CHUCK – What’s your role in the internet gambling business, Brian?
BRIAN – I have several roles in the industry. My primary role is as head of a company which monitors competition, interprets news, technology and trends in the business and keeps clients ahead of the pack in terms of strategic knowledge. Another division of the company carries out more “traditional” internet marketing consulting on such issues as cost-effective creation of marketing plans, techniques, campaigns, sites, banners and the like. Then I am a part-owner and marketing director of an online casino called Casino Jetset. I am currently getting involved in a voluntary capacity with the Online Players Association, in which I have a strong belief and I have just started a new webcast project with Mike Craig over at CasinoGazette.
Tell us a bit about Casino Jetset.
I have been involved with this casino from its earliest days. I was a founder member of the team which planned, built and launched Jetset almost two and a half years ago – that’s a lifetime in the nascent and fast-moving world of internet gambling! I was commissioned by a Canadian public company which wanted to get involved in the burgeoning online gambling business but did not have the expertise, so myself and a colleague did some very intensive research and put 12 quality casinos online over a space of six months immediately following the R & D program. I then stayed on for a further year to get the marketing in place and before returning to my consultancy I was offered a share in Jetset by the licencees.
I’m clearly biased but right from the concept layouts I preferred Jetset to the other casinos we put up. For me it has a well executed mod jetstream theme with lots of information upfront, a cool navigation map and I really love the sound effects!! We still have a smallish games suite, which we plan to expand soon, but it covers the main faves and we have a good and loyal player base.
Right from the start we decided that fast and reliable 789betting payouts had to be a prime business objective – our player surveys told us that. We’ve always held this as a top priority – even when we were hit hard with several $10 000 plus winners in our first month or so! I can tell you that made my eyes water a bit! Since then of course we have grown in player-base and turnover so big hits don’t test us as they did in those early days.
We have always used the now common technique of good signup and send-a-friend bonuses and to those we have recently added some special bonuses for members of the Online Players Association.
How do you think Microgaming rates when compared to other casino software providers like Boss Media, Cryptologic and Starnet?
I guess you could say I am biased, because we selected Microgaming during our research program two and a half years back and from a technical service and general quality perspective we have not had cause to regret that. I would say that since those early days some of the newer suppliers are also pretty good, but I reckon that Microgaming, Boss Media and Cryptologic still pretty much rule the roost in terms of quality and new technology development. I have respect for Starnet but I don’t personally like their software that much (and I reserve judgement for now on their Beyond2000 stuff). The fact that many of their sites capitalized on soft porn and that there was such a wide disparity in site quality put me off during our evaluations, too. These days they are churning sites out like a sausage machine, and in my view many of them are sub-standard. I don’t like what the Casino Affiliate Network stuff is doing to the overall image of the industry, either.
Looking at the newer guys, I like the look and feel of RealTime Gaming and to a slightly lesser extent GoldPlay and Radiate as download packages, and on the Java front I think that Gambling Software Systems are doing an ace job on the growing range of casinos they seem to be producing – I counted around eighty on our database just recently. Some of the CasinoAge games are also looking good, although we have not yet completed a full evaluation on those thus far. I think the grouped VGE casinos over at The Casino Theme Park are a clever concept. There are now many more suppliers with some which I regard as average at best still powering a large number of sites – look at Cysphere and Random-logic as examples.
Is competition getting tough for online casinos?
Definitely – and that’s good for the players because they have more choice and they can vote with their feet if a casino falls below their often well-informed expectations. When we started out there were probably around a hundred or so online casinos and here we are down the line, say three years with over 1500 sites now logged on our database. OK, some of those may well be facades, reroutes or clones but there are still a helluva lot of competitive sites out there. And there are more coming on – we’re currently logging and assessing something like six to eight new sites every week.
Not all of those are real competition to properly constructed and operated sites committed to remaining in business well into the future. Our perception is that there are probably only around 20 to 25 percent of casinos which constitute serious competition as quality casinos with active marketing and client service. But that is still a considerable challenge, and if you look at the volume of advertising, bonus promos and email marketing going on you can see that significant marketing investment is being made.
Why do you think some online casinos are successful and others aren’t?
The pat answer is “marketing” and there is absolutely no doubt that successful casinos have professionally planned and executed marketing investment. You need to spend on that these days and it needs to be a balanced portfolio of techniques which probably include advertising both online and print, search engine positioning, promos and competitions, PR, opt-in emailing programs, newsletters, loyalty programs and client service. The latter two are particularly important in these days where client acquisition costs are rising – in other words once you have secured players you need to spend money to keep them, because it is more expensive to replace them.
Client service goes way beyond having good 24/7 service center operators (although God knows that even those seem to be in short supply judging by the irate message board comments one so often sees). It’s about being efficient, responsive and FAST when a player has a problem – especially when that problem is of an accounting or payout nature. Operators need to appreciate that a dissatisfied player going elsewhere is an actual dollars and cents loss to the casino which can be considerable over time. So high on the list of priorities is the selection of a GOOD e-cash system and processor with whom your accounts people can work. Choose the wrong e-cash folks and you can haemorrhage to death through the departure of players with a low tolerance level for delayed checks or credit card refunds, double billing or general inefficiency – and these are all frequently occurring hassles which can lose you clients.
Loyalty programs are also becoming increasingly important to reward particularly your long standing or high roller players for their support.
Good affiliate marketing programs are important, too.
What type of people are playing at online casinos? Mostly men? Mostly Americans?
According to most surveys the proportion of women gamblers has risen dramatically and these are now a force to be reckoned with. It is also clear that North Americans are currently the best heeled and most numerous online gamblers. I guess that figures as they are resident in the most successful world economy and have adapted to internet technology ahead of most. But the surveys also show that the Asian market, which has a long tradition of games of chance is on the rise quite dramatically, and you can see from the growing numbers of online casinos offering Chinese, Korean and Japanese translated versions that this has been taken aboard by casino operators. There are also a growing number of Asian-dedicated sites as a consequence of this trend.
I haven’t seen any in-depth surveys yet, but my gut feel is that as the number of Europeans coming online increases (and they are doing that rapidly) we will see growing gambler populations in that part of the world too. There are already numerous sites with a range of European languages available, and the Spanish are reputed to be serious gamblers. The other geographic segment one hears much talk about is Latin America and I think we will see great things there, too.
This online gambling phenomenon just seems to snowball. The most reputable surveys from the likes of IDC, Forresters, Bear Sterns and others all point to a business which has already passed the billion dollar mark and is set to soar to even greater heights notwithstanding legal threats in the USA and places like Australia, where the federal government seems to be creating a problem out of what was originally a world-leading regulatory philosophy applauded by all.
What all this activity predicates to me is that this is a business which has been created by a massive and ongoing demand and a gambling culture as old as Man himself. Prohibition is not the answer as like all things in demand it will simply be made available elsewhere and if necessary will go underground.
Therefore it is a logical step to REGULATE the business for the safety and benefit of all (including the authorities and the minorities with gambling addiction problems) That regulation should preferably not be by clumsily bureaucratic government officials but by elected and accountable bodies with a knowledge and passion for the business.
What do you see as some of the trends in the online casino business?
In no particular order and off the top of my head:
Growing gambler populations in Asia primarily, with European and Latin American markets growing slower but definitely.
Better e-cash security technology (smart cards for one) and service – the bankers are seeing dollar bills in this business!
More non-English language sites for targeted markets.
Better multiplayer technology leading to growing activity.
Games on WAP? Maybe, but interactive TV is on the rise too.
A more pronounced “layering” of the industry as the quality casinos increasingly distinguish themselves from the poorer quality and perhaps suspect cheapo casinos coming online. And an increasingly informed gambling population will accelerate that.
Definitely more land-based casinos (and I think even the Las Vegas folks) coming online with the huge advantage of big marketing bucks and established player bases. This is competitive, uplifting impetus for the industry.
Another Australian federal government about-face as their struggle with the territorial governments and the major Australian casino operators increases in intensity and they are overtaken by the global developments in the business. 12 month moratoriums won’t wash in this fast moving world.
The rise of consumer bodies like the Online Players Association. These could be successful because there is a perceived vacuum where players feel that their interests are not important to self-styled regulatory bodies such as the IGC, or indeed to software suppliers who are reluctant to influence their licencees in the player’s favor. This trend could be reversed by a more player-sensitive approach by those organizations, which often seem to forget where everyone’s bread and butter comes from. With government REGULATION the issue could be taken out of their hands, too. Another consequence could be better player awareness by offshore licencing venues such as Antigua and Belize – the non-responsive likes of the Khanawake tribe have a short term future unless they catch a wake-up call.
Better software technology in terms of both games and site ambience. Perhaps faster too with DSL/Broadband developments?
More aggressive marketing using cutting edge techniques such as video-streaming rich-media emailing and webcasting. And goods news for players – more emphasis on player care and retention.
Thank you, Brian.