n a video interview with Yogonet, Arcangelo Lonoce, Head of Business Development for Europe at Habanero Systems, said the online slots and table games provider has not seen a tangible increase in unique players in relation to the pandemic, though the company continues to sign deals with new operators every month. "What we have noticed is a change in player behavior. We saw a remarkable increase in the number of bets and an equally remarkable decrease in average bet value, along with the average turnover per player. This suggests players are spending more time playing, but they are betting less and more responsibly than ever since lockdown."
Lonoce said while there’s been no increase in demand for RNG slots and table games from existing online operators, Habanero has seen a number of land-based and retail operations requesting its content as they begin moving online. "RNG casino games are not the sort of vertical that would be dramatically affected by a retail and sportsbook crisis unless you already had a tangible retail following. The cancellation of sports events has definitely meant an increase in terms of the popularity of some other verticals, such as virtual sports, esports, poker and skill games, which have likely benefited from such events, and the numbers seen in some regulated markets over the past weeks appear to back this assumption."
Among the several markets where Habanero has entered in recent months, Lonoce said Spain is a priority for the company, with a number of prestigious deals and integrations already signed, but yet to go live. "Covid or not Covid, I believe the country is destined to shift towards online and digital. The penetration of the online segment of the casino industry in Spain is around 11%, which makes me believe that with demographical changes and with the unfortunate developments of this pandemic, there will be a remarkable shift towards the online segment."
Italy has been Habanero's main target since it entered Europe in 2017. Now the supplier has an established presence with around 20 different operators, with more deals in the pipeline. "The online penetration is very very low, and the land-based and retail business in Italy is very strong, which means that inevitably, what you will see in the future is the shift toward online segments," Lonoce said. "Italian online players are curious and knowledgeable and casino management is equally dynamic and dedicated. The competition among them is very healthy and overly based on product strategy, more than marketing-based, something that allowed them to weather the disruptive effects of the blanket advertising ban passed by the government in 2018."
Furthermore, he said Portugal, Romania and Germany are all very promising markets. Portugal and Romania are more established, and he sees a lot of potential with certain verticals in particular, like table games in Portugal. "While Germany, where we have only been live in a social casino model, will be keeping our focus as we wait to see when and how it’s regulated. Online penetration in the casino market appears to be relatively low as well, for a country like Germany, around 16%."
Regarding global operators, Lonoce noted the key role of understanding technological localisation and cultural specifics. "Over the years we have produced a portfolio of original titles inspired by a vast array of cultures. At the core, there is a gambling identity hard-wired in our company which generates captivating maths models informing a highly entertaining device. Our games are designed to suit every market, and we see remarkable differences in the performance of titles from one market to another."
Habanero's executive said he has seen an appetite from many retail, land-based operators, who might have overlooked the online environment over the years, to shift towards trying to build a strong online operation. He said the supplier also seeks to pioneer new regulated markets together with its global partners. He also said he would like to see the pandemic accelerating new iGaming market openings. "I believe there is an opportunity. My trust towards politicians and regulators is limited, I see sometimes they depress opportunities for very healthy developments in regulated markets with debatable positions, sometimes with misguided or misunderstood concepts towards the industry."
"When we talk about retail players, land-based players and the totally digital online environment we might assume that land-based players are more traditional compared to online players. And that the online environment only appeals to a certain type of more sophisticated type. In my opinion, this is not true," Lonoce said. He added that the online product is always taking input primarily from the retail and land-based history of gambling. "In fact, when you look at what happens in most of the creations that are released to this day in the online industry, I really haven't seen any important departure from the original modes of creating a slot machine, let alone table games."
Lonoce does not foresee any dramatic change in player behaviour dictated by a device. "So I don't believe at all that what we are seeing at the moment is going to facilitate any radical change in terms of product development, I don't believe at all that Habanero will start changing areas, verticals, ideas that do not belong to our DNA, definitely not." He explained that as the company has only operated digitally and online, it is "very much ready" for this shift towards the online.
He noted that changes may come because of environmental elements, for instance, as mobile phones do not shut at night like shops, pubs and bars do. He believes this now more than ever calls for a serious stance on responsible gambling rather than product adaptation. He also sees some potential upgrades with some other forms of entertainment, that might involve sportsbooks, virtual sports, the use of RNG in certain other platforms.
Moreover, Lonoce sees a variety of Habanero slots performing "exceptionally well," and underlines table games as an important part of their business, among our the company's revenue drivers everywhere it operates. "Far from thinking of disruption and revolution, we really want to make sure that what we do is absolutely impeccable."
What Habanero is focusing at the moment is making sure it responds to some of the requirements from some of our customers, being gamification one of the most frequent ones, according to Lonoce said one of the most frequent ones is gamification. "It is something that seems to be becoming more important, with regulatory developments that we are seeing around, which makes the use of bonuses very difficult, and at the same time, makes acquisition tools very useful. Product strategy is absolutely essential, for an operator to adapt to this challenge. And gamification definitely goes towards this objective."
Lonoce told Yogonet that Habanero is working on this area, and it has an important announcement in the pipeline, to be unveiled soon enough. "This new project will not only enrich our suite of games, but is designed to deliver exceptional acquisition and retention value," he concludes.