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Entain has promised to spend £100m on a new global innovation hub called Ennovate to explore metaverse entertainment projects in collaboration with leading tech firms.

Ennovate will provide the FTSE 100 operator with a platform from which to design and launch innovative NFT and virtual reality (VR) products and experiences across its portfolio of online gambling brands.

The first concept has been unveiled today (31 January) by partypoker, which Entain said will go live with an NFT collection to showcase some of the most iconic moments and tournament hands in the history of the brand.

This will be accompanied by the launch of unique digital avatars called PokerApes, tapping into the trend kickstarted by Bored Ape Yacht Club, a collection of 10,000 unique NFTs hosted on the Ethereum blockchain.

The partypoker NFTs have been developed in association with Theta Labs, a video delivery firm powered by blockchain and one of three tech companies working alongside Entain on the Ennovate project. The other two are Verizon and BT, which will focus on delivering the new technology via 5G connectivity.

Not-for-profit organisations are also collaborating with Ennovate, using technology for innovations which bring societal and environmental benefits. All external partners will collaborate with Entain’s own tech team and use the Ennovate Hub to conceive, develop, experiment, and launch their innovations.

“We want to lead the way with new, exciting products and experiences for customers and use our cutting-edge technology to pioneer innovations in sport, gaming and interactive entertainment for the metaverse,” said Entain CEO Jette Nygaard-Andersen.

“We also want to use our position as a global technology leader to help drive innovation more widely. Working with partners around the globe, Ennovate will demonstrate how Entain’s industry-leading technology can both revolutionise experiences for consumers and deliver real benefits to society,” she added.

Ennovate’s first dedicated innovation lab will be located in Farringdon – one of London’s tech hotspots – with £40m of the overall investment earmarked for UK-specific projects.

It will host on-site experimentation work involving around 50 full-time Entain developers and software engineers.

The London base will open in the spring and is being fitted with cutting-edge technology so that customers, investors and partners can trial new immersive gaming experiences.

This will include a virtual reality room and a VR multi-sports club experience, according to Entain, which could then be spun out into the operator’s retail estate later in the year.

The Ennovate hub will also serve as an accelerator and incubator of disruptive technology start-ups from the summer, with an initial commitment of £5m guaranteed by Entain.

“Our goal is to bring the most exciting experiences in immersive sport, gaming and interactive entertainment to life as the metaverse takes shape,” said Entain COO Sandeep Tiku.

“Working with partners we believe we can achieve great things faster, both for customers and to apply these technologies and skills to benefit wider society,” he added.

Justin Dellario, who is MD of esports at Entain following the operator’s undisclosed acquisition of Unikrn last year, is scheduled to speak at our iGaming NEXT New York City event in May.

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