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The new Diamond Casino Resort in Rockstar Games’ GTA Online offers gamers a taste of the virtual high life. J Moses, director of Rockstar owner Take-Two Interactive, speaks to Jake Pollard about the release and explains his vision of betting, esports and video games interacting in a future US igaming ecosystem.
The launch of the Diamond Casino Resort by Grand Theft Auto’s publisher Rockstar Games has been hailed as a milestone moment for esports, video games and igaming. Some of those connections might appear looser than others at first, but speaking to J Moses, director of Rockstar Games’ parent company Take- Two Interactive, you soon realise that he sits at the crossroad of some major currents linked to the three sectors.
Moses, however, is not your typical video games industry executive. Along with his role at Take-Two Interactive, he is an investor in the sports betting technology company Bet.Works. He also comes from a bookmaking background and is familiar with the industry and how it works – which is not as common in the US as one might think.
This experience means Moses is knowledgeable about a US sports betting sector that is evolving fast, while being involved with another, esports, that is doing the same – and in his eyes could go on to supersede the traditional US sports betting formats.
But first to GTA Online. According to data from NPD Group, the video game is the best-selling entertainment product in history, grossing about $6bn since its launch in 2013.
More than five years after going live – an eternity in video game years – it is still one of the top 20 best-selling video games in the US.
The commercial success of GTA Online is impressive, but the reach and customer base it gives Rockstar/ Take-Two Interactive is just as important, enabling the group to tap into its huge audience when launching new products.
One of those has been the launch of the Diamond Casino Resort, a free-to- play casino where members can play for rewards and loyalty points. GTA Online allows the in-game virtual currency that users purchase with real money to be spent on casino chips with which to gamble. However, these cannot be cashed out for real money.
Moses tells iGB that the Diamond Casino features “GTA Online casino-style minigame activities” and that it is “the first time that a GTA title has included those activities using virtual currency”.
He also points out that “the casino building [within the game] has been ‘under construction’ in GTA Online for six years. Rockstar is constantly creating new content for GTA Online and this casino content is just one of those expansions. It offers new missions, new vehicles, new locations and many new features in addition to the casino activities”.
Moses would not comment on the direction the group might go in with this new casino product, such as whether it will decide to launch a real-money GTA- branded Diamond Casino. But it is easy to imagine Rockstar has the technical expertise to develop and design a high- quality RMG casino site if it wanted to.
Fingers in many pies
Next up for discussion are sports betting and esports, and one quickly realises that Moses’ associated business interests are ideally positioned at a time of major and potentially hugely exciting change.
He is an investor in the sports betting solutions provider Bet.Works. The group supplies the betting technology that will power the offering of the sports data and media specialist theScore.
It is one of four companies (the others being DraftKings, Pointsbet and the Stars Group) to have entered into multi-year market-access agreements with Penn National Gaming, the largest regional casino operator in the US.
The deal will run for a 20-year period and theScore-branded sportsbooks will be live in 11 states, including Texas, Indiana and Michigan, with Penn Interactive Ventures taking a strategic equity stake of 4.7% in theScore.
Says Moses: “TheScore has been a pioneer in sports media and has grown into the leading publisher of sports news and data in the US since launching in 2012. As a media platform it has about 20 million registered users and all of them are serious sports fans.
“The venture [between Penn and theScore] is hugely promising and I believe will be a major player in the US betting space. TheScore will be able to target millions of players and data mine them from day one.
“Any new sports betting entrant operator launching without a database of potential customers to market to according to their preferred sports, teams they support and user history, will find it extremely difficult.”
TheScore’s mobile app is one of the most popular sports apps in North America according to the group, with an audience of some four million monthly active users across every US state.
For Moses, this scale and reach is unprecedented among other entrants and the company’s mobile focus will also be a key factor in how it drives forward.
Moses is also confident that esports betting will be a major success in the US. “John Levy (CEO of theScore) is big on esports and it’s a safe bet that they will be able to offer esports markets.
There are issues that need be addressed like latency, but everyone agrees that they will get resolved. Within five to 10 years esports will be the number one betting sport in the US.”
That sounds like a bold claim, but Moses adds: “The NFL is the biggest at the moment, but if it’s nine in the morning and I want to place a bet, what do I bet on? With esports there won’t be that content availability issue, it will be ubiquitous and the video game betting opportunity will be 24/7. Content quantity in esports will just keep on going.”
Key structural issues such as ensuring bettors are not underage, geofencing, ID and age verification will be eliminated eventually, according to Moses. “Regulators know what is at stake and the challenges that need to be addressed. It’s going to happen – and fast.”
For Moses, the sheer scale of esports is what will make the difference. “There are these huge communities of gamers engaging with one another and it’s only a matter of time before opportunities arise where they can take part in peer- to-peer betting. If you link these online communities, you have millions of people interacting and there’s an awful lot you can do with that.
Eventually my vision is to enable them to bet on a P2P basis: head-to-head or team-to-team betting competitions for cash.”
Such a vision may not be for the immediate future, but for Moses, seeing publishers and rights holders enter the fray as bona fide operators could shake up the established order in a major way.
“Whether it is publishers or social networks, they have the audience, infrastructure, relationship with consumers and financial processing capacity already in place,” he says.
With sports media rights being so high and potentially putting off some suitors, Moses says “publishers and broadcasters can develop new revenue sources: customers can watch a game on their mobile and bet on it. It’s direct-to-consumer and there is too much revenue at play for it not to be regulated.”
From a strategic perspective, Moses and the ventures he is involved with are positioned at a juncture where video games intersect with esports and, if they decided to, could enter real money online casino. And we haven’t even mentioned the ‘standard’ US sports betting products he will be publishing across 11 states via the partnership between Penn National Gaming, theScore and Bet.Works.
J Moses was at the Riverside Casino in Iowa when we spoke to him, preparing the launch of the Bet.Works- powered Elite sportsbook. He’s involved in many ventures, but whether it is Take-Two Interactive or Bet.Works, they seem to be ideally positioned to benefit from the esports, online casino, sports betting and igaming streams flowing through the US at the moment.