How technology is both a blessing and a curse for innovation

How technology is both a blessing and a curse for innovation

“It takes minimum of 9 months to integrate with an operator”.

Far from releasing the potential of innovation, tech has the potential to suffocate it, with operators wary of adding things to a lengthy tech roadmap without proven performance first. Ewa Bakun explains.

The iGaming industry has often been accused of being quite insular – an accusation I have usually found rather incomprehensible.

During my time as the conference producer for EiG, GiGse, ICE Totally Gaming and other events we run, we’ve always had requests to include outside industry best practice in technology, consumer insights and business practice.

Whether we are able to get consumer brands to speak is a different story – they sometimes have concerns to speak at gambling events, due to the stigma attached to the industry.

To address that stigma, but also to help the industry to come out in the open and showcase its pioneering use of technology and innovative spirit, our start-ups Launchpad partner, GamCrowd, organised a one-day event, as part of the London Technology Week.

LTW, with over 60 associated events organised across town, celebrates the British capital as the centre of technology development and innovation. Being one of the featured LTW events, GamCrowd put the spotlight on the gambling industry as technology-driven and innovative, contributing, but also drawing from, the London technology scene.

The event took place in the iconic venue Hippodrome, that, in the words of its CEO Simon Thomas, reinvents itself every decade due to its favourable, central location. Over the eight hours of the conference with the tech experts from inside and outside the industry, the venue managed to reinvent itself once again as the London gambling tech hub.

Speaking about the event last week on TotallyGaming.com, Chris North introduced GamCrowd’s LTW event by using Amazon as a technology brand we aspire to. This wasn’t surprising to me; most outside industry speaking requests I have received over the years were for an Amazon speaker.

However, instead of putting Amazon on the pedestal as an unachievable innovation benchmark for iGaming, Chris pointed out that gambling industry’s innovative spirit is much closer to that of Amazon than we usually think.

And that was also a general sentiment at the event, set already with the first panel, moderated by David Sargeant, with the participation of Phil Graham, CTO of Gamesys, Dominic Hawken, Co-Founder and CTO of Grand Parade, George Constantinou, Director of Online, Hippodrome Casino and Will Mace, Head of Innovation at Unibet. Interestingly, David also opened his discussion with an Amazon comparison.

The session highlighted differing approaches to innovation, but the key conclusion was the difference made between incremental and transformational innovation. While the industry has seen a lot of innovation in the new ideas and concepts, improving or even creating new products, it hasn’t really been able to re-invent gambling with a transformational or disruptive approach.

The industry has come a long way too to recognise the importance and power of large companies embracing innovation through their interaction and support for the start-up community. William Hill’s successful approach with their William Hill Lab has been praised, but it became clear during the discussion that many major gambling organisations engage with the start-up community through hosted meet-ups, have an open door policy towards start-ups wanting to work with them and integrate the more successful and relevant products. 

With the legacy systems even in an industry as young as online betting, the integration of new innovative products and ideas often proves to be a challenge however. Unibet admitted to it as an operator and Grand Parade raised that as an issue, having worked with many operators. Later on, the start-up Gamevy confirmed saying that it takes minimum of nine months to integrate with an operator. It’s easier for Gamesys as a casino rather than sportsbook operators; they partner with tech start-ups to enable them to build content for their platform.

Being part of the London Technology Week, the capital’s accessibility of talent came up in this, and many other discussions throughout the day. London has grown to being the main technology hub of Europe, also with its diverse talent pool, which Gamesys taps into (58 different languages are spoken at Gamesys).

More than others on the panel: Unibet is only just growing their team in London (but is more active in their homebase Stockholm), while Grand Parade’s design ideas are generated in London, they benefit from much cheaper talent in their office in Poland. Hippodrome’s land-based focus means that most of their innovation is done on the customer service level, rather than through technology.

As is usual during the discussion around innovation in the gambling sector, regulation was brought up as one of the main obstacles to the industry’s freedom to innovate. What was refreshing this time was the panel’s agreement that regulation is a challenge, not a hindrance; it shouldn’t be blamed for the industry’s inability to innovate. ”It adds a little bit of colour,” concluded Gamesys’ CTO.

Generally however gambling companies are risk averse and many have money to invest in proven concepts rather than early stage start-ups – that’s a luxury that many other sectors would be envious of, but impacts the industry’s adoption of new technologies, extends time to market and makes the industry reactive rather than proactive.

The industry has gone a long way in its engagement with innovation: from a belief in total lack of innovation and hermetic approach to a more open one that embraces start-ups and recognises it does innovate, but perhaps doesn’t disrupt. 

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