By Tom Nightingale
In a world of gaming’s increased convergence between traditional and emerging gaming methods, building an immersive omni-channel experience is becoming a priority for operators. Adapting land-based content for online use will surely continue to be one of the driving forces behind casinos enjoying strong engagement with new and existing players, just as ensuring synergy with bricks-and-mortar casinos will be an important avenue for those online operators in Ontario’s regulated market.
Rush Street Interactive (RSI) is one major gaming operator that has long had a foot in all camps. It provides an omni-channel platform for land-based sportsbooks and social gaming at its casinos in Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York State, and Indiana, runs a fully integrated online gaming sportsbook, and went live in Ontario’s new market with its BetRivers-branded sportsbook in April.
Bruce Caughill, RSI’s Managing Director in Canada, notes that providing a form of omni-channel experience has long been a core pillar for the company.
“Our two largest shareholders and co-founders, Neil Bluhm and Greg Carlin, were part of the company that built and ran Niagara Casinos in Ontario and also part of the bricks-and-mortar side of Rush Street Gaming,” he tells CGB. “From day one, it has always been a primary focus to make sure online gaming is implemented in a way that complements land-based gaming. We really do have a foot firmly in both camps, and I know there are a lot of land-based operators that also look at it that way.”
Spreading your bets, so to speak, across various channels may seem to many like a no-brainer in the current gaming and societal climate. To not pursue such an avenue, one could reasonably argue, would be to close off valuable and potentially highly profitable pathways, narrow your customer base, and risk falling behind in what has quickly become a hugely saturated field. As Caughill puts it, in an ideal world where an operator has the full data and the right commercial structure and regulatory framework, it’s hard to argue it is not a great thing.
But just how practical will running a multi-channel operation be for Ontario’s score of brands in a market that is still finding its feet on the regulatory side? Caughill is wary.
“What an omni-channel strategy actually looks like depends a great deal on the situation an operator finds themselves in,” he notes. “Within the regulatory framework, for example, you’ve got transactions going on in different areas and different AML reporting accountabilities. In Ontario, we’ve got different tax rates for online versus land-based gaming transactions – it’s a different structure, two different conductors and managers. The concept itself is hard to argue against and is certainly something that operators need to consider, but the full omni-channel experience may not be open or available to every operator.”
Customer is king
That may be true, but what is available to every operator is the toolkit to create a world-class customer experience, whether that is full omni-channel or not. After all, customer is king.
RSI knows all about this, having won the EGR North American Award for customer service operator of the year three years in a row, among other honours. Caughill stresses that while omni-channel considerations naturally form part of their focus on customer experience, it’s the broader player-facing envelope that is their priority.
“A world-class customer experience needs world-class customer service, so having that available and meaningful consistently is crucial,” he says. “On the game front, it’s really about variety and trusted brands and being quick to market. But communication is a key point, too. It’s not just transactional, it’s community-based and communication.
“For instance, we have a robust piece of our offering which helps bring people together to talk about issues and lots of community-building initiatives. Not all that lives and dies on the omni-channel concept; much of it can be done outside that or complementary to it. The customer experience piece really needs to stand on its own and not just be driven by whether you have an omni-channel operation.”
Caughill himself brought invaluable experience to RSI’s Canadian leadership team when he joined in late March, just prior to Ontario’s regulated online gaming and betting market getting off the ground. He had previously served as the Chief Legal Officer of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), and before that spent around two decades with Niagara Casinos on the bricks-and-mortar side.
That experience on the land-based side of things has taught him more than a thing or two about integrating operations.
“It’s been interesting for me to have a land-based and regulatory background before coming into the digital operational world, to see how important clicks are,” he notes. “It’s all about reducing friction points. Even small things can make a big difference.”
Land-based not left behind
One would have been forgiven for this slipping the mind amid everything that has been happening on the digital front of Canadian gaming through the pandemic and particularly in the early months of 2022, but gaming is not just done on websites or mobile apps.
Bricks-and-mortar gaming remains a cornerstone of the industry and ensuring that it remains a key piece is vital.
Caughill, of course, has an affinity for the land-based side of things after his longtime service with Niagara Casinos, and he stresses that casinos have been showing strong growth through what has been at least a decade and a half of grey-market digital gaming activity in Ontario prior to the province’s overhaul.
While in Ontario, online gaming and betting has not come out of the blue, what was not there in yesteryear and is there today is the huge potential for land-based operators to partner with online operators. Until now, grey-market online brands were out of bounds for any land-based operator. “You couldn’t be in that world of partnerships or gaming and expect to be registered as a land-based casino in Ontario,” Caughill, the former AGCO legal executive, emphasizes.
“Now, with those operators and more coming into regulation, casinos have access to this other vertical of business and the opportunity to partner and bring in revenue on that front with a new demographic. I don’t think omni-channel and digital gaming is a major threat to land-based casinos; I think there are real opportunities that weren’t there before in terms of negotiating partnerships and securing market access. It should only be seen as an opportunity for land-based casinos, as long as they are focused on realizing that opportunity.”
Ultimately, one of the keys to the omni-channel gaming approach is to recognize that as digital gaming keeps growing and evolving, there will always be people wanting to walk into a facility. There is a parallel to be drawn with restaurants, perhaps – takeout and off-premises consumption has boomed during the pandemic, but people still want to dine in.
“There is a pretty significant demographic that will never go online,” concludes Caughill. “Online operators don’t provide the sort of amenities that bricks-and-mortar casinos do. Online players being able to access those amenities at a land-based location is a huge thing. There is a real role for these places to play, and I would say that any top-class omni-channel gaming operation must recognize that.”