Since it’s the fashionable thing this time of year, here are some personal predictions for the online real money gambling world. Some of these are not particularly constrained to 2018, but reflect a broader, long term, view. Keep in mind that I’m just some random schmuck on the internet, and these are my personal views which are worth what you’re paying for them.
Since I’m a big believer in holding people accountable for their predictions, if anyone wants to come up with a small wager on any of these, I’d be happy to do so.
UI and Customer Experience
Tinder went from zero to hero in mere months because it created a new user interface paradigm for the dating industry in a mobile world. Not only was swiping left and right a very good implementation for dating (it probably won’t be for online gaming) but the sign-up process of integrating Facebook, automatically populating images & some bio info, was absolutely key. It meant that people who wanted to date online no longer needed to complete lengthy and foreboding questionnaires – rather, customers could sign-up and start swiping in literally seconds. People could swipe and message people in a spare 10 or 15 seconds, not a spare couple of hours.
While the rest of the world improved their user interfaces, the combination of increasing local regulation, and a desire by everyone to follow the leaders appears to have caused online gaming operators (across all three areas of sports betting, casino games and poker) to have excessively intimidating websites and customer experiences. Despite it now being 2018, in many cases, a casual customer who wants to wager on this afternoon’s big sports game on TV needs to scroll through a lengthy MS Excel-style listing of sports like Second Division Dutch Field Hockey to get to what they want – and that’s not even considering the difficult sign-up processes. I suspect that audio/sound might be a useful user interface, whether it be voice control, or an app listening to what TV or radio is playing on the background to suggest appropriate activities.
A big gain in market share will go to whoever can streamline that process – someone who recognizes that the competition is not just other gaming operators, but every hurdle that a customer must overcome to use their product.
Closely connected to an improved UI and customer experience, there’s a big opportunity for huge product improvements by greater personalisation at every level of the gaming product. As a sports bettor, I think I’ve only ever bet on NBA, Australian Football and various political events – yet my email inbox is full of offers for English football, and I need to scroll past a million irrelevant sports to find what I want to bet on. Improving personalisation will make it easier for me to bet on what I want, and in doing so, will improve my customer experience. Someone will also figure out that I repeatedly bet the same very small amounts (or my entire remaining bankroll) and default to those bet options. Sometime thereafter, a sports betting company will discover that they can change my default bet size, and I will go along with their suggested bet sizing.
Similarly, I might, one day, receive online poker game suggestions and promotions that are tailored to my personal interests. I can only hope.
Gaming businesses will move away from competing on price
PokerStars has discovered that they can improve their efficiency and profitability by rebalancing their player loyalty program: big reductions in how much money they give to their highest volume players, partially offset by giving the big bulk of their players more rewards. It is good for PokerStars because the big bulk of their players were receiving very small amounts in percentage terms, so increasing those rewards was not very costly.
This has the opportunity to deliver big benefits for PokerStars, because they simultaneously are saving money, while also stimulating casual players (who may have more elasticity in their play and deposit volumes than high volume professional players). Combined with companies competing on user interface, experience and personalisation, some gaming operators (across all of sports betting, casino and poker) will realise that they do not need to compete on price if they don’t want to. Instead, they can offer products that are attractive to players on other attributes (such as trust, convenience, security, and so on).
Personalized Products and Personalized Pricing
In addition, I imagine at least one sports betting operator will begin to offer different prices to different customers (not just new customer offers) on the same event (if it doesn’t happen already). Airlines already charge radically different prices to people sitting next to each other on the same aircraft, so I don’t see why the same thing can’t happen in online betting. Something similar might happen in online poker, especially with shared European liquidity – there’s no reason that someone can’t enter a EUR10+1 tournament and someone else enter the same event as a EUR10+2 (or etc.) event. Similarly, it would be possible to take different rake levels to account for different taxes in different countries depending on who won the pot, but I doubt that this will happen in 2018 (but might one day)
Virtual Reality will be, at best, a very niche product
Despite some fancy stalls at ICE and various other exhibitions, virtual reality will continue to be a niche product without much relevance to the real money gambling world. Augmented reality, however, has a real chance to make an impact, especially if algorithmic bots can be created to offer odds in real-time with low latency in the congested data environment of big sports stadia.
Poker table selection will disappear
In 2018, poker operators will kill off table (and seat) selection at cash games (and Sit & Go tournaments). Removing table selection will have a whole series of effects, which will each combine to make it irreversible and unstoppable:
- It will clean up the user interface. Instead of scrolling through something that looks like a constantly moving MS Excel sheet, the experience will be more similar to what happens in live poker rooms: you will ask for a certain game, and the poker room operator will take you to a table and sit you down. Maybe you’ll get a choice of the available seats at a given table, but there’s not much benefit for a poker room to give the customer a choice here.
- At most stakes, and for most players, it will end the value of seat scripting to get the best possible seat on weak players.
- At most stakes, it will significantly reduce the incidence of collusion, since cheating partners (both malicious and non-malicious) will be seated at the same tables less often (and when they are, they’ll have less control over relative seat selection).
- The value of big liquidity will decrease in importance, since players will register into pools of cash games and sit & go tournaments (much like the lottery-style Sit & go tournaments already do). The poker server will then be able to manage these tables, moving players and balancing tables automatically. There will be little benefit to the player of playing in a pool of 10 tables compared to a pool of 20 tables.
SportsVU Spreads; Sports betting and DFS Benefits
Basketball has, like the other big American sports, extremely comprehensive box scores for several years: statistics which statisticians could use to mathematically correlate with game results. As the technology spreads to other sports (to soccer and tennis) it offers the opportunity to create new DFS style games. With SportsVU technology, it is possible to imagine drafting a tennis player: taking Andy Murray’s first serve, Federer’s second serve, Nadal’s forehand, and so on. Similarly, improved statistical depth for soccer might make that game more attractive to DFS.
Computer games (esports) will do bad things
It seems very uncontroversial to imagine or predict that esports will lead new participants into the real money gaming world. Thus, my prediction relates to the consequence of that: one or more of these companies will do something incredibly bone-headed in the real money gaming world, not out of evil, but because they’re ignorant of the ethics and regulations that apply here. Which leads to…
Zynga will be in big trouble
Eventually, “someone” will realise that Zynga expressly permits children as young as 13 to play their slots and casino style games, and that “someone” will go bananas. That “someone” might be a politician, it might be a major mainstream consumer news outlet, but eventually it will go viral. When it does, Zynga will probably be identified as one of the most evil companies in the gaming industry, if not the world.
I believe that Zynga’s actions here are not evil – rather, their staff simply do not have any awareness of the basic ethics of real money gaming (Rule #1: Don’t take advantage of children). This blind spot is likely correlated with little real money gaming awareness, and is why Zynga will continue to not be a meaningful participant in real money gaming.
If you knowingly and deliberately allow 13 year olds to play a game called “Hit it Rich! Free Casino Slots” (as evidenced by the fact that the game is rated for audiences 12+ in the Google Play store, and their T+C specifically allow 13 year olds) then you deserve the world falling on your head.