According to data from Statista, the global online gambling sector was valued at $66.7 billion in 2020. By 2023, this figure is forecast to reach $92.9 billion. If gambling companies are to capitalise on this growth and capture more of the market, they need to make sure their products speak to emerging online gambling trends.
However, working out which trends are genuine is hard. A quick search online may lead you to believe that novel technologies like VR and blockchain are set to transform the industry within months. While their potential is undeniable, the real picture is much more nuanced. What’s more, by believing that trends need to be glamorous, novel or high-tech, many summaries overlook the more ordinary trends that really matter. Safer gambling may not sound as exciting as crypto, but it’s infinitely more relevant and pressing.
To assess which online gambling trends could realistically take hold in 2022 and work out which really matter for online casinos and sportsbooks, Applause hosted a webinar with two experts from the industry: Philippe Joos, Head of Product at Napoleon Games & Casino, and Dave Pilgrim, Sr: . Product Manager at Sky Betting & Gaming. Here are some of their perspectives alongside Applause’s own observations from years working with the world’s largest gambling companies.
Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Etherum and Dogecoin have the potential to supplement classic currencies and even potentially replace them in certain instances. However, online operators should keep a few things in mind before offering cryptocurrency payments to customers.
A core promise of cryptocurrencies is anonymity: crypto transactions are untraceable (or at least very difficult to trace), making them ideal for users wanting to stay hidden online. While this represents a step toward greater data protection, it is a step in the wrong direction for online gambling. Know your customer (KYC) obligations mean that online casinos and sportsbooks are required to collect certain information about customers both to protect them and prevent corruption. This requirement stands at odds with the anonymity provided by cryptocurrencies.
What’s more, even though cryptocurrencies are becoming increasingly popular, they are still to become fully mainstream. As things stand, it is not economically viable for online casinos and betting shops to add cryptocurrency payment methods to their apps. This means that gambling operators need not worry too much about how to manage the anonymity issue proper to cryptocurrencies just yet.
2. Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR)
10 years ago, most users were happy that mobile gambling even existed. Since then, however, expectations of digital experiences have risen significantly, as has the quality of casino and sportsbook apps on offer.
Facebook/Meta’s announcement of the creation of Metaverse pushed VR/AR further into the spotlight and continues to drive greater immersion in games. Some casinos, like PokerStars Sport, already offer VR products. Many of the features offered by VR — such as gesture imitation, 3D-avatars and live interactions — mean that the digital poker experience now much more closely resembles the real thing.
Nonetheless, the barrier to entry for VR/AR is high, as customers need access to expensive headsets if they are to experience these features. For this reason, VR/AR continues to be a slow-burning online gambling trend.
3. Esports betting
Betting on esports is a game changer for bookmakers, as they allow for new data-driven customer experiences, more accurate betting and greater opportunities for in-game betting. Applause recently published a detailed analysis of the opportunities presented by esports betting for bookmakers.
While esports betting was a major online gambling trend this year, Joos and Pilgrim are sceptical about whether esports betting will continue to grow in 2022. Betting on online games such as FIFA may have been popular during the pandemic, but titles like DOTA 2 did not see the same success. For Joos and Pilgrim, this suggests that esports betting was only ever a stand-in for real sports betting during lockdown.
An internal study by Joos’ company Napoleon Games & Casino also suggests that bettors are less comfortable with esports betting, as they are suspicious about the integrity of games run on computers. This could change as understanding of technology grows. If anything, users can be surer of the integrity of esports betting than traditional sports betting, which has faced numerous corruption scandals in the past.
Smartwatches are gaining popularity, whether for the purpose of fitness tracking, messaging or gaming. They are also becoming increasingly powerful. Therefore, it’s not surprising that this new class of device is seeing increased adoption in the gambling industry, with providers such as Playtech already offering slot machine apps for Apple Watches.
The advantages for operators are obvious. Held closer to the body than a smartphone, a smartwatch is more present in the user’s awareness, meaning it is more likely that they will play games on a whim (like whilst standing in a queue). The design of current wearables also makes the gaming experience more appealing than on mobile, as players only see the information needed for a game without being distracted by too many buttons.
On the other hand, gambling apps on wearables are a niche product and users are still more likely to access online casinos and betting sites on desktop or mobile. Moreover, with so many proprietary operating systems besides watchOS and WearOS, it is difficult for gambling operators to design for all alternatives. Even individual models by the same manufacturer differ greatly from one another: while some have round screens, others are angular or a hybrid of mechanical and digital display elements.
5. Social betting
Bettors love to discuss their bets with friends and exchange anecdotes. This has led to a range of community betting features that aim to move these conversations online:
Sky Betting has a “Request a Bet” feature that allows customers to set up a bet as a group by adding money to a pool
Superbet Group has a successful community product where users follow, challenge and comment on bets placed by friends
Betbull has a product where users post bets publicly so that other people can bet on them too (Pilgrim dubs this model “betting with the herd”)
As an online gambling trend, social betting has seen equal success across different markets and has been particularly slow to take off in the UK. Before rolling out to new markets, Joos and Pilgrim recommend that online betting operators conduct a country study to assess local appetites for different social betting models.
6. Micro betting
It used to be the case that sports betting was all about major outcomes. Which team will win the tournament? What are the odds for the favourite to win? How many goals will be scored over the course of a match? This form of betting is fast becoming outdated, losing ground to micro bets, which are concerned with small in-play events like the player to score the next goal, take the next corner or get the next red card.
Due to the volume of micro bets taking place in any one game, it is hard to manually report on all outcomes. Because of this, many online betting companies are using AI to decide outcomes and distribute results, which makes offering micro bets expensive. Working out which events it makes the most sense to offer bets on and which to leave out is crucial if online sportsbooks are to truly benefit from this trend.
7. Better apps
Better apps is the most important, yet widely overlooked, online gambling trend. App quality is a deciding factor for users when choosing online gambling apps. For expert advice on how to design apps that customers love, check out Applause’s guide for building stand-out gambling apps. Top tips include:
Anticipate changes in the law and going above and beyond minimum requirements
Incorporate a modular tech stack to enable or disable features as needed
Make it as easy as possible for new users to sign up
Optimise discoverability so users immediately find relevant bets/games
According to Joos and Pilgrim, localisation is a key area to get right. Just because one app worked well in one market isn’t a guarantee that it will be successful elsewhere. Offering an international betting or casino portfolio goes beyond mere translation: it is crucial to adapt each offering to local preferences. To learn how Applause helps gambling operators with their localisation effort, watch our webinar with the German gaming company Whow Games.
8. Safer Gambling
New safer gambling regulations continue to come into force that shape the design of online gambling experiences. Increasingly, rather than waiting for new laws to be announced and retrofitting products accordingly, gambling operators are taking a more active stance in integrating safer gambling into all stages of the product development process.
In 2022, box ticking is not enough when it comes to safer gambling. Operators cognisant of their responsibility should exceed legal requirements. Many online casinos already offer pop-up windows that warn users when they have been playing for an extended period, while others encourage gamblers to set their own deposit limits.
9. Gambling offerings from major entertainment companies
One online gambling trend gaining traction is the arrival of gambling offerings from established entertainment companies. Netflix has already launched games based on its series and movies, which could point towards a possibility for casino games in the future. Disney is exploring partnering with third parties to pursue sports betting deals. Amazon may also follow suit — having recently started offering live football streams, a logical next step could be to offer bets on these, too.
10. Betting in the USA
Could 2022 be the year that online gambling gains ground in the US? More of the country’s states are legalising betting, creating a larger market for operators.
Up until recently, fantasy games have acted as a stand in for gambling in the US, offering Americans a softer way to gamble. These customers are highly convertible, as they have already demonstrated a willingness to pay for games akin to poker, where players add money to a pool and the winner takes all.
Capitalising on emerging trends
Once an online gambling trend emerges, it’s important to capitalise on it. This means assessing exactly how each trend could be translated into features in a way that makes most sense for end users and testing not just that new features work, but that they are truly useful.
Applause helps online sportsbooks and casinos to deliver exceptional digital experiences to their customers through real-world testing. Learn more at https://www.applause.com/online-gambling.