Exclusive: Hard Rock Digital's Matt Primeaux

"Hard Rock Sportsbook is taking a different approach from competitors, not interested in simply buying market share at an irrational price"

Matt Primeaux, Executive Managing Director, President of Hard Rock Digital.
2022-06-08
Reading time 5:44 min

"We’re in the midst of a multi-state rollout of Hard Rock Sportsbook," Matt Primeaux, Executive Managing Director, President of Hard Rock Digital tells Yogonet in an exclusive interview. It's exciting times for the digital arm of the gaming and hospitality heavyweight: its sportsbook product has not only launched in both Arizona and Virginia over the last few months, but plans are also in place to go live in Indiana and Tennessee in the near future, plus on Ohio on Day 1. State by state, Hard Rock is seeking to leverage its experience and the popularity of its renowned brand to gain a larger footprint in the booming sports gaming space.

In conversation with Yogonet, Primeaux details the keys behind the new launches and the product's characteristics, plus explains Hard Rock Digital's approach to marketing and expansion, and how it differentiates from the competence. The executive also discusses the US sports gaming landscape at large, synergies with Hard Rock's land-based operations and future plans for the brand.

Hard Rock launched its sportsbook in Arizona in April, through a partnership with the Navajo Nation. What are the keys behind this deal, and what made Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise the suitable partner for this endeavor?

We look for certain attributes in market access partners that fit with our Hard Rock ethos in addition to seeking out those that want to be engaged in building the business locally, pooling resources, and a customer-first model that delivers a best-in-class entertainment and hospitality experience for our players.

Navajo Gaming has proven to be a like-minded partner and has not only met, but exceeded everything we could have asked for. Additionally, they have a first-class casino property at Twin Arrows which will allow us to explore new engaging ways with our omni-channel efforts and give us the opportunity to trial different ways to converge online and offline betting experiences for our loyal players.

Your new app is now available in both Arizona and Virginia. What are the main features of Hard Rock Sportsbook and what does it bring to the table in terms of gaming options and offerings? How will the platform stand out from the competition?

We’re proud of our app’s many unique features and know that players will appreciate its simple, intuitive and uncluttered user experience. One of our major goals in product development was to create a platform that was easy and entertaining enough for a first-time bettor, while also offering all the robust features that long-time players expect.

We’ve obsessed over providing frictionless navigation, getting players their withdrawals fast via unique methods like Venmo and Instant Bank Transfer, and really bolstering our trading offering across sports, player props, and Same Game Parlays. We own our own technology and development pipeline, and really look at the product output from our Austin, TX team as a competitive differentiator long-term in this space.

Arizona and Virginia are competitive markets, with double-digit operators for mobile event wagering. Initial rollout has been aggressive from a marketing standpoint, with high costs for marketing. What will be Hard Rock’s strategy to build a presence within these states? What short and mid-term objectives does the company have in terms of market share?

Hard Rock Sportsbook is taking a different approach than our major competitors. We are building a robust, sustainable business and aren’t interested in simply buying market share at an irrational price. Rather, we’re investing in the foundation of the business for the long-term — in product, marketing technologies and cultivating an innovation-minded team.

While some of our competition is looking at a three-year payback period on their marketing spend, we’re using the power of the Hard Rock brand, our in-house data science team, and executional know-how in our marketing division to scale into a 9- to 12-month payback period.

Hard Rock is a lifestyle and entertainment brand, and we’re focused on bringing that brand experience to a broad group of players. To help do that, in addition to hiring the best from within the gaming industry, we hired a marketing team consisting of leadership from Twitch, PlayStation, and Facebook and a data science team that can bring to life personalization that hasn’t existed in our space before.

By hiring the best, owning our own tech stack and incorporating Hard Rock’s casinos, hotels, cafes, concert venues and rich music history, we believe we have the foundation for long-term success that stands apart from that traditional sea of sameness.

A recent Morgan Stanley report rated the US betting and iGaming market as “very large and concentrated,” with high barriers to enter each state given top 5 operators have about an 80% combined market share. How does the company assess the current US landscape? What main opportunities and challenges does it find there, and how would you describe long-term goals?

To be successful domestically in the US gambling market, you need to have several key ingredients – your own technology, a team that can navigate the intricacies of the state-by-state market rollout, capital to invest in the high startup costs, and a ‘fight to win’ mentality. The combination of our team at Hard Rock Digital and our partners at Hard Rock International and The Seminole Tribe of Florida embodies the complete package.

We evaluate markets here in the US and globally through the lens of state or country-level contribution and whether we believe current market dynamics will allow us to operate at rational unit economics while providing a great user experience for players. Among other innovations, we believe that continued investment in our supporting technologies and the unique experiences we can provide players will be key differentiators in our ability to compete at the highest levels on a long-term basis.

We’re incredibly excited about the pipeline our Austin, Texas, product development teams are working towards and the initiatives our Florida marketing and operations teams continue to advance.

Hard Rock has launched in Virginia, a market where the Hard Rock Bristol casino is expected to open under a temporary facility in July while construction of the permanent venue is underway. Could you tell us how the sports betting launch will be in this market, where land-based venues were authorized a couple of years ago and the landscape is new? Additionally, what integrations could we see between digital offerings and Hard Rock’s new loyalty program, Unity?

We’re incredibly excited for the opportunity in Virginia with a Hard Rock Sportsbook retail location opening at the Bristol casino in July. Having an in-state Hard Rock or a partner property, like Twin Arrows in Arizona, allows us to employ a multi-channel strategy to engage players and offer integrated online and in-person experiences.

Virginia is a competitive mobile market, but we think the imminent opening of our brick and mortar property offers us an advantage in acquiring, entertaining, and rewarding players. Our rewards will be fully integrated with the Unity by Hard Rock program and allow our players to redeem rewards across the Hard Rock ecosystem for free play at our casinos, discounts on meals, hotel room nights, Rock Shop merchandise and more at participating Hard Rock locations worldwide.

Now that Hard Rock Sportsbook is operational in four states, which other markets is Hard Rock Digital eyeing for a future expansion? Additionally, the sportsbook was forced to halt operations in its home state of Florida last December following a federal district judge ruling. Could you provide us, if possible, an update on this situation and Hard Rock’s expectations for this market?

We’re in the midst of a multi-state rollout of Hard Rock Sportsbook with intentions to launch online soon in Indiana and Tennessee. We also intend to be live on Day 1 in Ohio, which we view as a huge opportunity with an existing Hard Rock player base from our Cincinnati property. Our product and development teams continue to work on bringing a custom iCasino experience to our new app that will open up further rollouts both here in the US and globally.

Hard Rock Sportsbook was extremely popular during our operations in Florida, and we’re appreciative of the overwhelming support and positive feedback we continue to receive from customers throughout the state. Our partners at the Seminole Tribe of Florida are confident in the merits of the case, which has the support of both the federal government and the State of Florida, and we look forward to the appellate court considering the matter.

Rodrigo Capeans
by Rodrigo Capeans
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