SBC Digital Summit explores how gambling survives during Covid-19


Gambling firms have had to change up their strategies a bit thanks to the COVID-19 crisis. Much like SBC events have had to go online, operators have had to find new sports betting products, and re-assess their 2020 strategies to keep the bottom line stable. A couple of panels on Day 1 of the SBC Digital Summit helped highlight just how much the industry has had to change.

sbc-digital-summit-explores-how-gambling-survives-during-covid-19The first panel, moderated by SG Digital Group CEO Jordan Levin, was the “Business Continuity in the face of COVID-19.” He hosted George Daskalakis, CEO and Founder of Stoiximan and Betano, Tim Heath, CEO and Founder of Coingaming, Jesper Svenssion, CEO of Betsson Group and Shay Segev, COO of GVC Holdings.

Segev began by walking the audience through GVC’s response to COVID-19. Business continuity has been different by region, as western countries have had minimal trouble shifiting to remote work, while countries like the Philippines, where personal laptops and strong internet connections are more rare, have proven to be a problem. And of course, retail operations are currently out of the question. But the company has largely focused on managing its cash, planning for difference scenarios that might arise, and planning for a return to normalcy.

All of the panelists noted that as work has shifted remotely, a constant stream of communications with their employees and players have become vital. Heath noted that the number of meetings with employees have increased to keep them in touch, and VIP players are now getting treated to poker tournaments, discord channels, and generally letting them know “they’re not alone.”

But where has the betting action gone? Svensson noted that Betsson has leaned heavily on its casino operations, with revenue from that vertical increasing from 75% to 98% on recent weeks. Meanwhile, Heath noted that he never imagined table tennis would be such an important part of his operation.

With most sports gone, the expected rise of esports has been interesting to watch. Everyone has seen it become a bigger part of their business, and Heath stated, “I think this is the real reckoning for the esports side of things.” But based on information revealed in other panels, it still doesn’t compare to live sports, and Daskalakis reminded everyone, “What everybody should not forget is that football is still here, the famous Bellarussian league.”

GVC’s representative had to admit that it may have to start making tough decisions with its retail employees. While nothing’s settled on what will happen with them yet, Daskalakis jumped in to note, “I believe retail will reopen, it’s a matter of time…but things will not be the same for quite a while, and we expect this shift to online to be more rapid.”

Towards the end of the panel, Mergers and Acquisitions (MNA) became a topic of discussion, but both Svensson and Segev said it’s a hard time to settle deals. Shareholders might feel they’re respective companies are undervalued at the moment, and rather wait for a rebound before considering a sale.

Finally, Levin asked the panel what everyone thinks of the new remote working we’ve been forced into, and if it will stick. Heath commented that while people are more productive right now, he believes in company culture, and he doesn’t think the current environment is conducive to it.  “I’m just scared that during this period, yes it might be fun, cool, quick, productive, efficient,” he said, but doesn’t think it would work long term.

Daskalakis agreed with that, largely, adding that he expects we’ll learn lessons from what works right now, and expects the future to be a mix of the past and present.

Later on in the morning, Digitain’s Head of Sales Simon Westbury hosted “An Opportunity to revist the Omni-Channel Approach.” Panelists Fabio Schiavolin, CEO of Snaitech, Per Widerstrom, CEO of Fortuna Entertainment Group, Giovanni Garrisi, CEO and Founder of Stanleybet, and Johnny Hartnett, CEO of Superbet, spoke to some degree about the omni-channel approach, but again mostly talked about the new normal, and what they think the next steps are.

After getting each of their definitions of omni-channel out of the way, Garrisi noted that while it might mean something different for each company and each jurisdiction, what we need to learn from the term generally is to be flexible in our businesses. He noted that from the current crisis, he’s learned to lean on remote tools to save money on travel, for instance.

Getting to brass tacks though, Hartnett commented that Superbet continues to pay it’s staff a full wage, with some help from local governments who’ve stepped up with relief compensation. While retail has obviously shrunk as part of the business right now, using remote tools, online channels are currently operating business as usual. He noted that marketing spends continue at the same rate largely, except for retail, and taking the sensitivity of the current moment into account.

Schiavolin noted that in Italy, he expects the retail arm of Snaitech to be the first to close, as well as the last to open. Garrisi added that Stanleybet is using its considering legal expertise to help retail shops throughout Europe manage their respective reopenings, which he’s hopeful are coming in the next few weeks, and will be stronger than ever.

Widerstrom focused quite a bit on the reality of combatting the virus at the ground level, as Fortuna Entertainment has focused on preparing its 3500 retail outlets to be safe to reopen. “Top of mind was protection of the business and the health of our employees,” he said. “A lot of work has gone to sourcing protective equipment for our employees.”

The group then discussed how they’ve had to make up for the loss of sports. Widerstrom noted that Fortuna has been mindful of potential problem gambling concerns. “In a responsible way, we’ve been cross selling, upselling”, he said, but noted they still haven’t made up for the loss of sportsbook content. Schiavolin noted that at Snaitech, they’ve gone from volume on virtuals of 0 bets per day to 100,000, but couldn’t rely on most esports content, as Italy prohibits betting on violent content.

When asked for their takeaways from the current crises, Hartnett began by noting that the omni-channel theory of a diverse offering across multiple countries is proving resilient for the current moment. Schiavolin added that digital should not be seen as an enemy for retailers, and should definitely be seen as an opportunity for growth, He noted that if brick and mortar businesses are not exploiting it, someone else will.

There are so many valuable insights being shared at the SBC Digital Summit, and there’s still nearly a week’s worth of content ahead. Check out the lineup of expert speakers the event has to offer, and head on over to their site to register so you don’t miss out.