The future of the mobile gambling industry creates feverish debate whenever it is mentioned such is the importance of that side of the industry right now. Since the increased uptake of smart phones and tablets, gambling firms have taken it upon themselves to get mobile savvy and so far they’ve made a good fist of it.
The Gambling Commission have already reported that 4.5 million people were using smart phones to gamble and 35 percent of all casino customers have moved over the mobile. This was in addition to the heady figures from Juniper that stated mobile wagering across casino, betting and lottery are likely to reach $100billion by 2017. A report from Bullet Business doesn’t think this is even the tip of the iceberg.
“Mobile is not yet the most important part of the gambling market. But, as time goes on, it is an area that very few operators can afford to ignore,” the company said in their latest report: Mobile and Tablet Gambling: Prospects for 2012 and beyond.
Richard Hewitt, who is head of mobile at Betfair, thinks there is huge “longer term growth opportunities” in the area.
“People can now just put their hand into their pocket, pull out the device, and place a bet. I think mobile will grow the same way the internet did, but far, far faster,” Hewitt told Bullet Business
If it’s going to grow as fast as that it’s quite clear Juniper’s earlier mentioned figure isn’t a stab in the dark and Joel Keeble, director of mobile, poker and special projects at H2 Gambling Capital, is pretty sure what will happen to firms not embracing it.
“If you’re an operator not offering a mobile solution, you’re not going to be around in ten years. Mobile and tablets are the new form of entertainment,” said Keeble in the Bullet Business report.
There are plenty of challenges that firms have to encounter along the bumpy ride to mobile gambling supremacy though. Paddy Power was one of the first to enter the mobile arena and have had success much like most of their competitors. It’s the fragmented nature that different platforms presents, as Jamie Reeve special projects manager at the firm explained to Bullet Business, which bring the real problems.
APPLE AND ANDROID – BOTH HAVE PITFALLS
“One challenge is trying to build something for Android when you’ve got thousands of different devices, screen sizes and resolutions, to cater for. Inevitably, there will be a device where your product doesn’t work properly. You have to make some tough calls about the most popular devices, and cover as wide a range as possible. It’s a lot easier to work with Apple products,” Reeve mused.
Whilst Apple is thought of as the place to be, Reeve still recognized it “can be a minefield” and with that in mind Android is sometime the better and hassle-free option. Of Apple, Reeve said: “Sometimes it feels like the rules aren’t enforced with consistency.
“It can take a long time to get approved, which inhibits people being creative and trying something new.”
Keeble was more critical of the firms themselves, citing a “lack of innovation” and that instead of tailoring their offering to mobile many are simply “modifying slightly” their PC site. That doesn’t take advantage of the “unique characteristics such as location and mobility”.
The different ways that customers consume data on mobile is what Hewitt, and Betfair, are focusing on with the head of mobile admitting: “You need to be precise about what context customers are using the product in, because they consume it in different ways. They might be out and about, or in front of the TV. That makes a big difference.”
4G – THE MAKER OR BREAKER?
Another thing that could ultimately hold back mobile is the roll out of brand new 4G technology. Much of North America already has the capability and if the UK and Europe are to support games such as poker, 4G needs to at the forefront of any innovation.
“The reliability of networks could inhibit the growth of mobile, particularly outside major cities. Coverage is sometimes patchy, and networks are not always as robust as they should be. That should improve as 4G comes in, but it’s going to be two year at least until that’s a reality,” Hewitt said.
Keeble added: “Wi-Fi is filling the gap between 3G and 4G, but Wi-Fi isn’t everywhere yet. 3G just isn’t capable of supporting games like poker, where you need a near real-time connection for a large number of people.”
Another strand to the technology argument is HTML5 and what it can offer gambling industry firms. Native apps are only preferred by part of the industry due to the trouble that dealing with Apple and Google’s respective stores brings and with Flash not available on Apple and Adobe scrapping it, HTML5 seems like the only viable option right now. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily liked by all.
“HTML is evolving all the time. But it can’t make the most of features on a lot of devices. For an operator with a bigger budget, you need a combination. Just having one or the other is going to limit you,” Keeble said. “Ideally, you’d want a native app for every phone. But the cost of that is too high. The next best thing is to have an app for Android and iPhone, because they are the most important at the moment, and HTML5 for everything else.”
Paddy’s man Reeve was slightly skeptical about HTML5 and believes it could be some time before the uptake is that widespread and a mix of both web-based and native is the best course of action at this moment in time.
“HTML will probably be the future, but I think it’s still a good couple of years down the line. For the moment, I think you need to focus on the native side, while keeping an eye on HTML side of things,” Reeve said. “The compromise is a hybrid application. You can manage the content and push products to the customer immediately. The trouble at the moment is that it doesn’t look particularly good.”
Mobile is here to stay and if you don’t believe that you’ll be going the way of the dinosaur in the next ten years or so. It’s the evolution of the sector that is most interesting to observe and the way it will go is likely to be heavily influenced by HTML5. At the same time it could hinge on something we’ve not even heard about yet. That’s why mobile and this industry combined make for an exciting duo.