By Tom Nightingale
When it comes to the potential growth of sports betting in Canada this year and beyond, Canadian operators are looking to position themselves at the front of the queue.
BetRegal, the latest member of the Canadian Gaming Association (CGA), is no different.
“We’re salivating at the idea of taking on our home market,” BetRegal’s Head of Marketing Aly Lalani tells Canadian Gaming Business. “We want to be a major Canadian sportsbook.”
The rapidly growing company, run by Canadian industry veterans including CEO Mike Mirtl, has already blossomed outside of Canada. It has built a successful footprint in several European markets including the UK, Germany, and Scandinavia.
Now, it is focused on becoming an industry leader in Canada as the country’s sports betting offerings look poised for a boom.
Lalani has a wealth of experience in the sports and iGaming field, having previously served as the marketing director for industry giant Pinnacle Sports, primarily in the European and Asian markets. With the knowledge he and Mirtl bring, BetRegal has enjoyed European success, establishing sub-operator Maltese and British gaming licenses and focusing, as Lalani puts it, on “accelerated growth” particularly in the UK market.
“Our strategy when we started was getting to market as quickly as possible using a two-pronged approach,” Lalani explains. That consisted of first establishing the brand and entering the marketplace quickly using software providers, and subsequently building out a platform of its own. Currently, the company offers various sports betting derivative products, from “BR Bot,” which applies machine learning to your betting history to recommend potential betting options, to a fully integrated live-betting match tracker. “We’re slowly moving away from the software provider approach and into a proprietary platform.”
But, while the initial focus was on Europe, ever since its founding in the middle of last decade, BetRegal has harboured lofty but considered ambitions when it comes to North America.
Lalani and Mirtl are both Canadian, and the excitement at the potential opportunities ahead is palpable. “A couple of years ago, when Canada started moving more towards regulation, we knew that Canada was going to be our focus,” says Lalani. Right now, he estimates the company’s base is still probably 70 to 75 per cent UK-focused. That, though, is decreasing. Whereas BetRegal’s historic top three markets of focus have been the UK, Germany, and Norway, Canada is now the main object of their attentions.
“With Canada, we think we can take everything we’ve learned over the last 15 to 20 years in the industry and apply it to home. We’re really pushing forward aggressively.”
A land of opportunity
Up to this point, Lalani divulges that BetRegal has seen some organic acquisition in Canada. But the excitement in his voice is audible when he discusses what’s in the pipeline already, and what developments like the legislation currently being debated could bring for the company.
“We’re in the contract stages of announcing a very big Canadian league sponsorship, so we’re going to start that brand development process right now,” he says, describing that as “the centerpiece” of their initial marketing strategy in Canada. “There’s a halo effect that comes along with partnering with a really storied and tried-and-true Canadian brand,” he notes.
Indeed, strategic partnerships will be key for BetRegal’s progress. Initial conversations are already underway with notable Canadian former pro athletes, including ex-hockey players and members of the Blue Jays’ MLB championship-winning team of the early 1990s. The focus, Lalani explains, is developing brand credibility. “We’re trying to differentiate from others through focusing on product, customer, and localization.”
Right now, there are a multitude of Canadian operators poised to strike into the market as the industry moves further down the line with sports betting. As Lalani succinctly describes it, BetRegal is only on the first leg of its marathon when it comes to operating in Canada. One differentiator will likely be local market knowledge, and that’s something of which the company is already acutely aware. If you live in a major Canadian city, you’re most likely a fan of that city’s professional sports team, such is their saturation into the city’s culture.
“We’re looking to tap into that with a targeted focus on the city localization aspect, the hometown feel,” Lalani continues. “We have the benefit of having that intimate knowledge that allows us to hone in locally. We’re aware of what’s needed in this marketplace to develop a strong Canadian brand.”
BetRegal has an even greater focus, though, and that is ensuring it proves itself as a responsible operator. Responsible gaming is an important topic right now as Canadian bettors witness the explosion of sports betting in the U.S. and the inundation of that market. Keeping customers safe and protected, and responsibly managing their gambling has never been more important on what feels like the eve of sports betting’s true advent in Canada.
Lalani emphasizes that the company’s biggest focus is operating in good faith. “That’s because, compared to more established markets, Canada’s very naïve.” Education will be key, and BetRegal’s aim is to be both the place to make wagers and help familiarize the public with the concept of sports betting. “Our handshake with the Canadian public is going to be very all-inclusive.”
For Lalani and Mirtl, a priority is also focusing on doing some good in the local communities and helping to remove the negative connotation that sports betting still has in many corners. To that end, the company’s initial splash with their Canadian league partnership will entail a huge push on responsible gaming.
Tapping the potential
The timing of BetRegal joining the CGA, amid the North American acceleration of sports betting and debate in Canada’s House of Commons, is poignant. They know just how important the collaboration is to their aspirations.
“There’s a credibility component and a higher degree of professionalism that comes along with the association,” acknowledges Lalani. “We can quite clearly benefit from the relationships the CGA already has, and we feel we can also provide value to the CGA in our role as a positive voice of an offshore operator. We want to be regarded as one of the first ones to do this well and properly in Canada, and CGA membership helps to both bring that credibility and act as something of a microphone for us.”
All in all, BetRegal recognizes the potential in Canada is astronomical. Lalani compares it to the existing dominant gaming markets like the UK and Germany. “It’s a huge opportunity.”
As for what may be down the line, the major Canadian league partnership and outreach campaigns are exciting, but the company has other hopes, too. Yes, digital gaming has been its core focus, but traditional options can play a role, too.
“We’re exploring opportunities in that space, such as partnering with existing properties or casinos,” Lalani explains. He cites their retail presence in emerging South American markets: there are BetRegal betting terminals in multiple land-based casinos in Central America. “We have that footprint already and we see a real opportunity to not only be an online space but also to develop the BetRegal brand through strategic partnerships with land-based casinos, major entertainment venues, etc… We want to be that first thought when Canadians in the industry think of sports betting or gaming.”
It’s a long and winding road, but BetRegal is walking now so it can later run.