Preview: The Gaming Intelligence Awards 2021

The winners of The Gaming Intelligence Awards will be unveiled next week with prizes awarded for the best performing companies in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America. Who are the runners and riders and what does the selection say about the state of the interactive betting and gaming industry?

There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in the betting and gaming sector. The North America market often grabs the headlines as market after market opens. Its dollars are driving a wave of consolidation that has been slowly building for much of the past decade.

Right now, FanDuel (and its parent company Flutter) and DraftKings are driving the market in numerous different ways. Their daily fantasy sports businesses gave them a headstart in sports betting markets across the country and the marketing dollars that they have been able to throw at new markets has had everyone struggling to keep up.

The pair will surely be duking it out for North America’s coveted Sports Betting Operator of the Year Award but BetMGM and Caesars are not far behind. Our data analysis team has been crunching the numbers and comparing performances across the states to figure out which company should emerge victorious.

In terms of suppliers, Kambi and IGT will be competing with newly-liberated OpenBet for the sports betting prize. It is hard to see past those three but could the innovations of an Amelco sneak into the judge’s thoughts, or might they look at the growth of Genius Sports or Sportradar and reward a sports betting supplier of a different ilk.

While sports betting has opened the door to the US market, iGaming is where the profits lie. This will be a hotly contested category, where the likes of BetMGM, Golden Nugget Online Gaming and Rush Street Interactive can confidently claim to be doing things smarter than the big two but what do the numbers tell us? All will be revealed next week.

iGaming Suppliers are queueing up for the Supplier of the Year Award but will also be clamouring for the Innovation Award and the super hotly-contested Game of the Year prize.

Evolution Gaming, Gaming Realms, IGT, Inspired Entertainment, Pariplay, Playtech, Scientific Games, and Wazdan have all got a hat in the ring for those titles.

Choose your emerging market

While the big beasts dominate conversations in the emerging markets of North America, for a large part of the industry, the emerging markets of Latin America, Asia and Africa are where the excitement lies.

The Gaming Intelligence Awards has been restructured to reflect this – to try and compare apples with apples and pears with pears.

However, it is not just the smaller operators and suppliers trying to eke out a living in these markets. Evolution Gaming has grown to become one of the dominant suppliers in Europe’s regulated markets but it is also looking East and West. The US market was NetEnt’s largest market before the acquisition by Evolution but Asia is one of its key geographies.

Revenue from Asia more than doubled to €76.7m in its third quarter report. This far outweighs the €38.6m that comes from the UK and Nordic region, and dwarves the €31.9m that Evolution earned from North America.

Other suppliers competing for the iGaming Supplier of the Year Award in Asia will be BBIN, OneTouch Games, Playtech and our awards regional sponsor SA Gaming.

Aside from the more established Isle of Man or Philippines-based sportsbooks, some established European players are also looking to Asia for growth potential. Bally’s Vera & John has enjoyed great success in Japan and Casumo is also benefiting from the success of its newer operation there. Flutter acquired India’s Junglee Games earlier this year and the rummy operator is a coming force.

The sports betting market, of course, is massive in Asia Pacific and it would be a bold judge that picks the winner from the likes of 12Bet, 188Bet, Dafabet and SBOBet. While they do not have the revenues to compare with those giants, perhaps one of the Australian operators such as Pointsbet or Sportsbet will display innovation that impresses the judges.

While Asia has long been dominated by those happy to play in unregulated markets, Latin America and Africa are growing in popularity because of the certainty provided by their regulated markets. And, of course, they share with Asia the benefit of extremely large populations.

Unlike Asia, Africa does not have a developed online casino market. Data is expensive and broadband penetration is low, so beautifully designed slots and other casino games have yet to gain traction.

Sports betting is another matter entirely. Super Group’s Betway will be fighting it out with BetKing, GOAT Interactive’s Premier Bet and others for the Sports Betting Operator of the Year Award.

Meanwhile, lotteries remain a massive business across the continent, despite the challenges posed by Covid-19. Sisal’s operation of the Moroccan National Lottery has been a big success in recent years, while Ithuba’s six years in charge of the South Africa National Lottery have shown consistent growth and innovation. Meanwhile, other games such as Premier Lotto’s Baba Ijebu in Nigeria are massively popular.

While the likes of Scientific Games and IGT have undoubtedly played a big part in those successes in Morocco and South Africa, will a more focused local player such as Editec emerge triumphant? Sports betting suppliers such as Btobet and Pronet Gaming are also making an impact on the continent.

No waiting for Brazil

While the excitement has been building for years around the liberalisation of the Brazilian market, operators have been busy planting seeds for growth across Latin America.

Betsson has operations in Chile, Colombia and Peru, plus a small presence in Brazil and Argentina is coming soon. Entain’s bwin, William Hill and Winner Group Cirsa’s Sportium have all looked to Colombia’s rapidly growing market but can anyone match the mighty Betcris?

The competition among suppliers is just as fierce with Altenar, Btobet, Kambi, Pronet Gaming and Sportingtech all making great strides in sports. Meanwhile, the likes of EveryMatrix, Pragmatic Play and OneTouch will rival locally-focussed suppliers such as Salsa Technology for iGaming Supplier of the Year.

The coveted One to Watch Award will be a tough call across the continents and LatAm is no different. The broad range of innovation across technologies and verticals is an area where LatAm really stands out. Mobadoo is making waves in esports, while Pipa Games focuses on bingo and table games. Jada Games’ AI solution has received praise from the judges. Or perhaps emerging slots studio Vibra Gaming will emerge triumphant.

Regulation rules

New regulations in Germany and the Netherlands have put a dampener on the revenue figures of  many established European operators. It has become standard for operators to include the caveat “excluding the German regulatory impact” or “the decision to stop accepting Dutch customers is expected to impact EBITDA negatively by approximately…” Meanwhile, everyone was struggling to find growth in the UK.

However, there will be some fierce battles for the top prizes. 888 Holdings has enjoyed phenomenal growth during 2021 – in casino and sports betting. Paddy Power Betfair and Sky Betting & Gaming continue to innovate inside the Flutter umbrella. Nothing seems to interrupt Bet365’s growth trajectory. Kindred Group will get a mention in any conversation about a sports betting operator of the year. And Gamesys continues to run one of the best iGaming operations on the planet.

The competition continues to drive innovation – from the AI-led FastTrack and Future Anthem to newer games suppliers such as OneTouch Games and NoLimit City. Suppliers such as Aspire Global and Pragmatic Play have risen to challenge the likes of Playtech and Microgaming, both of which continue to churn out some wonderful games. And who can stop the rise and rise of Evolution? It has swallowed past winners such as Red Tiger and Big Time Gaming, while revenue rises and rises.

The European market is difficult, often infuriating, but it is certainly not dead. This is an industry in rude health. When the Gaming Intelligence Awards are announced next week (from November 8th), we will find out who is the best of the best.