How Ontario operators are capitalizing on digital casino’s dominance

June 28, 2024 7:57 AM
Photo: CDC Gaming Reports
  • Mark Keast, CDC Gaming Reports
June 28, 2024 7:57 AM

When you look at the numbers, they really are staggering: The level that digital casinos dominate the Ontario igaming space, outpacing sports betting, shows no signs of abating, with operators adjusting their marketing strategies.

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Sports betting was the “star of the show” when the Ontario market rolled out. That has changed. More companies are uncoupling the two streams, having a pure casino product and making casino players feel less like they’re an ancillary to sports betting.

How do they entice seasoned and recreational players, integrating gamification elements and social strategies, to build customer bases? And how can these operators use sports betting to bridge them to igaming? That was the subject of a panel discussion last week at the Canadian Gaming Summit in Toronto.

The discussion included Riona Mohan, Director of Marketing for Betty, Peter Scott, Chief Strategy Officer, PlayAnywhere, Tony Plaskow, Founder, Pixiu (also works with Black Cow Technology), Paul Adams, Head of Marketing & Promotions, BetMGM Canada, and Filippo Ferri, Chief Compliance Officer, Delasport.

Some highlights from the discussion are as follows.

“We’re a technology solution for people to use to build that content,” said Plaskow. “Black Cow is a remote server gaming business, building any type of game that has a multi-player element to it and some form of gambling in it. We’re building multi-player table games and multi-player slots at the moment in a collaboration with Light & Wonder. But we see that a next generation of games aren’t casino-type games. They might be called arcade games and we think that that is what younger players want to play. We don’t think that they’re want to play slots or table games.

“So Black Cow is a technology enabler. We have a platform that anyone can use to build any type of game. We want people to imagine and genuinely innovate, because our industry massively lacks that innovation. But we’re starting to see younger-generation players, particularly in Brazil, who are no longer playing slots. Games like Crash, Mines, and Plinko are a lot more fun.

“One of the things we all talk about often is bringing entertainment back. In casino, you don’t really see stuff that’s entertaining. You see a slight tweak to a feature, but we want to provide engagement that’s genuinely fun. We want people to build that content.”

Said Ferri, “What Delasport wanted to do from the beginning was differentiate in terms of innovation. How do you innovate the sportsbook? You have to layer something on top of it, make it more modern, more entertainment-like. Delasport went down the route of gamification within the sports-betting industry in order to attract a younger generation, to change the game a bit, personalize it to make it more Netflix-like.”

The initial concept was to bring people in through sports betting, then they become casino players, enticed by different games, free to play elements, anything that brings additional value, said Adams.

“If you look at any sort of metric, there’s more of a focus on casino,” he said. “Sports players are on our platform. So what can you do to get in front of them that they would engage with? What free-to-play games with different dynamic tools? What IP games such as Ace Ventura, crash games, etc.? There’s opportunity with that.”

BetMGM has been able to use their partnership with the NHL to launch NHL-branded blackjack games, as another example.

According to iGaming Ontario, casinos saw an 88 percent increase in wagers in 2023-24 compared to the previous fiscal year, where sports betting saw a 36 percent increase. BetMGM’s in-house has given them an advantage, Adams added.

Said Scott, “AI enables direct personalization with every game. The fact that [Black Cow] has built a platform that can empower people to build their own games, that’s a pretty powerful thing in 2024, whereas the economics of doing that in 2022 just weren’t there. That’s leading to tribes, different fandoms of different types of games, but at the same time being able to create scale at a cost that makes it reasonable to do that.”

Using social-media influencers to drive participation will also be a focus for operators, to build brand.

Betty is a female-focused, slots-only, igaming site targeting Ontario players, with low deposits and a hyper focus that has allowed them to build a loyal customer base in the province, Mohan said. That differentiation in the casino space, with north of 50 licensed operators in the province, is necessary to survive.

“[Social] has been a huge topic of conversation as we build out Betty in Ontario, finding those niches who are really going to resonate with our players. We don’t have sports betting. We don’t have table games. We don’t have live casino right now. My background is in fashion. I’m new to the gaming world six months ago, but like, influencers in general are huge in that space. And like so many of our female players, they’re online, they’re engaging in so many different types of media. So there are a lot of opportunities to utilize that.”

Operators need to mine data more effectively, to show them where users are going and what they’re betting, to provide a value exchange.

“Real innovation hardly ever came from customer data,” said Ferri. “Visionaries in our industries have come up with great ideas for products, great ideas for where to take the industry next.”

We’re “far from the finish line” in terms of where the industry is headed in Ontario, in terms if ingenuity and ideas, Adams added. “There was a race for player acquisition in year, and in Year 2, that didn’t slow down.”