Australian social betting start-up Dabble has set out its plans to expand across US markets in 2024.
Dabble is a sports betting platform founded in Australia in 2020. The brand offers users a raft of social features including the ability to follow other users and copy their bets, chat with friends and comment on their activity.
In October 2023, the brand launched in the US, with a modified version of its Australian app offering daily fantasy sports games instead of traditional online sports betting.
The company had been “discussing the US opportunity since the first days of Dabble back in 2020, waiting for the right time both from Dabble’s perspective and the market,” according to co-founder and chief strategy officer Jon Robin.
Dabble opted to enter the US market with a DFS offering, while still maintaining the key social features that differentiate its online sports betting offering in Australia.
The app delivers an activity feed to users, showing the DFS activity of accounts followed by each user. It allows users to easily copy entries made by others and communicate with one another.
In addition to its social features, Dabble also offers “faster transaction acceptance, quicker resulting, and far fewer bugs/glitches” than its competitors, Robin said in an update sent to company shareholders.
Dabble’s DFS app is currently live in 20 US states, which together boast a population of 165 million residents.
As of January, the app has 450,000 registered accounts in the US. It has been ranked among the top 10 sports apps in the US App Store, alongside brands including DraftKings, FanDuel and ESPN.
By download numbers, the app outperformed sports betting competitors including MGM, Caesars, Fanatics and bet365 in December.
Dabble plans “to invest as much as possible in our growth over the next few months while maintaining sufficient reserves,” Robin said in the update, and expects to have more than 1 million registered customers by the end of June.
In order to reach its expansion targets, the company is exploring various options, including seeking DFS licensure in additional states. There are an additional five to 10 states where it could apply for further licences, it said.
The company is also considering seeking full sports betting licences in certain states, but noted that this route would be significantly more expensive and difficult than seeking additional DFS licences.
Further, Dabble wants to introduce alternative game types such as free-to-play, peer-to-peer and sweepstakes, while also adding more sports to the platform.
At present, users can make player predictions on NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, as well as college American football and basketball.
Other sports in Dabble’s pipeline include soccer, tennis, cricket, Formula One, Nascar, MMA and esports, Robin said.
To support its expansion in US markets, the company also intends to add more payment options to its platform and “double down on social features” by adding improved functionalities.
Its first priority in this area is to convert features already rolled out in its Australian app onto its US app, starting with ‘share entry’, ‘discover profiles’ and a ‘for you feed’.
Dabble counts Australian wagering giant Tabcorp and venture capital fund Yolo Investments as major investors in the business.
Welcome to the second instalment of NEXT INSiDE. In this edition, we delve deep into industry dynamics, offering insights from innovative start-ups and ambitious scale-ups.
We’ll explore captivating strategies that resonate with Gen Zs and some of the ingenious solutions game studios have adopted to tackle content challenges.
Meeting customer needs
The iGaming industry is no stranger to cutthroat competition.
But competition, as inherent as it is in all businesses, isn’t a drawback. It’s a driving force that significantly influences business strategies and has forced companies, including many start-ups, to put customer-centric approaches at the forefront of their agendas.
This isn’t without reason; as any economics textbook underscores, a pivotal strategy for standing out is tailoring your offerings to precisely match customer demands.
One striking example of a company leading the charge in this customer-focused paradigm shift is Kero Gaming.
Founder and CEO Tomash Devenishek firmly believes that Kero Gaming’s platform has the potential to reshape the industry by offering personalised in-game micro-betting experiences.
“Sports betting today is highly cognitive and testing. You have to think, you have to browse, calculate probabilities, and eventually find that one thing that you want to bet on. Twitter and Instagram are not like that. Because all you have to do is just scroll your thumb and things appear,” he said.
Recognising that betting should become more aligned with the instant gratification and social elements found in popular social media platforms, Kero Sports aims to transform sports betting into a seamless, more enjoyable experience.
Yet, the firm’s innovation extends beyond its customer-facing aspects.
Kero Gaming has developed a patent-pending single model pricing system which leverages generative AI for oddsmaking simulations.
Internally known as BetGPT, the model can produce thousands of coherent variations of a specific match when prompted.
Learning from operator partnerships
Elsewhere, emerging game studios are boldly taking on the challenge of revenue generation in an ever-evolving gaming market.
Fabíola Jaeger is CEO and co-founder of Caleta Games, a dynamic Brazilian game studio established in 2013. She champions the creation of robust partnerships with operators and aggregators, viewing the journey as an invaluable learning experience.
While some partners eagerly share insights into their audience’s preferences, helping Caleta Games identify customer-favourite games, Jaeger understands that every partnership is unique.
“We’ve embraced a fail-fast culture, and although some partners readily share insights on what resonates or doesn’t with their audience, others take a different approach,” Jaeger noted.
“However, for us, it’s an invaluable opportunity to pinpoint our successful games and identify areas for improvement,” she emphasised.
Differentiation and localisation remain the keys to unlocking success, and Caleta Games has celebrated remarkable achievements in the realm of bingo games — a genre that captures the hearts of enthusiastic Brazilians, as Jaeger pointed out.
“While there is a widespread interest in Brazil,” she stated, “navigating this vibrant landscape becomes an exciting challenge when you embrace and understand the culture.”
During an interview with iGaming NEXT, Thomas Wendt, co-founder and director of Apparat Gaming, certainly agreed.
He suggested that Apparat Gaming had come to be recognised as the embodiment of iGaming with a German accent, which involves a strong commitment to quality.
Wendt, who had substantial experience in the land-based industry before co-founding Apparat in 2020, acknowledged the current challenges faced by game studios.
“We currently have an excess of content, as several major studios are releasing new games on a weekly basis,” he said.
Blending old and new concepts
Apparat Gaming has released 19 titles to date and is affiliated with almost 150 operators and most aggregators.
“Our main focus is on finding the right mix of direct integrations and aggregators, taking platform fees into careful consideration,” he clarified.
“We’ve experimented with blending old and new concepts a few times. Although the initial outlook promised only mixed results, some have proved surprisingly satisfactory in the longer term.”
Apparat plans to release a total of 25 games by the end of the year, including captivating German-themed titles such as Oktoberfest and Autobahn.
“I expected swifter progress for Apparat. Yet, navigating the complexities of German regulations, with various operators still awaiting from Germany’s GGL approval for Apparat games that have long been approved elsewhere, posed its challenges.”
Nonetheless, Wendt maintains a strong sense of optimism when it comes to Apparat’s future prospects in the market.
Targeting Gen Zs and Millennials
Competition isn’t merely intensifying among game studios; operators, both big and small, are also undeniably feeling the pressure.
Workforce reductions and restructuring initiatives are making an impact across the board, affecting companies like Hero Gaming and Kindred Group, among others.
Nevertheless, a fresh wave of operators is emerging, aiming to secure their share of the market by specifically targeting Gen Z and Millennials.
Alongside Kero Gaming, another contender in the industry is Australian sports betting app Dabble, established in 2020 and currently embracing the scale-up journey.
“One of the significant differentiating factors for businesses that have successfully transitioned from start-up to scaling up is the presence of what we refer to as a ‘B-HAG,’ which stands for a big, hairy, audacious goal,” says Emilie Jirsch, CMO of Dabble.
Jirsch further noted that upon her arrival at Dabble, she encountered a remarkable pool of talented individuals. However, she emphasised they wouldn’t be tapping into their full potential if they didn’t have a shared goal to strive for, or “Northstar” as she describes it.
“With the help of our investment partner, Tabcorp, our exec team took a proactive approach by confining ourselves to a room within Tabcorp’s Melbourne offices for two days. Our purpose was clear: we wouldn’t be leaving without formulating both an ambitious vision and a strategy that unites everyone’s efforts,” Jirsch explained.
Dabble came up with the plan to be the social betting platform that through immersive and community-based experience wins market share of Gen Z. “And that’s a really, really bold goal in a competitive market like Australia,” said Jirsch.
Instead of relying on promotional offers, Dabble drew inspiration from platforms like TikTok.
“We asked ourselves: How can we sustain engagement by delivering exceptional experiences and a user-friendly interface?” she explained.
She added that Dabble’s goal is to create a platform that players want to share with their friends within the community they’re interacting with, instead of incurring costs for customer acquisition.
Affiliates in transition
This raises an important question: With more operators recognising the need to attract a younger demographic using new methods, how will this impact affiliates?
Raketech CEO Oskar Mühlbach recently pointed out a gradual but consistent shift towards higher quality.
This shift aligns with the consolidation efforts of operators, stricter regulations, and increasing competition within the marketing sector, Mühlbach explained.
He said that as a result, Raketech is now focusing on “fewer but better products than we did a few years ago”.
However, a change in strategy at times results in adverse consequences, and for example led to redundancies at Malta-based affiliate marketing company Game Lounge during the summer months.
Most of the layoffs impacted the company’s content division.
Game Lounge CEO and co-founder Jonas Cederholm said the company was adapting its strategy to align more closely with significant individual markets.
“This change aims to improve our responsiveness to local needs, strengthen our partnerships, and create brands that genuinely connect with users,” Cederholm stressed.
Change and opportunity
As the iGaming landscape continues to evolve, it’s evident that success hinges on a commitment to quality.
Yet, above all, it’s the ability to adapt to the times and experiment with new concepts that keeps these companies moving forward while capitalising on new opportunities.
TikTok has expanded an existing trial for sports betting advertising on its platform in Australia to include two additional operators.
Advertising trial background
TikTok had never allowed gambling operators to advertise on its platform before November last year when a trial began which allowed Flutter Entertainment-owned Sportsbet – the biggest online betting company in Australia – to place a limited number of ads on the platform.
A report at the time in The Guardian suggested the brand would use the platform’s unique demographic mix to more effectively reach both young people and women.
Ads recommending customers bet on markets such as Rihanna’s Super Bowl half-time performance subsequently began appearing on TikTok in the run-up to the event, for example.
At that point, TikTok said the trial was a “closed pilot […] for one managed client who has obtained permission from TikTok via an application process.”
A spokesperson for the company added that the ads were only shown to users aged 21 or older and were closely monitored. The frequency of the ads was also restricted, and users had the option to opt out of seeing them.
Neds and Dabble join in
Now two new brands – Entain-owned Neds and a relative newcomer on the scene in social media-inspired operator Dabble – have also been approved to begin advertising on TikTok.
While the social media platform’s advertising policies for Australia state that “ads promoting lotteries, poker, casinos, bingo or any other gambling-related content” are prohibited, “advertisers may run sports betting ads on the platform with TikTok’s explicit permission.”
According to a new report in The Guardian, Neds is now encouraging users to download its gambling app, while Dabble is creating content in collaboration with former Australian Football League (AFL) star Dane Swan.
Ads must adhere to local marketing regulations as well as TikTok’s own guidelines, including the mandatory use of Australia’s responsible gambling slogans, such as “chances are you’re about to lose.”
Criticism floods in
However, some still suspect the ads will lead to an increase in gambling-related harm.
Simone McCarthy, a research fellow at Deakin University focused on gambling, told The Guardian that responsible gambling slogans are likely to be less effective on TikTok than on television, as “when you’re watching television, you’re forced to watch that message but on TikTok most users have already swiped to watch another video.”
In addition, concerns abound around operators’ ability to strictly define their audience by age and gender, with young women likely to be targeted with inducements to place bets on non-sporting events, such as reality TV programme Love Island.
Several commentators rushed to Twitter to express their concerns.
Daryl Adair, associate professor in sports management at the University of Technology Sydney’s Business School, said: “The most popular app for kids now a haven for gambling ads. What could go wrong?”
Independent Australian politician Kate Chaney, meanwhile, insisted: “We must effectively regulate this area – communities don’t want this.”
Messages like these are indicative of a wider push in Australia to reduce the amount of gambling advertising currently seen in the country.
Criticism of the industry and its practices has already led to developments such as Entain dropping its shirt sponsorships of Australian sports teams, the mandatory introduction of more discouraging responsible gambling slogans and calls for a wide-ranging crackdown on TV advertising.
ASX-listed operator Tabcorp has agreed to make a A$33m strategic investment in the “fast growing, socialised digital wagering platform” Dabble Sports.
Tabcorp said Dabble, which was founded in 2020, is one of the fastest growing wagering brands in Australia, boasting more than 150,000 customers and generating some A$47m in annualised revenue (based on average monthly revenue during Q2 2022).
It added that the business offers an innovative, socialised betting experience, providing access to a new customer market as a younger audience currently represents more than 80% of Dabble’s customer base.
Dabble’s product allows punters to follow each other’s betting activity, as well as that of verified tipsters and sports stars, while offering the option to copy others’ bets, chat with friends and comment on their activity.
Tabcorp has agreed to invest A$33m for a 20% equity interest in the business on a fully diluted basis, giving the business a total valuation of around A$165m.
Under the agreement, Tabcorp will also have the right to appoint a director to Dabble’s board.
The investment is subject to customary conditions including approval from the Northern Territory Racing Commission, while the appointment of a new director will be subject to probity approval.
Tabcorp managing director and CEO Adam Rytenskild: “Dabble is one of the most unique and innovative wagering brands and our investment today fits perfectly with our transformation agenda. Our stake in Dabble will give us exposure to innovative product capability and ultimately to a younger customer base.”
Tabcorp said the investment provides it with both exposure to Dabble’s innovative product capability and increased strength in the younger customer segment.
The firms “will explore opportunities to create win-win innovation and growth for both TAB and Dabble,” it added.
The investment aligns with Tabcorp’s existing strategy to grow its digital market share and follows the recently announced sale of its non-core eBet business.
“We are transforming our company, with a clear strategy and united ambition to grow digital market share,” said Tabcorp managing director and CEO Adam Rytenskild.
“Dabble is one of the most unique and innovative wagering brands and our investment today fits perfectly with our transformation agenda. Our stake in Dabble will give us exposure to innovative product capability and ultimately to a younger customer base.
“The investment comes with the new TAB App now live, on time, as promised. The launch of the app has had an immediate impact with customers, delivering an 11% increase in weekly active customers compared to the six weeks prior to launch,” Rytenskild concluded.
Dabble CEO Tom Rundle added: “We’re excited to partner with Tabcorp given their new energy and direction; and look forward to growing Dabble even further together. TAB is synonymous with punting in Australia and our brands will complement each other so that Dabble can continue to expand its evolutionary social betting experience to more punters.”