International edition
November 18, 2017 | Edition Nº3368

By Nicky Senyard (*)

Seizing the American Day: Beyond Real-Money iGaming in 2015 (Part Two)

In Part One of this column, I looked at the state of real-money iGaming in the US and the first alternative opportunity – online horse-racing wagering. In Part Two, I will discuss daily fantasy sports, social gaming and using marketing to maximise revenue for all three US opportunities



Daily Fantasy Sports

Daily fantasy sports is another lucrative alternative to real-money iGaming. The vertical involves players assembling a fantasy team of real-world athletes and competing against their peers for cash prizes in daily contests. While the concept may appear similar to gambling, that’s not how it’s considered by the US Federal government’s UIGEA. Under the Act, daily fantasy sports are considered games of skill rather than chance.

As a result of this nuance, the legality of daily fantasy sports has been left to the discretion of individual states. They have been even more accommodating to the vertical than they’ve been towards online horse-racing betting. The only states that prohibit their residents from playing daily fantasy sports brands are Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Washington.

Aside from their broad-based legality in the United States, fantasy sports are also incredibly popular. Last June, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) announced that there were now a record 41 million fantasy sports players in the US and Canada. That popularity has translated into liquidity: leading daily fantasy sports brand FanDuel announced revenue of $37 million in Q4 2014, the operator’s best quarter ever. The vertical is only set to get bigger financially. Indeed, Eilers Research forecast that it will be worth $2.6 billion by 2020.

In addition to a new revenue stream, daily fantasy sports offer operators a bridging strategy to prepare for the regulation of online poker and casino. Daily fantasy sports players correlate strongly with poker players: 80% of fantasy players are male, they’re highly web-savvy, young (the average age is 34) and well-educated (close to 80% have a college degree), according to the FSTA. As a result, when California and New York regulate online poker, those states with daily fantasy brands will be able to make the transition into the new vertical with ease.

Social Gaming

If daily fantasy sports provides a bridging strategy for the regulation of online poker, social casino brands can serve the same purpose for the legalisation of the real-money online casino vertical. iGaming researcher Jason Prasad argues that although there are social casino players who’ll never play at real-money casino sites, a significant proportion will either willingly play both social and real-money or can be persuaded to transition to real-money under the right marketing conditions.

Of course, social gaming is more than just social casino: free-play poker is a highly popular social version of the table game. Operators can also develop free-play poker brands to grow a segmented database of players in anticipation of the regulation of real-money poker in a state.

Any mention of gaming leads of course to questions of legality. Fortunately, the US regulatory environment is even more friendly for social gambling brands than it is for daily fantasy sports and online horse-racing wagering. At present, social gambling brands can operate in all 50 US states without any regulatory restrictions. 

When operators also consider that SuperData Research estimates that there are 35.4 million US social casino players, which is 14.6% of the country’s adult population, they’ll realise that developing a social brand will provide an important additional revenue stream in the short-term while positioning them for the long-term realities of real-money regulation. Unsurprisingly, land-based casino operators in states like Pennsylvania that are considering iGaming regulation have recently launched social casino brands in preparation.

Marketing to Make the Most of Each Opportunity 

While social gaming, daily fantasy sports and online horse-racing wagering brands offer operators an important US opportunity for both the short and long term, they will only succeed if they develop a balanced marketing ecosystem for their brands. This is when operators maintain the delicate balance between above-the-line or mass marketing techniques and their digital below-the-line (niche) marketing channels.

For example, a land-based casino developing a social gaming brand for their website should ensure that they don’t place too much emphasis on their traditional above-the-line channels such as TV, print, radio and billboard advertising. While these channels are vitally important, they will be even more effective when supported by a full suite of digital marketing activities. These should include search engine optimisation (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, email and social media marketing campaigns, media buys and affiliate or performance marketing.

By developing brands in one or more alternative US iGaming verticals – whether it’s online horse-racing wagering, daily fantasy sports or social gaming – and then balancing digital marketing and above-the-line marketing techniques to effectively acquire players, operators will gain a foothold in the US iGaming market. In the short-term, they’ll have an additional revenue stream and in the long-term they’ll be able to anticipate the state-by-state regulation of real-money online poker and casino gaming. Whichever US state passes iGaming legislation next, these far-sighted operators will be well prepared.      

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