Taking the industry by storm
December 7, 2020
By Tom Nightingale
Vancouver-based global iGaming and sports betting company FansUnite has taken huge strides in 2020 before becoming the CGA's latest member.
The latest member of the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA) is looking to establish itself as a leader in the sports and esports fields at a time when sports betting and online gaming are becoming the core focus within the Canadian industry.
Scott Burton, CEO of technology and sports betting company FansUnite, boils down its appeal: “We can handle everything from gaming licenses to payments, banking, hosting, age and identity and location verification, risk management. We can plug in casinos, different sports offerings, as well as our history in fantasy and esports.”
Indeed, FansUnite boasts its own sportsbook, integrated B2B solutions, and B2C offerings. Ultimately, the aim is to be a full and comprehensive iGaming solution, complete with an entire marketplace of casino games, traditional sports wagering, and esports for consumers, as well as integrated services for other gaming companies. And, as Canada is moving forward with legalizing single-sports betting, they’re already well on the way.
Burton notes that CGA membership just made sense for the company in late 2020. “A big motivation there was to get a seat at that table and open some doors, he says.
From traditional sports to full-suite esports
In Burton and his business partner, President Darius Eghdami, FansUnite has a leadership team that has a distinct vision for its path forwards. Burton, a Vancouverite with a passion for sports betting, entered the industry in 2013 with Askott Entertainment. It all started with an intriguing and engaging concept: “a sort of social and peer sports betting exchange,” as he puts it, one where users would be informed and entertained, and keep coming back.
Given Canada’s reluctance to take up legal single-event sports betting options, Burton and his team knew that they had to look elsewhere. At that time, the U.S. was far away from embracing sports gambling. Instead, they focused on a jurisdiction with decades of history in the space: the United Kingdom.
Starting out in the traditional sports space and licensed out of the Isle of Man, Askott moved into esports around the start of 2015 and quickly recognized the opportunity that market presented. Their daily fantasy site for esports, esportspools.com, registered about 200,000 users and led to a full suite of products for betting on esports – in-play betting, fixed odds, daily fantasy, and content.
Merging and growing in 2020
By 2019, Askott had transitioned to offering a full sports and esports platform. In 2020, the company has become a runaway train. As for many businesses, it all started with a forced change of plans. Askott had been looking early in 2020 to list publicly in Canada but COVID-19’s progression to pandemic status disrupted those plans. Instead, discussions began between Askott and FansUnite.
Burton had known Eghdami, a fellow Vancouver-based professional with a passion for and expertise in gaming, for several years. FansUnite went public in March and was, as Burton notes, “in acquisition mode.” Of particular success had been its work with Scotland-focused UK sportsbook, McBookie, which was acquired this year and recorded its biggest month in history in October thanks largely to the scalability FansUnite offered. McBookie’s betting volume was up about 460% year-over-year for October and gross win rose about 679%.
With Askott looking to move back into traditional sports and casino after years focusing on esports, the benefits of a merger were clear. Askott and FansUnite merged in August 2020 and Burton became CEO, with former FansUnite CEO Eghdami moving into the role of president.
An in-demand platform
A core part of FansUnite as it is today is its Chameleon platform, a full esports B2B white label iGaming solution which has everything from licensing to banking and payments to verification and risk management built into it. “We can provide a full solution for anyone wanting to get into gaming or gambling,” says Burton.
For instance, FansUnite can cover a brand’s licensing in return for a fee and/or revenue share, leaving that brand to focus on the marketing side. Or, Burton explains, the path being followed with esports is focusing on licensed operators. FansUnite will go to existing sportsbooks and casinos that don’t have an esports portfolio and can plug its offerings right into the operators’ existing infrastructure.
A key aspect of Chameleon and FansUnite’s appeal is customizability and feature switches. If customers want in-play esports betting but no fantasy or casino, those features can be turned off. “We can run a sportsbook with multiple integrations, so you can tell us who you want to get your data feed from,” Burton adds. FansUnite currently offers 6,000 casino games for integration and also produces its own RNG games to appeal to the younger demographic with more of an esports or video game style. There are 15-20 payment methods that can handle global payments, Burton estimates. “All in all, it’s a full turnkey solution whether you want a sportsbook or esports or casino.”
The role of COVID-19
Burton isn’t afraid to acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic, even amid all of its devastating impacts on the gaming industry, has had its silver linings. One of those has been an increased consumer and operator focus on esports, and FansUnite’s CEO credits that as a significant factor in the company’s growth this year. The company has enjoyed a lot of inbound growth on its esports side with the shift to online gaming accelerating. “Fans are looking to add esports to their portfolio in a big way,” summarizes Burton.
Another pivot has been exemplified with McBookie, which was previously a traditional focused sportsbook but has seen the additions of virtuals, a live dealer, and so forth. Burton notes FansUnite likely wouldn’t have had “the time or the inclination” to focus on building out those facets were it not for the pandemic’s impact. part out without the pandemic. “But now we have a very robust offering in terms of casino, live dealer, and virtual and that’s part of the rapid revenue growth McBookie has seen.”
Looking to the future, Burton is cautiously optimistic. Interest from other companies has been high, inbounds have been fielded, deals have been signed. Meanwhile, just this week, FansUnite received approval to offer its full services in Malta, adding to its progress in moving forward with a UK license.
North American excitement
But it’s the steps the company has taken in the North American frontier that are the most exciting in the current climate. In September, FansUnite announced its first partnership in the U.S. with GameCo., which will allow it to launch its Chameleon platform in states including New Jersey and Nevada under GameCo’s existing licensing.
Burton suggests a U.S. launch is close and hopes that the company’s first installation in the States is announced within the first quarter of 2021. The current focus with the GameCo partnership is on esports and esports betting. FansUnite will first focus on states with “favourable” esports legislation, which Burton notes is considerably less than the 50 per cent of states that have said "yes" to sports betting. But the recent progress made by the U.S. sports betting market is encouraging for a company like FansUnite.
In Canada, opportunities have been limited until now. But, with sports betting and iGaming on the agenda, the company has joined the CGA and has also been working with global firms such as GLI as well as reaching out to Canadian heavyweights like theScore and brick-and-mortar casinos. The aim, he notes, is to make sure everyone knows ahead of time what FansUnite can offer in the market.
Burton hopes that FansUnite’s status as a full, made-in-Canada technical solution could add to the allure. In the online gambling space, close proximity to your platform provider – both in terms of geography and shared knowledge – is advantageous. “You also get the added benefit of understanding the local markets,” says Burton. “Your hockey offering might need to be a lot better in Canada than anywhere else in the world. Local knowledge on market and product helps hugely, and we bring those things.”
A rosy outlook
Membership to the CGA will also permit the Vancouver-based FansUnite to advocate on legislation impacting Canadian gaming companies, something that’s understandably appealing right now. After a banner 2020 for the company, including the kind of growth Burton and his team would have dreamed of, the sky’s the limit.
FansUnite is cautiously hopeful that, with the additional support of the CGA and the progress it has already made in recent months, it can almost double revenue for the entire company. The company has been in tech-building, start-up mode until now, notes Burton. In 2021, they can look ahead to firing on all cylinders in Canada, the U.S., and beyond. The times are changing, and FansUnite is ready to take advantage.