In a super-competitive environment, William Hill thrown for a big loss in Super Bowl app snafu

February 15, 2023 10:11 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
February 15, 2023 10:11 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

After spending millions to craft its image as a leader in the burgeoning high-tech sports-betting industry, William Hill risked fumbling it all away with its Nevada app’s embarrassing breakdown during Sunday’s Super Bowl.

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Sound harsh and premature? It’s not – not in an environment of cutthroat competition, rapid expansion, and political intrigue in key states as sports-betting legalization advocates fight for every inch of ground.

With the gambling world watching and betting billions on the game, the company’s sports apps in Nevada took a knee during the second quarter and remained down the rest of the game and beyond. Not until Wednesday night was the app back online.

Stuck with its own public-relations nightmare at iconic Caesars Palace, a Caesars Entertainment spokesperson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal Tuesday, “The sports-betting platform experienced an unforeseen technical issue that took our Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill, William Hill Nevada apps, and our retail sportsbooks offline.”

And all this time I thought the gaming industry paid big money for experts capable of seeing the unforeseen.

But don’t kill the messenger. They earn a living making almost nothing sound like an actual something, followed of course by a sincere apology for the inconvenience to “valued customers.” Fortunately for Caesars, its sportsbook counters were open for business.

The Caesars statement was deeply detailed compared to the early Twitter response from William Hill in the wake of the Big Game breakdown: “We are aware of an issue affecting users in Nevada. We hope to have a resolution as soon as possible.”

A day later, the app, sportsbook, and kiosk troubles continued and the company vowed to fight on “to restore full functionality.”

Full functionality?

I think they mean they’re working to fix the problem.

The state Gaming Control Board, meanwhile, is adding the app snafu to its list of things to look into at William Hill, which recently self-reported what appears to be a substantive embezzlement scheme inside the company. Between the two issues, such trouble at a dominant industry player should have regulators seriously questioning its internal control systems.

As the Board’s technology division investigates the issue, perhaps the saving grace, financially speaking, can be found in the brief post-Super Bowl lull in the action as betting fans take a breather before March Madness. But at a time of intense lobbying for legalization and expansion in Texas, New York, and elsewhere, even temporarily stiffing sports bettors who have trusted the technology sends a terrible message.

I have to believe those who bet sports through an app have taken for granted that the process was secured by a reliable backup system. But for the scores of people who haven’t thought twice about using the William Hill app in Nevada, there’s only a smoldering frustration and understandable anger at breakdown.

For its part, William Hill is taking an enormous hit in the credibility department with headlines that include, but are not limited to, “Bettors unable to claim their prize after Super Bowl with William Hill Sportsbook,” “Las Vegas sports bettors frustrated after William Hill app still down on Monday,” “Caesars apologizes after outage at company-owned William Hill halts Super Bowl wagering,” and on Wednesday afternoon, “William Hill betting app still offline after Super Bowl crash.”

Should William Hill be hit with a sizable delay-of-game penalty by the state gaming regulators? Or will this go down as one of those unforeseen technical issues that result in no foul?

A lot depends on how fast the company can fix its app and craft a believable message for customers who now have reason to doubt its technology. Here’s a free suggestion: Don’t break weak by resorting to Twitter.

Call me an armchair quarterback, but an ounce of prevention and a dash of transparency are worth a fortune of hype.