The gaming industry has weathered the cataclysmic storm that was (and to some degree still is) the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is poised to move into growth mode as the calendar flips to 2022.
That was the message from six executives who offered Gaming America their views of what lies in store in the year ahead. They noted the virus has not gone away completely and supply chain issues are still confounding a more rapid recovery, yet they were uniformly optimistic about the potential budding in the innovations that have been in the works behind the scenes.
Among the boldest predictions came from Cath Burns, EVP Customer Experience for Aristocrat Gaming, and Dave Kubajak, SVP of Sales, Marketing and Operations for JCM Global. Both spoke of the possibility that interconnected gaming finally will make its long-awaited debut in the next 12 months.
“The past two years have been both challenging and phenomenal in the advancement of the global gaming industry,” Burns began. “Gaming has long been an industry that delivers waves of innovation. It should not come as any surprise that the gaming industry once again rose to the challenge to deliver several key trends and developments in response.”
According to Burns, 2022 will see more guest and employee-facing modules to help respond to guest demands, for a more frictionless interconnected experience when engaging with an operator’s brand. She said Covid-19 has accelerated, and continues to accelerate, player demand for contactless, cashless and assurance solutions; and both regulators and operators have been quick to respond with approval and adoption.
“These will continue to innovate with mobile solutions as operators continue to protect guests from emerging Covid variant threats while delivering world-class brand engagement,” Burns predicted, adding that she expects the industry will see an acceleration in deployment, adoption and engagement with guests – with the lines between digital and land-based operations becoming blurred.
“We can expect the guest experience will become even more interconnected, with online, digital and game convergence with the consolidation of mobile applications; and integration and collaboration with digital, land-based and contactless partners will grow in 2022,” Burns said, noting these trends are mirroring other industry verticals.
The gaming industry has been talking about convergence as a theory for a few years now, Kubajak observed, adding, “All signs are pointing to 2022 as the year when theory becomes reality.”
“We will see technology give players the ability to choose their gaming experience and to have that experience interconnected,” he asserted, explaining players will choose their gaming venue, whether that is land-based, online gaming, lottery or a combination. “They also will have greater choice in how they fund their play, including cash, debit, TITO or mobile. As sports betting continues to grow globally, players can choose between going to a land-based sportsbook or making wagers online.”
To reward their customers, Kubajak said operators will have a greater range of options for promotion and player recognition, giving players choices between receiving physical promotions (including printed tickets from a system such as JCM’s PromoNet) or virtual rewards (player card/mobile app).
As technology creates the necessary interconnections to provide players this “amazing ability to choose when they play, how they play, and how they are recognized and rewarded,” Kubajak said JCM is actively working with casinos of all sizes to help them develop a technology roadmap. “Our forward-thinking roadmap helps casinos plan ahead so no matter what the future holds, JCM can make sure operators have the technological framework in place to give players the choices they will expect.”
Improving the supplier-operator connection
Dan Schrementi, President of Gaming for Incredible Technologies (IT), told Gaming America the gaming industry rebound in 2021 focused on operators’ ability to attract customers “and the results speak for themselves.”
“2022 tells a different tale, and I believe one that will focus on the relationship of the suppliers to the operators,” Schrementi said. “As a slot manufacturer, for the better part of two years through the pandemic our teams have focused solely on R&D expenditure to bring our best and brightest ideas to market and create a new, hopeful post-pandemic player experience.”
IT expects 2022 will be the year in which manufacturers start what Schrementi described as a new chapter in the industry – one shaped by bigger and bolder ideas.
“While supply chain delays will be an obstacle to this focus, it won’t stop the overall momentum and its impact as 2022 rolls on,” Schrementi said. “As manufacturers continue to heal, the end result will be more commercialization of products that offer innovative player experiences for our customers.”
Andrew Burke, CEO of Bluberi, took a moment to acknowledge the headwinds working against the gaming industry going into the new year, starting with labor shortages. He cited a recent report that said there are 11 million open jobs in the US alone.
“Factors that make it difficult to hire in other industries affect gaming, as well,” Burke said, pointing to the fact many potential employees are placing more importance on quality of life than ever before. He said companies need to think not only of wages, but benefits such as time off, the ability to work remotely; and to give employees the ability to balance their professional and personal lives equally.
“In the 24/7 gaming world, this can be a particular challenge, and we will see that play out through 2022,” Burke cautioned. “Companies that really understand culture, the ones that have taken the time to implement thoughtful policies and work with their employees to understand and meet their needs, will win out.”
Casinos have brought in record revenue over the past year and a half. But in 2022, as live shows and sporting events continue to come back and people become more comfortable attending them, Burke said the industry may see its players spending less time in front of their favorite slot machines, in favor of some of these other forms of entertainment.
“Casinos will need to ramp up their marketing efforts to compete for people’s leisure time,” he proffered. “The good news is we have continued to work on our research and development efforts. There is lots of great new product ready to be released, and a lot of pent-up demand for new games.”
Casinos spent less money on refreshing their floors over the past two years, but as players start spending slightly less time at the casino, Burke said the replacement cycle should also pick up in an effort to keep the players coming in and staying longer.
“2022 may bring about a renaissance on the slot floor,” added Burke.
A need for cooperation among competitors
Burke expects supply chain issues will continue to plague the gaming industry throughout 2022 and possibly into 2023. He said manufacturers need to have more parts and inventory on hand to offset the shortages, and long lead times they currently are experiencing.
According to Burke, manufacturers may find themselves paying higher prices for critical items as they compete with each other to secure available inventory; and they will need to plan for that and be flexible as they move through the year.
“Many companies, however, have used this time to evaluate their processes and procedures to be better aligned with customers, and are ready to meet any challenges that come our way,” Burke said. “Bluberi, for one, is in a much better place coming out of Covid than we were going in. Overall, I am optimistic about 2022, and looking forward to a bright future.”
Burns said to provide a pathway forward for the industry, Aristocrat supports an open standards interface with Oasis 360 that allows partners to connect to its casino management solution.
“For our Oasis partners, we have supplied a unique and established perspective that has helped to enhance the Oasis solution,” Burns said. “Having more than one solution partner allows for operator and guest choice, which drives innovation and adoption in the industry.”
One of the new approaches that will drive guest engagement is the single player account: the mobile transformation of legacy progressives, bonusing and offer management. Burns said consolidation of these traditionally land-based promotional features will benefit the guest regardless of whether they are on or off the property.
“The combination of these exciting features with the continued adoption of contactless, cashless and assurance will accelerate adoption by creating a simple, convenient, seamless mobile experience for casino guests,” Burns said.
New markets will lead the way
Johnny Ayers, Founder and CEO of identity verification company Socure, predicted 2022 will deliver market growth of 25% to 30% vs. 2021, with New York and Ontario “significantly contributing” to this momentum and increasing the likelihood that other large markets pursue legalization.
“In a once-undecided race between cannabis and gaming as the preferred new source of revenue for states, 2022 will be the year that online gaming gains clear acceptance over the more controversial cannabis industry,” Ayers assessed.
As online gaming providers rush to be first-to-market in states that have legalized, Ayers said speed will be prioritized over all else. However, he warned, this attitude “cracks the door” for more fraud while exposing how manual processes for due diligence and payments management impede operator success.
According to Ayers, a rise in fraud attacks will force operators to re-evaluate their approach to fraud mitigation and place more of a premium on effectively mitigating risks, without negatively impacting player experience.
“This will happen through accurate identity verification and overall automation across the onboarding, account profile changes and withdrawal processes,” Ayers said.
Ayers expects operators will continue to evolve their omnichannel efforts, establishing more seamless player experiences across digital and land-based channels, helping drive increased engagement and overall handle. “This will touch off more investment in player lifetime management programs and optimizing cross-channel experiences to improve player loyalty,” he said.
Security concerns as more states legalize sports betting
Michael Tobin, CEO of Continent 8 Technologies, believes the gaming industry will experience continued growth in 2022, especially in the burgeoning US market. He noted sports betting is now legal in more than two dozen states, and in 2022 a number of new states will open their doors to online gambling for the first time, possibly including Ohio, Massachusetts and North Carolina.
The increase in the number of live states in the US is being matched by an increase in cyberattacks, Tobin said, with businesses around the globe “more vulnerable than ever before.” He said in Q3 2021, Continent 8 blocked 546 DDoS attacks.
“This was an absolute record for us and represented an increase of more than 50% from the previous quarter,” Tobin said. “Attacks are becoming increasingly sinister and sophisticated, with DDoS and ransomware the most prevalent. We expect this trend – the rise in volume and complexity of attacks – to ramp up significantly in 2022 and that is why businesses must ensure cybersecurity is a priority. This means putting effective and scalable protections in place today; multi-layered services to address compliance, perimeter and ransomware threats.” Burns of Aristocrat Gaming summed up the outlook for gaming: “Challenging times don’t change who you are – they reveal who you are, and we are proud to be a part of an industry that is strong, resilient and innovative.”