Exclusive BetMGM interview: 'The king of casino'

March 22, 2024

Gaming America spoke with BetMGM's VP of Gaming Angus Nisbet on the company's recent launches, the Super Bowl and what 2024 has in store...

BetMGM launched Buffalo on its online casino recently. How do you translate the experience of land-based play to an online outlet?

We had to make a decision with that game. When you’re balancing everything up, do you build your own version of it, or do you say; look, Aristocrat’s number one on the gaming floor in most casinos in the US, Buffalo being that game. You walk around the casino, and you hear that call of the eagle, you hear it on half the casino floors in the US. It’s very distinctive.

That’s the first thing you do, take game sounds. So, when you play the game online, if you’re a retail player, you recognize the sounds. You try and replicate as much as you can. That said, the return to player on a retail slot is lower than a digital slot. Those two things are balancing themselves out now in the UK but in the US it’s still not, so the math is different. It is a different experience, but you try and make it look and feel as close to the retail game as you can. Then, really, it’s a marketing exercise. So, we work with Aristocrat and have a great relationship with them.

We were proud to be the first online casino in the world to offer Buffalo when it went live in New Jersey. Now it’s live in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ontario. To be the leaders in omni-channel casino, which we are, it makes sense that the first place you’re going to be able to play Buffalo is on BetMGM.

Is it truly worth paying the premium?

The game is excellent, and it’s been a top 10 game for us from the day it went live, which is fantastic. Again, it’s the balancing act. You could have built your own version, it would have been cheaper for you to do that, you’d be paying less revenue share on that version. But you’re making less revenue versus a smash hit. So, in my mind, you pay for quality; and the balancing act is having those massive headline games and then having your own in-house games to support them as well.

Like I always say, if you’re Apple or Nike, you don’t put the new MacBook on discount... We were very careful to not over-promote Buffalo. We wouldn’t say, ‘look here, $50 free for Buffalo,’ because why would you do that? The game is so strong, it stands up on its own.

What was one of your biggest learning experiences in 2023? And how do you plan to implement that in 2024?

Nisbet holds up a map of the United States. This won’t translate because it’s not a video interview, but look at what I’ve got here. The biggest learning curve was US geography. I’m English, right? I’ve been to Las Vegas quite a lot for various reasons and I’ve been to New York a few times, but I don’t know the US.

When I started, the learning curve from a geographical point of view was steep and you realize the vastness of the US. Joking aside, 25 years I’ve been in the gaming business now. 2023 was, without a doubt, the most challenging (in a good way), the steepest learning curve I’ve ever been on. You’ve got to understand a completely new territory, the way regulation impacts the sector in the US is totally different from what I’m used to in the UK.

We developed a sector in the UK, which then had regulation and compliance trying to catch up with it... whereas in the US, compliance and regulation is at the absolute forefront of what happens, which is great and the right way round. But that took a lot to get used to. 2023 was the best year of my working career without a doubt and it just continues to be. I think the main reason for that is the opportunity and people that I’m working with at MGM. The whole business is just extraordinary. It was a great year, and it hasn’t slowed down in 2024.

In 2024, are there any gaming technologies you think we will see growth compared to last year?

From an omni-channel point of view, live dealer. The time for live dealer is coming. Many aspects of the UK gaming space are very similar to the US gaming space, so when I look at the percentage of business a UK operator would get through its live dealer business, it’s a lot higher than the US and that’s catching up.

How so?

That’s down to the market evolving; it’s down to the quality of the dealers and it’s down to localized studios. I think you’re going to see the growth of live dealer continue significantly in 2024 and that’s traditional live dealer, if you like. But that’s also the work we’re doing with dual-play roulette, which is live and successful in the Borgata Arcade.

We’re going to have different game types using the same format. So live dealer, dual-play and I think hybrid games like MGM Bonus City. It’s a green screen. You spin a wheel and... it’s something that looks live and studio presented without necessarily the expense of a full live casino studio.

What about arcade games?

To go back to the arcade tab, I think there’s a whole host of content that will land that hasn’t quite landed yet, like fast games and crash games. If you look at South America and South Africa... those games are number one ahead of any slot, which is extraordinary.

A South African or Brazilian player isn’t any different from an American player, so there’s no reason that won’t resonate. Once we get that content right, imagine a situation where we take one of our sporting team partnerships, let’s say the Detroit Lions or The New York Jets. Imagine a jet game with the New York Jets, fully branded, and it’s an American football going down an American football pitch and landing on the 40-yard line; you can see it, right? I think different content types, and different studios are coming in and making an impact in the way that Slingo has done over the last couple of years. So, live casino hybrid, dual-play and fast games would be the ones to look at.

Can you describe your goals for 2024 in three words and explain why?

I've got two goals for you. The first one would be omnichannel market leader. When we talk about market share in the US, there’s DraftKings and FanDuel and we’re number three in that triumvirate. It’s based on gross gaming revenue and that’s fair. What I think is also fair is, having just got back from Vegas, you didn’t see DraftKings of FanDuel in Vegas. MGM was everywhere. Vegas is MGM.

We are part of MGM and it’s very important that we internally recognize that. Our new app’s gone live in Nevada. As more states look to regulate online gaming, I think we’re in a fantastic position... Vegas is moving to be a huge casino state, but it’s now an entertainment state; it’s a sports state. The Super Bowl was the most-watched event on TV after the moon landing. People know it was a good game, but it was Vegas and they put on the show. Any shot of the Allegiance Stadium where the game was would have had the Luxor casino in the background.

There’s BetMGM. No one else can do that. I think it was 120 million people at peak viewing and our brand was full on show. So, I think omnichannel market leader will give us longevity... We must make sure we’re here for the long term and we’re making the right decisions from an omnichannel point of view.

What about the second goal?

My personal objective, which I’ve fed back to the business, is King of Casino. You know, we are the King of Casino. With everything we talked about today, whether it’s how we differentiate from state by state and brand by brand. We’ve got Wheel of Fortune, we’ve got BetMGM, and we’ve got Borgata; all these different opportunities to mature.

I saw a load of photos of our players at the Beau Rivage in Mississippi, because it was Mardi Gras. If you want to go from one casino to another in Las Vegas, you go on the BetMGM tram. One of the Mardi Gras floats is branded BetMGM... I know the relationship between MGM Resorts and BetMGM is tighter than it’s ever been. I know that because I speak to my colleagues at MGM Resorts every day; I know how hard people from casinos worked alongside people from digital during the Super Bowl in all our casinos over the weekend.

Can you give us an example?

We had a player who won $3m on an in-house game [in January]. To go back to the chat about in-house versus third party, we’ve got a game called Bison Fury, which is massive and exclusive to us in the US. This lady won $3m and when we spoke to her, we said, “Right. Okay, what do you want to do? Where do you want to go? How can we congratulate you?” She said, “Do you know what? I’ve never been to Las Vegas... I want to go to Vegas.” So, she had the best New Year of her life! We flew her down to Vegas, we picked her up in a limo. She stayed at the Aria hotel, which is just beautiful.

She was there for five days, and she left the hotel once because there’s so much to do. We’ve given her the best five days ever. She went to the New Year’s Eve party; she went to see Bruno Mars. It was an amazing time. Now, can DraftKings and FanDuel do that? They can, but they’d have to pay us to do it. That’s a unique opportunity only BetMGM can deliver. More and more states are opening, and Vegas continues to be the hub of entertainment in the US; we operate in Ontario, and the most flown-to city out of Ontario, or out of Toronto airport, is Las Vegas. And it’s right next to Buffalo, which is a decent sporting state... So omnichannel market leader and King of Casino. Take your pick – but those are my two goals.



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