile sports wagering application called Cantor Sports Book, which is currently available for all Apple devices. These applications allow sports wagering fans access to the entire spectrum of wagers and gaming products available in Cantor Race and Sports Books from their smartphones or tablets.
“Nevada regulations have long allowed that you could play sports outside of a casino property, but nobody really exploited it, and no one had ever done a really good job of actually building the technology to handle it,” says Lee Amaitis, CEO and President of Cantor Gaming, explaining, “We used the same system that was behind our mobile gaming technology and then we just expanded that footprint.”
Ask Amaitis and he'll tell you the real success story is what his company has done with its account wagering system, developed using a financial services model employing the type of algorithms that Cantor Fitzgerald, Cantor's global financial services firm, utilizes in its trading businesses.
“Our technology has given people the ability to bet on accounts, with money on deposit, through one of our computers in the sportsbook or their own tablet or smartphone and now laptops and PC’s anywhere in Nevada. Now in Nevada, you can download our app and make wagers on the fly, or you can sit in the book and watch the games and make wagers there.”
Cantor's technology also supports in-play betting. Similar to PlayNow.com's offerings, Nevada sportsfans are presented with betting options throughout the match, be it the outcome of a field goal in football, a free throw in basketball, or a play in baseball. According to Amaitis, it's features like this, in combination with mobile technologies, that are not only rejuvenating sports betting for players, but revolutionizing the process by which it is conducted. “In the old system you had to push cash in the window, people had to count your money, you had to get your ticket, and you had to check your ticket. It was just impossible to be able to increase handle without adding significant output in terms of manpower and space, which is not what casinos actually do. If you eliminate the hurdle of paper, and eliminate the hurdle of having to actually put cash in the counter, you broaden the scope of the business by the factor of X. You create more jobs, you create more technology, you create a broader scope of handle, and you wind up with a system that is actually going to grow.”
And grow it has. Amaitis estimates that the state's handle will grow to $3 billion by the end of 2012 – a sizeable leap from its regular $2.2 billion take. “At the end of the day, that works for every jurisdiction that has legal gambling. If you're in a situation where you have legal gambling, you can take our system and duplicate the growth. It can increase wager size and volume by a lot. Most places that have legalized gambling are asking, 'How can we increase our tax rolls?' We've probably already increased the tax rolls we're paying in Nevada by a significant amount of money.”
Backing the player
With the rise of online sports wagering technologies comes concern over personal safety and regulatory boundaries. Naturally, this is has become a core focus for all major players in the industry.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that we're a regulated jurisdiction, so the top priority is to ensure that we are a safe, secure, and responsible legal site,” says Rhonda Garvey with BCLC. “We have a regulator in the province of British Columbia, the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB), who sets standards for us, and the standards are high. Through that, we can ensure our players are protected, and that there are responsible gambling features on our site that we continually evolve to ensure that players are protected by age restrictions and residents of British Columbia.”
Paddy Power also understands the importance of security and trust in the online environment, and is continually safeguarding these elements in all of its gaming markets.
“The key to having a good sports book or gaming site is that it's a safe and secure environment, and that customers can have trust in the site. That ranges from technical elements like knowing your customer and compliance with appropriate customer protection policies, to much more customer friendly elements,” says Sevastopulo, adding, “There's a very serious side to our operation, but there's also a fun side. We think we've hit a good combination whereby our customers feel safe and secure, but also enjoy themselves.”
Stateside, Cantor Gaming's technology also demonstrates an enhanced awareness of regulatory and security concerns. The company employs ISP tracking and wi-fi verification to ensure users of its systems are within the Nevada boundaries. Advanced software is also used for age verification of online members, with remote sign-ups further safeguarded by a system whereby potential users are required to send a snapshot of themselves with a valid drivers license to be verified by a Cantor supervisor. Combined with enhanced password codes, lock-tight account securities features, and a constant eye for scammers, Amaitis says it's a system that has, and will continue, to uphold the industry's demands for safety, insisting, “We have had this system since March of 2009, and we've never had an issue of anyone being underage on our system.”
It's a brave new world for sports wagering. And if continued advancements in North America and overseas are any indicator, activity in the online scene is only starting to heat up. That said, advancements in online sports wagering don't necessarily spell doom for brick and mortar facilities. In fact, says Garvey, online components enhances the overall gaming experience, adding, “It's definitely complimentary to our bricks and mortar business, and the fact that we are responsible for all of gambling in British Columbia is our competitive advantage because we can use the online experience to encourage players to experience the casino, and vice versa. We've done some exciting things with our poker tournaments in terms of partnering with our casino locations to provide tournaments that start online, but then have the final table in an actual facility. Also, casinos have show lounges and other entertainment options that we can provide to our online players. There's a lot of upside in terms of sharing that online experience.”
Looking ahead, Canadian providers may see even more changes with the introduction of Bill C-290, which would allow for wagering on the outcome of a single sporting event in Canada, as opposed to the parlay system it is governed by today. According to Garvey, should that change arise, BCLC will be ready: “We had already started changing our sports betting platform before this single game change was moving as actively as it is now. Should the Criminal Code be amended, we would definitely be looking at how sports betting offerings could be enhanced here at BC, so we'll be in a position that we can leverage that opportunity, should it come to fruition.”
Matthew Bradford is the editor of Canadian Gaming Business Magazine