Casino International Online (CIO): Why do you think Live Dealer products have become so popular in recent times?
Helen Hedgeland (HH): The main reason why Live Dealer has seen significant growth over the last few years is because, at its best, it replicates the excitement of playing in a land-based casino. Evolution’s success, certainly, is largely the result of being able to offer the customers of top-tier operators the closest experience online to being at the tables in a real casino.
Operators have seen the revenues that can be generated through such an approach. They’ve seen the value and ROI that ‘real’ Live Casino delivers and they have invested accordingly. Live Casino is now a very, very important revenue stream in its own right. That’s why operators are beginning to market Live Casino as a standalone product rather than presenting it as a subsection of online Casino generally.
Players like the live interaction with other players and the dealer; they like being able to build a rapport with dealers, just as they would in a land-based casino. Live Casino is a fun, lively, interactive and social experience that appeals to everyone, and by offering a range of online live tables an operator can appeal to a very broad range of customers, from casual gamers and beginners who just want to bet small amounts through to the more serious VIPs and high rollers.
Operators have also seized the opportunity to strengthen their brands and marketing online, reaching out to new players and player types. These new players can be attracted into land-based venues, where applicable. The marketing element inherent in Live Casino is key for traditional land-based operators.
In the case of Evolution’s offering, Live Casino is extremely flexible and targetable to the needs of specific customer groups. VIPs, for example, can receive the treatment they would expect in a land-based casino. Some Evolution operators have their own dedicated and branded on-demand tables, which can be requested by VIPs for their exclusive use. Live Casino allows these operators to deliver an exceptional experience to their VIP players – wherever they happen to be, and whenever they wish.
CIO: What do you think differentiates the good Live Dealer services from the poorer offerings?
HH: It’s a combination of factors which work together to create a feeling of trust in the online brand and an experience that is akin to a visit to the best land-based casino. These factors include the quality of the games and the environment in which they take place; a clear and intuitive user interface that is a seamless part of the game; the quality of the dealers; the speed and quality of the streaming; accessibility… all this and more defines ‘the customer experience’.
When you deliver a great product, a great service and a great experience all-round, players come back again and again, and they tell their friends. That’s the art of brand building.
CIO: Is it really about recreating a live experience or just humouring a male-dominated player pool that enjoys looking at pretty girls?
HH: Attractive female dealers do have a huge appeal to a number of players, but maybe this has become a stereotypical image of online Live Casino. A few years ago Evolution took the decision to do things slightly differently. We specifically recruited a male-only team of dealers who were significantly older than the female dealers we had at that time, whose average age was 22. The rationale was to create a team of native speaking UK male dealers for our London Roulette offering. All of these male dealers came with a number of years’ experience in the land-based sector. Our focus was on generating banter and building a rapport with a loyal following of players. As it turned out, this approach proved to be such a success that the same model was used to create native speaking Roulette offerings for other specific markets. Venezia Roulette, Svensk Roulette and Deutsches Roulette are now all achieving similar success using that same approach.
Indeed, in recent focus groups conducted by one of our leading licensees, respondents stated that the sex of the dealer is far less important than the quality. They would prefer to have a dealer who can deal a fast hand rather than a particularly pretty dealer – although those with both attributes are always popular!
In the realm of VIP players, having a pretty girl dealing at the table is even less important. The most important thing for VIPs it that they are playing against like-minded players who wish to place a similar level of bets in a fast-paced game.
CIO: In your opinion what have been the most exciting additions to your Live Dealer products in the last 12 months?
HH: 2012 saw a great many exciting additions to the Evolution product range.
Accessibility of our games via iPad and iPad mini was a major landmark. This has already proven to extend playing time as players very often multi-task with their iPad. The size and portability of the device is tailor-made for Live Casino – it makes it so easy for players to take their seat at the live table, see everything in high resolution and place bets with the tap of a finger. The iPad seems to be very attractive to high rollers – they can access the games virtually anytime, anywhere, which is a big factor in increasing playing times and frequency of visits.
Going live in Spain with a localised Roulette offering at Casino Rincon de Pepe in Murcia was an exciting breakthrough too. It shows our capability to quickly deliver a compliant solution from a live studio in a land-based venue, quite separate from the solutions streamed from our Riga studios. We are talking to a number of other casinos who are interested in doing the same thing in various other territories – that is, streaming live from their bricks and mortar venues. This experience will help us to establish ourselves in other newly regulated markets including the US.
We also entered into the TV vertical, providing live content and an iPad-based betting interface for Lottomatica’s daily Vegas Club TV programme. The show uses a live game feed from the Lottomatica-branded tables at our Riga studios to the TV studio in Italy. Presenters in Italy commentate on the games, and frequently make guest appearances at the tables in Riga.
The cumulative effect of all of the above is that we are now preparing to open our 100th table at our Riga studios. That means we are operating the largest casino in the whole of Europe, but on behalf of multiple brands.
CIO: If you could click your fingers to instantly improve one part of today’s Live Dealer services, what would you change?
HH: From an operations perspective I would change the climate in Riga! The city, which is home to our studios, is a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site but the cold winters are not so appealing to western Europeans as we try to further increase our number of international dealers.
We currently have a team of over 100 international dealers including Italians, Swedes, Germans, Brits, Dutch and Greeks. We are continually looking to expand this team and also add new nationalities to meet with the growing demands of our licensees. Our current split is approximately 70 per cent female and 30 per cent male.
CIO: What do you think is next for Live Dealer services?
HH: We will see continued focus on VIPs, a vitally important customer group.
There will be enhanced profiling and tailoring of the product to individual players. We have seen a big increase in the number of licensees expanding their dedicated areas, and adding native speaking dealers and dedicated teams. This dedication of resources enables the dealers to get to know the players better and build stronger rapport. At the same time, there is full flexibility to strengthen the brand and to introduce branded promotions, incentives and cross-selling. I think we will also seeing increasing use of clever CRM software so that dealers are able to deliver an even better, more personalised service to a licensee’s players.
There will be continuing emphasis on localisation of the service with locally themed environments and native speaking dealers. Localisation has proven to deliver a marked increase in customer acquisition numbers and amounts wagered.
We will see iPads on the gaming floor as part of intra-resort or intra-casino solutions. Although unlikely to be allowed in all jurisdictions, the iPad will become an additional gaming device both on and away from the main gaming floor. Players will be able to continue their game at their favourite table and with their favourite dealer, while taking a drink at the bar or further afield – by the pool or in their hotel room for example.
There will also be much closer collaboration between bricks and mortar venues and their online presence. More and more casinos will have an in-venue live studio streaming games directly from their gaming floors. Land-based visitors will see the tables, trust and believe in the service, then look to play at these tables after they have left the land-based casino or when they are unable to visit in person. These live studios will also attract online players as new customers to the real venues, through incentives and single loyalty programmes that are all part of a fully integrated, near seamless offline and online service.
CIO: OK, in some advanced fantasy world of jet-packs… what could be the future of Live dealer?
HH: At the rate technology is developing, anything could be possible! However, I see increasing localisation and personalisation as a key trend. If bet-based gaming makes it to social media in a big way then I can see groups of friends enjoying on-demand games of Live Roulette or Blackjack together. The games would be private and exclusive to that group and hosted by their dealer of choice. All the friends could be playing from different remote locations. However, integration with webcams, Skype-like conferencing and bluescreen technology would place a live video image of each player – with live audio interaction too – within the Live Casino environment.
Now imagine if we take localisation and personalisation a step further. Say the webcam or an iPad camera captured an image of the room in which one of the players was located, automatically uploaded that image to the Live Casino provider and, using bluescreen, placed the live table, dealer and all the players in that room and offered some easy, instant personal branding options too. Now that would be a truly personalised Live Casino… and it would give a whole new meaning to “All back to mine”