Since time immemorial, online sports betting has been a particular source of entertainment in Europe. Whether it was with large, cumbersome computers or Internet service that relied on a dial-up telephone, people still managed to find ways to bet on their favorite sports and teams.
However, through the years, sports betting has grown by leaps and bounds with Europe continuing to be a leading global market. Considered to be the world’s largest regulated online market, online gambling today produces £5.4 billion ($7.1 billion) in gross revenue each and every year. How did the European market become that massive? A mobile-centric approach to sports betting has a lot to do with it.
A Mobile-Focused Approach to Sports Betting
The past 20 years have witnessed regulations being enforced all over Europe, with various governments making the call to license and tax the popular recreational activity, even as hundreds of online bookmakers emerged to make their hay in the mad online gambling gold rush.
Much of the betting frenzy in Europe was actually sparked by the mobile revolution, with many online sportsbooks reporting that an estimated 80 percent of betting activity is done with the use of various handheld devices. A fine example is foremost UK online bookmaker Sky Bet, which was purchased by The Stars Group for $4.7 billion last year. According to Sky Bet, 90% of bets are on mobile.
A mobile-first approach to product and customer procurement has been common across the Atlantic since the arrival of convenient smartphones and betting apps. The steady evolution of products and devices means today’s sports betting sites and apps are night and day when matched up with undeveloped mechanisms of yesteryears.
But regardless of desktop or mobile, European operators have worked hard over the years on fine-tuning their products with importance on speed and simplicity. For operators, it’s all about logging in, usually with the use of biometrics these days, finding the preferred market, and placing a bet with the fewest clicks possible before or during live sport.
According to Ed Andrewes, who has functioned in senior positions at Ladbrokes and BetVictor and now owns EAGC, lead consultant to Resorts Digital Gaming, the United States market can do well to learn from the UK market.
“A key lesson for the US is that sites have got to be functional, particularly with mobile,” said Andrewes. “It’s all about ease of use and getting your bet on as quickly and easily as possible, and following a clear customer user journey.
“Nothing must get in the way of putting a bet on as fast as possible. The evolution of product has been fairly phenomenal in Europe, albeit over a relatively long time period. The product has certainly come a long way, but I definitely think the US will start with a much more advanced product,” Andrewes added.
The Advent of Sports Betting Apps
The public got a taste of what’s to come from a standout mobile betting experience when the first NJ sportsbook apps were released in August in New Jersey. On the whole, the products got rave reviews and were a significant upgrade on the betting apps in Nevada.
Despite mobile launching after retail betting in New Jersey, mobile already accounts for 80% of revenue in the state. However, as legal sports betting spreads, it’s going to draw in massive numbers of casual gamblers and betting neophytes.
This highlights the absolute need to keep products forthright with clear navigation, especially on mobile, rather than overwhelming green gamblers with intricate layouts and too much content.
Is Less More When It Comes to Betting Options?
A case can be at times made, that less is more when it comes to online sports betting. However, operators consistently hold the fear of missing out on business opportunities if they don’t produce a wild array of markets.
A fair example is that of FanDuel Sportsbook in New Jersey, which offers almost 200 pre-play and around 70 in-play markets for major sports events. According to FanDuel, this simply outstrips the average number of the markets offered by its competitors.
For a while, European bookmakers were keenly involved in an arms race to determine which could offer the most markets on soccer. However, many of these derivative markets just became window dressing as most casual bettors are looking to bet on core markets.
“I think trying to present 200 markets to a new US consumer would be a mistake,” explained Warren Llambias, who is the co-founder and managing director of RedZone.bet, which is a London-based online bookie with a heavy concentration on sports betting in the US. “You need to slowly grow with the US customer base and listen to what they are saying.
“The additional markets that you want to add should be geared toward the player prop markets, which are the basis of fantasy games. That’s the way you should go, not by copying European operators in offering too much too soon.”
Features That Bettors in the US Want to See
Perhaps the principal innovation the gambling industry has seen in the last decade has been the cash-out feature, whereby bookmakers offer customers a cash amount to instantly leave a winning or losing position. It’s an omnipresent and high-margin instrument which particularly popular with recreational gamblers who bet parlays. It’s available in New Jersey, as well.
Four years ago, though, online giant bet365 became the very first major online operator to introduce a partial cash-out feature. Users modify a slider to decide how much of their bet they want to cash out and how much they want to keep running, thereby offering them better control over their bets.
Another feature that has been a resounding success this past few years is the so-called “request-a-bet” service, which was first pioneered by Sky Bet. This is where bettors ask bookmakers through Twitter for odds for particular occurrences or outcomes during a sporting event.
The firm then opts whether or not to price it up and post the odds on its website. To show the popularity of these personalized wagers, UK bookmaker William Hill received more than 2 million #YourOdds requests on last summer’s soccer World Cup alone.
All the foremost UK companies have these customer-generated offerings. However, the process has been automated to a specific extent with the advent in the past 12 months of what is referred to as “bet builders.”
These are tools inside a sportsbook that lets customers combine possible in-game scenarios to establish their in-game parlays, e.g., Barcelona to win 3-0, Luis Suarez to score any time and there to be more than six corners. That’s +1100.
Besides this, obligatory features US sports bettors would automatically expect live streaming. The likes of bet365 stream 140,000 events a year, while FanDuel Sportsbook was the first in New Jersey to launch live streaming (tennis’s Australian Open in January).
When streaming is not available, in-play visualization, live scoreboards and stats aid with engagement help encourage users to keep the app open and bet in play.
What Other Markets Can Learn From the Mistakes That the European Market Has Made
While online betting has surged in popularity in other countries like the UK, the road has not been without its fair share of potholes. Responsible Gambling (RG) has been one specific area where the industry has notoriously dropped and fumbled the ball, leading to huge multimillion-dollar fines handed down to operators for RG failings.
RG has become such a contentious issue that has gathered widespread mainstream media coverage and it has placed the spotlight on the industry’s practices.
Amidst rising scrutiny over the inescapability of gambling, the UK industry has agreed to a self-imposed whistle-to-whistle ban on all betting TV commercials during live sport before 9 pm. This was seen as a pre-emptive move to fight off potential regulatory intervention.
Nevertheless, Llambias had this to say regarding the matter: “I would say to the US, ‘get your house in order before someone else does’ because it might become a little bit more forgiving if you’ve handled the problem yourself. America is a very litigious country, so I expect some quite huge fines if they don’t keep their houses in order.”
Pull the Reins in on the Aggressive Bonus Culture
Holding off on attractive bonus offers is at times, easier said than done in a competitive marketplace. Operators might be prudent enough to curtail the aggressive bonusing to get and keep players.
In Sweden’s recently re-regulated market, for example, operators are now only allowed to hand a bonus to a player when he or she first signs up.
“During the online boom, operators were perhaps a little too gung-ho with their bonusing,” Llambias relayed. “It’s led to responsible gambling being managed for us by the UK Gambling Commission when it would have been much better if perhaps the industry had regulated itself.”
A Top Priority Should be Self-Exclusion Methods
One key RG element should be a sufficient self-exclusion register that allows players to block themselves from all sites, which is already the case in New Jersey. Sweden launched an identical scheme at the turn of the year. By the end of March, more than 30,000 players had self-excluded.
“One thing that works well in New Jersey is the self-exclusion list,” exclaimed Andrewes. “In the UK, you can self-exclude on one site but there are 173 others that you can register straight away with and go and place a bet…A proper functioning self-exclusion list is important and a really solid starting point for a good responsible gaming policy.”
Overall, US operators and regulators can stand to learn a lot from online sports betting’s journey in Europe. It boils down to taking bits of the good and taking heed of the bad.
The Continuous Rise of the European Sports Betting Market
The gross gambling revenue (GGR) of European countries tends to be highest in countries Italy and the United Kingdom, which is followed by Germany, France, and Spain. The GGR comprises an estimated 0.5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) on average.
The overall online GGR in Europe is projected to reach roughly 24.7 billion euros by 2020 and is typically produced by sports betting, online casinos and online lottery. Poker only makes up for a mere six percent of the online gambling market in Europe.
As mentioned above, the advent of technological innovation means that consumers can now enjoy online gambling and betting anywhere, anytime, especially across Europe. Because of this technological change, Europe’s online gambling market is growing at about 10% per year, faster than land-based gambling, such as casinos or bookmaker shops.
The economic size (or gross profit) of the European online sector is expected to increase from €19.6 billion in 2017 to €24.7 billion in 2020.
In 2017, the online sector had a 20.7% share of the EU gambling market, compared to land-based gambling which had a 79.3% share. The online share of the market is expected to grow to 24.9% in 2020. The growth in online gambling is also being driven by the ever-changing regulatory landscapes in European countries, most of which now have focused regulation for online gambling activities.
The European market is also the largest and most competitive for online gambling. In 2017, Europe had a 48.9% share of the global online gambling market and this is forecasted to remain relatively stable until at least 2020. With sports betting now legalized in some US states, European firms are now starting to get their respective corners in the US market, increasing their clout and reach and bring their expertise to new, foreign, and untapped markets, which may prove to be highly lucrative.