Trust the numbers

The Guardian this week brought us the story of one of the world’s most successful gamblers, Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris.

Since staking $80,000 on the LA Lakers to win the NBA championship in 1999, and winning, Voulgaris has been on a mission to make his passion for sports analytics pay out big time.

Following his first big win, he soon went on to rake in millions from bookies, often having to resort to using ‘beards’ – other people to place bets on his behalf – including some of an incredibly high profile, such as undefeated boxing world champion, Floyd Mayweather.

Having been brought up by a father with a habit for losing bets, Voulgaris became determined to use data and analytics to develop an edge for himself against the bookies.

Fast forward several years, and he’s now turning his talents towards the world of sports itself.

Rather than simply placing bets on his favourite team to win, Voulgaris has truly put his money where his mouth is by buying up third-tier Spanish football team, Castellón FC.

His initial plan had been to buy a basketball team, he said, but “they were trading for $200m, $300m and I was like: ‘I can get there.’ Every time I got close, the goalposts moved: $300m, $700m, $1bn. I felt like Sisyphus with the rock.”

Instead, he ended up investing in Castellón for a little over $4m in 2022, suggesting that “buying a third-tier team makes sense because we feel we have an edge, there are inefficiencies we identify, and the pyramid structure is super-rewarding: good work gets you promotion, bad gets you relegated.”

Voulgaris has since gone all-in on helping the team make its way up through the ranks of Spanish football, using his lifetime of experience in sports analytics to inform the decisions meant to get them there.

By using “young players, proper coaches, staff, the right facilities,” Voulgaris hopes to provide the team with what it needs to excel, without going overboard on spending.

“We’ll spend but I won’t throw $350,000 at some 35-year-old,” he insists.

So far, it seems his strategy is paying off, with the team holding its own against rivals one and even two tiers above it in Spain.

“I think we’re doing pretty special stuff here. It’s our model so it’s biased, but we’re 53% to win the league,” Voulgaris says.

And if he’s right, his players will be in for a decent bonus at the end of the season. 

Readers are encouraged to check out this article in full, to revel in the glory of Voulgaris’ own rags to riches story – one he’s now trying to replicate for the players and fans of Castellón FC.

“VIP” treatment

The Wall Street Journal this week brought us the story of a psychiatrist in the US whose life was torn apart by an online gambling addiction she says was fuelled by bonus credits, VIP treatment and data tracking by bookmakers.

Having racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt already, Kavita Fischer “hit a hot streak last summer” that saw her turn $750 into half a million in the space of just six days.

The winnings were enough to pay off her debts, and put the gambling addiction that had taken over her life well and truly behind her.

After making a request to withdraw the funds from her PointsBet account, however, Fischer promptly changed her mind, and after putting it back into play, lost nearly all of it within a day.

“As a psychiatrist familiar with human impulses and addiction, Fischer knew better than most what she needed to do,” according to the WSJ, but she was also up against the sophisticated abilities of gambling firms to leverage data analytics and human behaviour to keep customers betting.

Operators “tracked the ups and downs of Fischer’s betting behavior and gave bonus credits to keep her playing,” the article says, while “VIP customer representatives offered encouragement and gifts.”

The story is one that has already played out in mature European markets like the UK, and following media outry, social and political backlash, has largely been stamped out: the days of major gambling firms offering luxury days out and bonus incentives worth thousands to their “VIP” customers, are apparently all but over.

But in the rapidly emerging online betting sector across the Atlantic, it seems the VIP system is just beginning to rear its head.

PointsBet is not the only operator mentioned in the article, as DraftKings and other operators also apparently plied Fischer with bonuses totalling tens of thousands of dollars.

Again, readers are encouraged to explore this story in full to see the full details of the programmes that kept Fischer gambling, even when it was causing her terrible harm.

If US operators fail to take note of how VIP programmes have played out in other jurisdictions, perhaps this is a story we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the coming years.

Casino prospects say goodbye in Dubai

Al Monitor this week reported on the latest from the United Arab Emirates’ possible future gambling sector.

It wasn’t good news for the industry, however, as MGM Resorts president and CEO Bill Hornbuckle said this week that the firm’s $2.5bn development in Dubai will not be home to a casino.

The integrated resort specialist is in the process of building the Island, a major development based in the Dubai coastal area of Jumeirah.

When finished, the property will boast hotel rooms, apartments and entertainment options, but crucially, will not offer any gambling.

Hornbuckle continues to hold out hope for the possibility of a gambling sector in the UAE, but believes it will arrive first to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, where MGM has “spent some time on the ground,” trying to understand exactly what opportunities may be coming down the line.

“If and when both Abu Dhabi itself as the general licence granter for all or any of the Emirates goes, and then ultimately, one by one, the Emirates say they would like it, we hope to be positioned either for Dubai or Abu Dhabi, but time will tell,” Hornbuckle added.

While the development of MGM’s new resort will no doubt improve Dubai’s entertainment and accommodation offerings, it seems casino gambling is still no closer to becoming a reality.

As and when an official licensing regime is introduced, however, the race will be on – and with its latest project now underway, MGM may have put itself in pole position.

Women’s sport appeals equally to both male and female bettors, and sports bettors want more opportunities to bet on women’s sport.

These are two key takeaways from a new study conducted by online research data and analytics technology group YouGov, which was funded by StatsPerform and advisory firm Women’s Sports Group.

The survey, which exclusively targeted the UK, gathered responses in August 2023 from 2,500 male and 2,500 female sports bettors.

Key findings indicated that around 60% of regular male and female sports bettors, defined as those who bet at least once a month, actively watch or follow women’s sports. 

Additionally, a significant majority of both regular male (81%) and female (96%) sports bettors who follow women’s sports also engage with men’s sports.

Furthermore, the study indicates a strong anticipation for increased viewership of women’s sports in the coming year, with nine out of 10 male and female sports bettors expressing this expectation.

Women’s football popularity

Women’s football emerges as a particularly popular choice, ranking among the top four sports followed by both male and female bettors. 

In fact, 23% of regular male sports bettors have placed bets on women’s football, a figure comparable to those for men’s cricket, tennis, boxing, and rugby.

However, despite similar viewership ratios for men’s and women’s football, the study highlights a discrepancy in betting behaviour. 

While bettors follow and bet on men’s football in similar ratios, only half of male bettors and one third of female bettors who follow women’s football also bet on it.

Characteristics of female sports bettors

Younger demographics are more prevalent among regular female sports bettors who engage with women’s sports, with two-thirds falling below the age of 45. 

According to the study, both male and female bettors wish to have more opportunities to bet on women’s football. 

Specifically, 61% of female bettors and 46% of male bettors among those who have bet on women’s football expressed a wish for more opportunities to bet on the sport.

When asked about reasons for not betting on women’s football, 38% of male bettors admitted to never having considered it, while 34% cited a lack of knowledge as the primary deterrent.

Kindred in court

Swedish news portal Expressen this week brought us an update on the trial between fashion entrepreneur Per Holknekt and Kindred Group.

Holknekt sued the Unibet operator for SEK10m last summer, arguing that the company encouraged him to continue gambling “even though he had obvious gambling problems”.

According to his own estimates, Holknekt spent somewhere in the region of SEK100m with around 30 gambling operators during his problem gambling days.

“In moments of desperation, I decided to quit,” Holknekt said in the article. 

“And then it was customary for someone from Unibet to call me within a couple of days. A nice girl who asks how I am. And before we hang up, she says ‘look at your account, there’s a little surprise’. 

“And so they put in 10,000 bucks. Because they made such damn money from me that they were terrified that I had gone to a competitor.”

This week, the two-day trial finally made it to the Stockholm District Court.

Most of the events cited in the lawsuit took place before the 2019 re-regulation of the Swedish gambling industry, Expressen pointed out, meaning Kindred stands accused of violating the country’s previous gambling law, the Lottery Act.

Expressen also pointed to a similar recent case, in which Betsson was ordered to repay SEK5.8m in losses to a former online casino customer diagnosed with gambling addiction.

If this case against Kindred goes the same way, we may just find ourselves hearing this familiar story time and time again over the next few years.

Guess who’s back

Previously suspended footballer Ivan Toney’s eight-month ban from the sport is now over, as The Guardian reported this week.

But, football writer Jonathan Wilson argues, “nothing has changed: gambling is still embedded in football.”

Wilson takes a level-headed approach to gambling in the UK, explaining that “history suggests betting is impossible to ban, that it will go on in the face of legislation against it – and it is not legitimate bookmakers who fix matches or send somebody round to break the fingers of debtors.”

And while those suffering from the effects of problem gambling should of course be entitled to support, he adds, “just as the existence of alcoholics does not lead to serious calls for a blanket ban on booze, so the presence of gambling addicts should not lead to a blanket ban on betting.”

He also challenges the industry’s shadier side, however, pointing to “numerous investigations” which show bookies targeting vulnerable individuals and “in effect fostering addictions.”

Wilson also takes the sector to task on the issue of gambling advertising, suggesting that spectators should be able to enjoy watching sports “without constantly being prodded to have a flutter.”

He therefore suggests that tighter restrictions on sponsorship and advertising during matches might just be a good idea.

Meanwhile, inside the world of professional football itself, the article says Toney’s professional ban for betting, handed down last year, should serve as a reminder to players and clubs alike of the importance of the gambling rules placed on players.

But, Wilson asks, have the right lessons been learned? “Toney’s is a football story, but it is also about far broader issues of how football interacts with the wider world,” he suggests.

Teams should aim to ensure this kind of story never happens again, by reminding their players of just why special betting rules are in place for professional players.

By ensuring that integrity is upheld to the highest possible standards, this article suggests that clubs and players alike can make sure they keep the beauty in the Beautiful Game.

Another IPO on the horizon?

The Financial Times this week reported on “the Blackstone-backed business that cornered a critical part of the US betting market.”

Congratulations to anyone at home who guessed “GeoComply” – you’re absolutely right.

In 2021, the article explains, trillion-dollar investor Blackstone spotted a golden opportunity, as GeoComply offered up its solution to location verification, which would go on to help the majority of regulated US betting firms comply “with the complex patchwork of state-specific laws that governs the market.”

GeoComply has gone on to create “a near monopoly on providing this service,” the article says, processing around a billion geolocation checks every month and charging a small fee each time.

Clients include a veritable who’s who of regulated US online gambling, with FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, Caesars and ESPN Bet all relying on the firm for its technology.

“Massive market share in a rapidly expanding industry meant the company looked a winner to Blackstone, which has already cashed out part of its investment at a sizeable profit, according to people close to the firm,” the article says.

And the story doesn’t end there. Apparently, GeoComply’s founders are now considering a stock market listing for the firm, according to sources “familiar with their thinking”.

The future might not be all rosy for the company, however, as the article also points out that “competitors are lining up to take a shot at the market.”

Readers are encouraged to view this well-detailed article in full, for exclusive quotes from co-founder and CEO Anna Sainsbury, alongside concerns over GeoComply’s de facto monopoly, and some troubling terms in the firm’s contracts with operator clients.

While the company is undoubtedly one of the US gambling sector’s biggest success stories, there’s still no shortage of challenges standing in its way.

Formula None

AP News this week offered a deep dive into one of the most (over)hyped sporting events of this year, Formula One’s Las Vegas Grand Prix.

The event so far has proven a bit of a damp squib, according to the author, who points to several factors serving to undermine the relevance of the event for American sports fans.

First, entry to the event was originally pitched at such a high price point that it was simply inaccessible to most sports fans.

With an average “get-in price” of some $2,000, combined with hugely inflated room rates at Las Vegas hotels, “this race was never about attracting new fans to the global motorsports series or growing the American audience,” the article argues.

Rather, Formula One promoter Liberty Media has “clearly viewed a race in Las Vegas as an international showstopper for the highest of the high rollers”.

That didn’t stop Formula One Group predicting a sell-out success for the Vegas event, with CEO Renee Wilm boldly vowing on an earnings call earlier this month that “we will be sold out by the time of the event”.

Wilm’s crystal ball clearly requires a good polish, as the big race has all but arrived and tickets remain available, both directly and “on a dramatically reduced secondary market”.

Hotel prices along the Las Vegas Strip have also fallen drastically, the author adds, with all signs now pointing to Liberty Media having “grossly overshot the price point for drawing in new fans and spenders.”

Even the Formula One drivers don’t sound particularly enthused about the event.

Max Verstappen, who has already done enough to secure victory in this year’s world championship, was quoted as saying: “First of all, I think we are there more for the show than the racing itself if you look at the layout of the track.

“But you know, I’m actually not that into it. I’m more like, ‘I’ll go there and do my thing and be gone again.’” If even the drivers don’t want to be there, just imagine how it feels for the fans.

Who’s really at fault?

The Guardian’s Aaron Timms revisited the relationship between sports and gambling advertising following the 10-month ban handed to Newcastle and Italy midfielder Sandro Tonali for breaching betting regulations.

Timms questioned the apparent surprise or shock by club managers at discovering athletes involved in wagering within a sporting culture so heavily intertwined with gambling.

He emphasised that the core issue isn’t solely the few players enticed by incentives but also the clubs and officials enabling the sport’s close ties with the gambling industry on the back of sponsorship and advertising deals.

He pointed out that as gambling ads saturate the football landscape and the ease of placing bets on specific match segments increases, more players may succumb to the allure of gambling.

“Football executives across Europe have now created an impossible task for themselves: ‘protecting’ players from the very impulses they’re unleashing among fans,” he wrote.

This predicament isn’t just limited to soccer; it extends to many other sports, as evidenced by the recent suspension of three players in the NFL in the United States.

He argued that suspending players serves to maintain the illusion that football operates within a framework of laws and fair treatment, rather than acknowledging its evolution into a hub for the flow of money and influence.

He referred to Tonali and fellow footballer Ivan Toney, who also received an eight-month ban and a £50,000 fine for breaching betting rules earlier this year, as “scapegoats of a broken system.”

“The whole spectacle of player punishment in soccer today has become a way to enforce a form of selective justice that distracts from other, more consequential infractions that go unpunished, the very unevenness of the sport’s playing field,” Timms wrote.

“It substitutes thin proceduralism for a deeper fairness. The big perps run free, while the little guys get benched.”

No regrets

Entrepreneur magazine, sticking very much to its roots, has released the latest in its series of entrepreneur Q&As with an interview with Tipico chief Adrian Vella.

In the wide-ranging piece, Vella outlined his industry history, what makes him tick, as well as walking us through his “no regrets” philosophy. 

Vella – who moved to the Big Apple in 2019 to spearhead the launch of the Tipico US platform – said the company has taken a hyperlocal approach in the states as part of its strategy of building long-term customer loyalty.

Tipico took a famously relaxed attitude to the US, preferring to limit its ambitions to a moderate share in a few markets rather than getting bogged down in an expensive marketing spend war.

The company has arguably built the best iGaming product in the US, as highlighted in the most recent Eilers & Krejcik quarterly rankings.

However, the business is very far from achieving anywhere near the success it has enjoyed in its native Germany.

The University of Malta graduate said product was very much top of mind in the business’ US strategy post PASPA repeal, using that as a differentiator with the number of US companies that attempted to rush something out on white-label technology.

Prior to his American adventures, however, Vella was the rare case of a Malta iGaming professional moving to London, which he admits was a “leap of faith”.

Vella’s “no regrets” attitude extends both to life and business – and he argues this approach has been essential in the states. 

“At work and in my personal life, the only regrets I have are from the times when I didn’t put things into action — when I didn’t go for it.”

Southampton Football Club is once again demonstrating its commitment to promoting responsible gambling by elevating awareness and aiding the delivery of support from Better Change and RecoverMe.

The club is working alongside Better Change for a second year, to provide a pop-up hub for fans on a matchday, following a successful activation during last season’s Safer Gambling initiative, where over 1,000 fans engaged with Better Change representatives.

Better Change will be on-site at St Mary’s and will engage fans in discussions around Safer Gambling before the match against Cardiff on 2nd December.

Post-game support will also be available, with the club supporting the delivery of online sessions with a Better Change gambling therapist for those requiring additional support.

To promote responsible gambling practices and provide helpful advice and guidance to fans, the club will also be sharing the insights of Head of Performance Psychology, Malcolm Frame through video, which will be shared on club channels during Safer Gambling Week 2023 (13th – 19th November).

Charlie Boss, chief commercial officer from Southampton FC said, “Promoting safer gambling is our responsibility as a club and part of our commitment to protect fans and the community.

“We’re really grateful to our partners and organisations like Better Change, who are helping to champion a safer future for our fans and the gambling industry, with responsible play at its heart.”

Southampton Football Club has a track record of supporting Safer Gambling Week, and in collaboration with its club partner Sportsbet.io, it recently hosted participants from Saints Foundation’s mental health support programme, Saints by Your Side, for a Safer Gambling Workshop with Better Change.

Sportsbet.io kindly donated their hospitality box to host the workshop before the match against Rotherham on 7th October and the participants were invited to stay and enjoy the match afterwards.

David Richardson, head of strategic partnerships at Better Change, said, “Working with Southampton Football Club for over a year now has been a pleasure, they are a club that proactively make an impact with their Halo Effect forming the platform for their socially responsible activities.

“We play a part in this and support the club and the community it serves by educating about gambling and opening two-way dialogue on what is often perceived as a taboo subject.

“By breaking down the stigma we hope to signpost people who need any further support in the right direction as well as talking to fans about gambling and highlighting how this can be done safely from a positive play aspect.”

Southampton Football Club’s work in this area is part of its social responsibility pledge within The Halo Effect, which is committed to ensuring a sustainable future for the club, its fans, and its community.

Through various initiatives, the club seeks to ensure the city and the surrounding region can thrive as a place to work, live, and prosper individually and collectively.

Bet365 believes it would be “inappropriate” for former footballer Steven Caulker to appear on a web series sponsored by the company considering his history of gambling addiction.

In a LinkedIn post on 14 November, Caulker suggested he had been prevented from “finally” landing a TV job by bet365 because of his work around problem gambling awareness.

“People often say to me it’s great that players can now open up about their struggles,” he wrote. “Can they really? I certainly wouldn’t encourage it.”

Caulker, who was capped once by England, alleged bet365 had rejected his profile due to the operator being “nervous” about some of his previous campaign work.

However, bet365 has said its position was misrepresented to Caulker by a media partner.

“Mr Caulker applied to appear as a guest on a video series solely sponsored by bet365, which is only published on an online video platform (not TV) by one of our sports publishing partners,” the operator said in a statement.

“During the guest approval process, we became aware of Mr Caulker’s own negative experiences with gambling which he has spoken about openly.

“We welcome the excellent work Mr Caulker has done to raise awareness of problem gambling – however, as a betting company, we felt it would be inappropriate for Mr Caulker to appear on a bet365-sponsored series of this type.”

The video series and the sports publishing partner in question are still unknown.

Caulker’s comments come with the UK currently engaged in Safer Gambling Week 2023.

He has returned to LinkedIn this morning (15 November) to reveal further elements of his life as a “compulsive gambler”.

Caulker, who has been without a club since leaving Wigan Athletic in May, said he has a voice in his head that talks to him every minute of every day, encouraging him to gamble.

“Whilst all this is going on internally, I am faced with hundreds of adverts a day trying to lure me back in,” he wrote.

“Every football match I watch, every football match I play, every YouTube highlight, most newspapers, most radio stations, most TFL services, and if that wasn’t enough, I still get text and emails,” he added.

SmartSoft is a leading provider of innovative casino games operating on the B2B market since 2015 and has rapidly become a key player in the industry.

With a global presence, the company’s partners span across 70 countries. From the groundbreaking JetX pioneer crash game to the excitement of other innovative crash games (X Games) and slots, SmartSoft offers a diverse gaming experience.

By extending these exceptional games to partners worldwide, SmartSoft not only reshapes the gaming landscape but also establishes new standards resonating throughout the global gaming community.

Smartsoft became a partner of the Argentine national team on October 20. Notably, this marks the Argentine Football Association’s (AFA) first-ever European partnership.

The goal is to strengthen ties between the current world champion, Argentina’s national team, and the Argentine football industry, bringing them closer to Europe.

Guga Gotsadze, managing partner, SmartSoft: “Through this partnership with the Argentina Football Association and the National Team of Argentina, we embark on a journey that unites passion and excellence, where the worlds of business and gaming converge with the magic of Argentine football. Partnering with a world champion is a historic moment for our company.

“We’re thrilled to be the first gaming provider in Europe to become the exclusive digital sponsor of the National Team of Argentina, and we’re confident that this collaboration will propel our company and our games to new horizons. Now, more than ever, we’re ready for flying even higher.”

Claudio Tapia, president of AFA: “We are very pleased to announce SmartSoft as the digital sponsor for the Argentine Football Association and the national team. Over the past few years, we’ve formed a strategic vision for the association aiming to strengthen the team’s relationship with international fans.

“Our plan includes the development of commercial and marketing strategies and participation in important events worldwide. We believe that a partnership with SmartSoft will help us to expand these relationships in Europe.”

SmartSoft, a company from the family of world champions, will officially present itself on the European market in a new status at the gaming exhibition SIGMA Europe in Malta.

The exhibition, scheduled for November 13-17, will be the 20th event this year for the digital sponsor of the Argentine team, in which it will participate to further expand its network of partners.

A series of customer-friendly sports results, particularly in UK football, have had a negative impact on the earnings of several bookmakers in Q3 2023.

While Q3 reporting season has only just begun, several operators have already pointed to reduced revenue due to unfavourable sports outcomes, including 888, Entain, Betsson and bet-at-home.

Below, NEXT.io investigates the impact on, and responses of, those operators which have seen fit to address the matter publicly. 

888 Holdings

On 18 October, 888 Holdings published a Q3 2023 trading update, setting out some of the firm’s headline financial results for the quarter.

In September, the operator had already warned that overall group revenue for Q3 was expected to be down some 10% year-on-year as a result of several factors, including “customer friendly sports results.”

That prediction turned out to be accurate last week, as the operator revealed total group revenue had dropped 9.9% to £405m.

The impact of the unfavourable sports results could also be seen more clearly, as 888 revealed its sportsbook net revenue margin was down across all business areas.

Across retail, the margin dropped from 18.5% to 17.9%, which left the land-based business with a modest 0.4% increase in betting revenue, despite a 3.8% increase in stakes.

In 888’s international business, the Q3 sportsbook margin fell from 11.7% to 11.4%, which, coupled with an 8.1% reduction in stakes, led to the segment’s sportsbook revenue falling 10.3%.

In the UK and Ireland Online segment, however, the result was even more concerning.

Sportsbook revenue margin fell from 9.8% to 9%, which meant that together with a 10% reduction in stakes, betting revenue slipped 17.3% year-on-year, down from £65.8m to £54.4m.

In addition to the squeezed sportsbook margins resulting from customer-friendly sports results, 888 cited an “ongoing significant impact from compliance changes implemented in dotcom markets” and “the ongoing impact of safer gambling changes within the UK” as being responsible for its overall performance.

Entain

In September, Entain released a trading update during which it also commented on the customer-friendly sporting results of Q3.

It said the outcomes were likely to impact sports margins during September, resulting in a reduction in pro-forma NGR.

While group online NGR for full-year 2023 is expected to be up by a low double-digit percent, proforma NGR is now expected to fall by a low single-digit percent.

Expectations were dampened further by the group-wide implementation of tightened safer gambling measures, “and ongoing regulatory headwinds persisting longer than expected, particularly in the UK.”

The business did reiterate its expectations for the full year, however, with EBITDA expected to fall between £1bn and £1.05bn, “supported by robust operational controls.”

Betsson 

Betsson also felt compelled to comment on sporting results in Q3 despite delivering another record quarter for revenue, which rose 19% to €237.6m.

Sportsbook revenue climbed by 2% to €63.3m as the sportsbook margin fell by 12%, down from 8.3% last year to 7.3% for Q3 2023.

“The sportsbook margin was negatively affected by many favourite wins and goal-rich games during the start of the European football leagues,” said Betsson AB CEO Pontus Lindwall.

The fan-friendly results have continued into Q4 2023 according to Betsson, driving further declines in sportsbook margin to well below the average margin of the last eight quarters.

“There have been quite a lot of favourites winning and a lot of goals,” reiterated Lindwall on the firm’s Q3 earnings presentation.

“While this undoubtedly adds to the entertainment factor, it has not been conducive to the sportsbook margin,” he added.

Bet-at-home

One operator clearly affected by softer sports margins in Q3 was German-headquartered bet-at-home.

“Adverse sporting results, in particular a disproportionate number of favourite wins in the most relevant football leagues negatively impact sports betting margins in the period from August to October 2023,” the operator said in a statement.

As a result, the firm’s management board has adjusted its guidance for full-year GGR from a range of €50m-€60m to a new range of €44m-€48m.

Still, the operator added that it expects full-year EBITDA to come in at the upper end of a previously announced range, of between -€3m and €1m.

European exposure

Although the above operators mentioned softer betting margins in Q3, not all operators were affected by adverse results.

PointsBet, for example, made no mention of softer sports margins and in fact improved its margins across both Australia and Canada between Q3 2022 and Q3 2023.

Adverse results in British football are likely to have a much smaller impact on the business than its UK-based counterparts, which have a much higher exposure to European football outcomes.

With that said, Australian competitor Tabcorp did make some reference to softer sporting results in Q3, suggesting that weak sports margins, combined with a “softer” macroeconomic environment, were responsible for a 6.1% overall revenue decline during the quarter.

Each month, Australian bookmaking legend Tom Waterhouse publishes a newsletter from Waterhouse VC, his gaming and wagering-focused venture capital fund.

Since inception in August 2019, the fund has achieved a gross total return of 2,492% through to 31 August 2023.

In collaboration with iGaming NEXT, the August edition of Waterhouse VC takes a deep dive into Brazil’s burgeoning sports betting market.

Ordem e progresso

‘Order and Progress’ – The national motto of Brazil, inscribed on the Brazilian flag.

The motto is an allegory for Brazil’s new reforms to regulate the country’s >$1.5bn wagering industry.

With 214 million people and 217 indigenous languages in addition to Portuguese, Brazil is a large and complex market.

It is one of the largest online sports betting markets in the world, with 42.5 million unique users, according to The Brazilian Report.

Wagering operators are generating significant revenues in Brazil by leveraging influencer marketing and numerous sports sponsorship deals.

Brazil’s historic and forecast wagering revenue across online casino, online lottery and online sports betting. Source: Statista

Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies recently passed a gambling regulation act, allowing online gaming and omnichannel wagering, with operators able to buy three-year licences.

However, operators will be prohibited from offering bonuses and will pay an 18% tax on revenues.

A 30% tax on player winnings over $400 will also be enforced. This tax disincentivises high value players from wagering online, potentially impacting regulated operators’ revenues by 30-50%, according to Regulus Partners.

Furthermore, by banning bonuses, bettors are motivated to wager with grey market wagering companies, attracted by tax-free bonuses.

The regulation requires locally approved payment options aimed at curbing offshore and crypto wagering.

Only institutions authorised by the Brazilian Central Bank will be allowed to provide payment services, with customers restricted to transferring funds from their wagering account exclusively to a bank account domiciled in Brazil.

In our research, we have found that the majority of payments to/from Brazilian wagering accounts are conducted through PIX, which is comparable to Australia’s Osko Payments system.

According to Thomas Carvalhaes, MD of VaiDeBob, PIX payments dominates in Brazil, representing more than 95% of transaction volumes for operators.

Sports sponsorship in Brazil

Football is the most popular sport in Brazil and many wagering companies have sponsored football clubs, along with teams in other sports.

For example, Brazilian operator KTO sponsors Caxias Do Sul, which plays in the top-tier Brazilian basketball league, the NBB.

KTO has grown through a localised strategy, initially catering to the southern states within Brazil’s 26 states.

A state-by-state approach, combined with a strong product, has increased KTO’s player retention.

Established in 2018, KTO currently operates in both Brazil and Peru, with intentions to expand its presence to Chile as well.

Caxias Do Sul is sponsored by KTO. Source: KTO Group

Betting websites sponsor 39 out of the 40 teams in the two highest Brazilian football leagues, with betting sponsorship rates far higher than other major global football leagues.

For example, in the 2022/23 season, just one Bundesliga team (Mainz 05) is sponsored by a betting company.

In January 2022, BetPix365, a large Brazilian operator, announced Luis Fabiano as its latest brand ambassador.

Fabiano is the third-highest goal scorer in the history of Brazil’s national team. Launched at the end of 2021, BetPix365 has an extensive wagering offering, with deposits and withdrawals through PIX.

Prior to announcing Fabiano’s ambassadorial role, the company also inked ambassadorial deals with Willian (a striker for Corinthians) and Dudu (an attacking midfielder for Palmeiras.

The endorsement of wagering companies by some of Brazil’s revered football icons underscores the immense potential within the country’s wagering industry as it continues to mature.

Luis Fabiano, an ambassador of BetPix365. Source: iGaming Brazil

Influencer marketing in Brazil

In addition to sports sponsorship, influencer marketing is a widely used funnel for acquiring new wagering customers.

As discussed in our September 2022 newsletter, wagering operators are gradually embracing a fresh perspective in their marketing strategies, increasingly leveraging influencer marketing, which provides brands with a way of forging deeper connections with their customers.

One of Brazil’s most popular influencers is Felipe Neto, who has 45.5 million subscribers on Youtube.

In 2019, Neto rose to prominence as the world’s second-most-watched YouTuber. He also advocates for democracy in Brazil and earned a place on TIME magazine’s 2020 list of the 100 most influential people worldwide.

Felipe Neto. Source: United Nations

Blaze, one of Brazil’s most popular wagering operators, has gained substantial market share through endorsements from notable influencers including Neto and footballer Neymar.

The company uses 400 influencers to promote its wagering website (Eightify). In August, the company had 50 million website visits, up from 30 million in June, according to Similarweb.

In the Instagram post below, Neto said: “Anyone who follows me here on Instagram or on my channel knows that Blaze is our official sponsor.

“In addition to having a platform with countless ways to earn extra income with games like Crash, Double and Mines, at Blaze you can also place your sports bets.”

One of Felipe Neto’s Instagram posts promoting Blaze. Source: Instagram

Crypto wagering in Brazil

Despite Brazil’s grey regulatory environment, crypto operators have also had strong traction in the country and have formed partnerships with celebrities, sportspeople, sports teams and leagues.

For example, Sportsbet.io has entered into a strategic alliance with NBB to provide content across NBB’s digital platforms centred around giving fans betting options and statistics before and during basketball matches.

Denílson, a former professional footballer for Brazil’s national team, is a Sportsbet.io ambassador.

Stake, Sportsbet.io and BC.Game all count Brazil as a top 5 driver of website traffic, with Sportsbet.io attracting 60% of its global visitors from Brazil in August. Source: Similarweb

With a population of over 200 million people and a burgeoning middle class, the Brazilian wagering industry holds exciting growth prospects for B2B suppliers and operators, across both well-funded local players and experienced offshore operators.

However, operators in Brazil must confront several challenges. Foremost among these is the stringent regulatory framework, which prohibits bonuses, taxes player winnings over $400 and imposes payments restrictions.

Operators and suppliers should also anticipate ongoing regulatory changes as the market evolves.

New York State Shaming Commission

An article in Times Union this week shed light on what former employees described as a “toxic” work environment within the New York State Gaming Commission.

The article details how “sexual harassment, racial discrimination, bullying and political favoritism” have plagued the Empire State’s gambling regulator in recent years.

Examples include signs featuring the Ku Klux Klan hanging on the wall of the Commision’s headquarters, while the regulator is also currently embroiled in “at least four lawsuits alleging discrimination on the basis of sex, race, disability and related retaliation.”

New York state’s Office of Employee Relations has apparently received 41 complaints from Gaming Commission employees since December 2018, of which 10 have been substantiated.

The regulator has taken appropriate administrative action in response, the office said.

For former employees, however, the damage has already been done.

One former assistant counsel suggested that after her spell at the commission, “I can never work in state service again under the same leadership.”

Meanwhile, a former auditor in the commission’s lottery division described it as “the most toxic organisation in the state,” with others calling the workplace “a nightmare”, “dysfunctional” and “hostile”.

As a result, “staff turnover is overwhelming” within the regulator, one commenter suggested, while the Times Union’s article features a laundry list of additional complaints.

For its part, the regulator hit back suggesting “[New York Governor] Hochul has made clear that there’s no place for harassment and abuse in her administration, and since taking office in 2021 she has taken significant action to implement new policies, trainings and workplace protections that support and protect the state workforce.”

Readers are encouraged to check out the full list of accusations for themselves.

Time to reclaim Friday?

The Financial Times put the four-day work week back into the spotlight this week with its suggestion that “Friday is just a dead day.”

The fact that Friday is iGaming NEXT’s beloved weekly Hot Copy Day notwithstanding, could the author have a valid point?

The article takes us right back to the 1960s, when US companies first started letting their staff leave a few hours early on the Friday afternoons between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

That was reportedly a strategy to allow NYC execs to beat the traffic to their beach houses in the Hamptons.

Fast forward 60 or so years, and today “an increasing number of workers have started giving themselves a shortened last day of the week – often worked from home – all year round.”

One Wall Street analyst described their Friday schedule thus: “Log into Teams, check email, then live my life,” which one must admit sounds rather pleasant, if not entirely productive.

Meanwhile, Stanford economics professor Nick Bloom was the one who named Friday “just a dead day,” as backed up by the evidence which shows office buildings in major US cities averaged around 56% of their pre-pandemic occupancy last Tuesday, as compared to just 31% on Friday.

In New York, Friday attendance was even lower at just 21%.

“The demise of Fridays has been forecast for decades,” the article suggests, with Richard Nixon claiming as far back as 1956 that Americans would be working just four days a week in the “not too distant future.”

For economics professor Bloom, that change can’t come soon enough. “If it were me, I would just close the office down on Fridays,” he concluded.

While many will be minded to agree, can we really envisage a world where Hot Copy comes out every Thursday?

Yellow card betting on red alert

According to an article in the Mail Online, the FA is currently in talks with bookies around restricting bets on yellow cards and similar in-game incidents.

Football’s governing body has overseen four high-profile probes into yellow card betting in the last five years, while the Mail suggested that there have been other cases that never saw the light of day.

Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka and Oxford defender Ciaran Brown have both been investigated for suspicious bookings in games in the last 18 months, albeit without any action being taken.

Lincoln City’s Bradley Wood, however, was handed a six-year ban by the FA after being found guilty of deliberately getting booked twice, in an attempt to nefariously win £10,000 on pre-arranged bets.

“The FA are concerned that yellow card markets in particular are open to manipulation,” the article suggests, while officials at the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which oversees gambling legislation in the UK, have responded positively to the proposed ban.

A formal ban would require the involvement of the Gambling Commission, of course, but the FA is also set on persuading individual operators to give up the bet type voluntarily.

Kindred-owned brands Unibet and 32Red are already leading the charge here, having given up offering bets on bookings in professional football matches.

Yellow card bets are also already outlawed in other jurisdictions, such as Germany and Sweden, so there is some international precedent there to be followed.

Is this another example of the Nanny State getting in punters’ way, or is there a real argument for outlawing the bet type?

If the FA gets its way, UK bettors may soon find bets on bookings have been sent off.