ICE North America Digital: Day 5 round-up

15 May 2020

ICE North America Digital concluded with a look to the future through a discussion of esports and innovation, and featured a very special guest, with New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement director Dave Rebuck joining the discussions. 

First up was Rahul Sood, founder of esports betting specialist Unirkn and Seth Schorr of Fifth Street Gaming (pictured below respectively) discussing how the bricks and mortar industry can rebound after the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, while embracing new products and technology.

Schorr pointed that the Las Vegas has constantly reinvented itself over the years, underpinned by a focus on delivering “great in-person experiences”. But he admitted that in a state with 70-80% of revenue coming from gaming, it has faced a significant hit from the crisis, and the short-term outlook was far form positive. 

He warned that any business or property that was experiencing difficulties before Covid-19 hit was very unlikely to reopen in the post-pandemic environment. Looking ahead, he predicted that products such as esports and virtuals would become a bigger component of operators’ entertainment offering. 

Sood suggested this was something regulators were aware of, and had been “more than accommodating” in helping Unirkn work its way through licensing processes. While its core business has been esports betting, it is now evolving to cover new forms of gambling, such as virtual sports. 

He pointed out that customers rarely have any deep level of engagement with current virtuals products. 

“You’re just placing a bet then letting it go,” he said. “There’s been a shift to make it more interesting, with new graphics, but we felt that wasn’t enough.”

Unirkn is therefore looking to build ongoing engagement by creating digital thoroughbreds, which have different bloodlines to give them different strengths and weaknesses, and can be bred, traded and raced. 

“We’re not trying to make them look like real horses, we’re creating racetracks on the Las Vegas Strip, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, trying to create what racing in 2140 looks like,” he said. 

While Schorr said this would certainly add to the experience, it would be even more engaging when enjoyed with others. 

“That’s something the online experience will never be able to offer. We can’t forget about the value of brick and mortar,” he said “It is going to be tough for the next six to 12 months, but it will be lack.”

Sood was hopeful of Las Vegas rebounding. He pointed out the huge investment in the city, not to mention a number of sports franchises moving there, as some of an ever-increasing number of reasons for visitors to return as soon as the pandemic eased.

NJ takes centre stage
In a wrap-up session, special guest and Director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement David Rebuck (pictured centre in picture below right surrounded by the week's moderators) focused on the success of online casino in New Jersey, and questioned why other states had not taken steps towards regulating the vertical.

“As regulators, many of us would argue that the controls and standards we have in play on the online side of the house are superior to a brick-and-mortar establishment,” Rebuck said. “The data we have, the information, the ability to verify their identity to the utmost degree is all so much better. You cannot be anonymous online.

“Nobody can say the regulatory systems for overseeing online gambling are weak.”

Rebuck added that online gambling had been thriving in New Jersey since land-based venues shut down.

“Obviously we were zeroed out on retail operations, but our online operations had some staggeringly impressive numbers,” Rebuck said. “If the monthly numbers were to continue at that pace, it’s an industry that would surpass $1bn annually.

“Whether that continues when retail comes back, I think that’s unknown.”

Moving to the long-term effects of Covid-19, Clarion Gaming director of industry insight and engagement Ewa Bakun said the shutdown was the perfect opportunity to innovate.

“This is the time to pause, but also to innovate, partly because the industry might be forced into it,” Bakun said. “The big question to me is about the sustainability of products like virtuals and esports that the industry has been talking about for a long time.”

Clarion Gaming non-executive director Michael Caselli said he feared the virus would lead to less innovation than it should.

“We have a tendency to do things quarter-by-quarter,” Caselli said. “If things worked in the last quarter then that’s good enough for us. I’m worried that when things open up again, we’ll just go back to normal.”

Jason Rosenberg, chief executive and founder of American iGaming Solutions, said anyone looking at New Jersey would see that things should not return to normal.

“The answer is to look at the results in New Jersey. Not just online gaming, even social gaming. It’s allowing brands to take in revenue and interact with players.”

Read iGB North America's round-ups of day one, two and three

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