Betting Gambling PlayUp US

“The US Definitely Has The Potential To Become The Largest Legal Sports Betting Market In The World” – Dr Laila Mintas, PlayUp

By Ben Page | September 10, 2020

Earlier this summer, Dr Laila Mintas was appointed as the new US CEO of PlayUp, an Australian Gambling company seeking to take greater steps into the American market.

Laila, formerly Deputy President of Sportradar US, chatted to Ben Page from her home in Las Vegas about why PlayUp’s vision interested her, how the company is looking at their US expansion, betting in esports and much more.

Firstly, you’ve been in the role as US CEO of PlayUp for a couple of months now, I suppose it’s been a very interesting time starting a new role in the middle of a pandemic?

Well thankfully I met the guys from PlayUp early last year, and was pretty excited to hear about their vision for the US market but also their global expansion strategy.

I’ve been positively surprised, since the pandemic we’ve been actually having the strongest revenue increase  since the company was created. Since people don’t want to go into casinos anymore, they want to be entertained staying at home, and we’re an online only brand so it’s ironic to say but we’ve benefitting from the situation.

While traditional sports was suspended we still had horse racing going on in Australia which is a very strong revenue driver. We also launched eSports betting, which was on the roadmap for later this year, but when the pandemic hit the markets we accelerated that and within days launched it.

Last year esports betting hit over $1 billion in revenues globally and the market keep growing significantly. We see more and more states in the US allowing esports.

I’m a big eSports fan, not playing myself, but strategically I think that’s not only the future, it’s already here and growing. Last year esports betting hit over $1 billion in revenues globally and the market keep growing significantly. We see more and more states in the US allowing esports which is a good development for us and it’s been a great product to offer while traditional sport is suspended.

Tell us a bit more about PlayUp and why you were interested in the project?

PlayUp has all the ingredients it needs for a sportsbook to be successful. First of all, we own all of our in-house technology, including our proprietary platform, which means we can very agile when it comes to product development. You can implement new products quicker and react to trends that you see in the market, when you don’t rely on third party technology or software.

PlayUp owning its tech was very important for me as technology will be the piece that decides about the success in the sports betting space when it comes to differentiating products. We also operate our in-house risk management and trading. It’s important to have a risk and trading team that understands US sports, and Australians spend a lot on US sports so our team is used to that.

From a data perspective US sports is so different to soccer, some teams in Europe are just used to soccer, which is probably 80 to 85% of the betting volume, they sometimes struggle coming into the US.

For a long time, experts have seen the phone as a second screen solution but it’s actually the first screen for many things we do in our everyday life. That’s just how it works and why I’m excited we’re an online-only brand.

I also like the fact that PlayUp is an online-brand only. That makes the products very scalable but also is a trend that is unstoppable and will be accelerated through the pandemic. Look at the  UK for example, where you have a large retail offering and basically physical betting shops everywhere. But still 75 to 80% of the betting volume happens on the mobile phone.

Especially for the younger generation, that’s not even a question anymore but normality: we’re booking our hotels or paying at Starbucks with our phones. We are watching sports on our phones and do sports betting on our phones. For a long time, experts have seen the phone as a second screen solution but it’s actually the first screen for many things we do in our everyday life. That’s just how it works and why I’m excited we’re an online-only brand.

And I was impressed with the vision of PlayUp to be different, be innovative, to think outside the box; we’re not here to copy and paste what’s in the market. We want to be that young innovative disrupter. Our priority is to go live, first in Colorado, then at least in another market later this year and then add on new and innovative products as we go and make  those offerings very unique over time.

What about PlayUp’s innovation was key for you?

The esports betting offering is one piece that I am very excited about. We have great products that are different from what you see in the US as of today. Esports has a young audience and it’s growing so fast. But fans don’t only want to play esports, they also love to watch it. In April, the online video game channel Twitch announced it had passed 3 billion hours watched in the first quarter.

Another interesting product is our fixed odds horse-racing product that we offer in Australia. I am sure that we will be seeing those products pretty soon in the US as well.

What’s the vision behind the US expansion? You mentioned it a little bit there, going live in Colorado, do you just have to go on a ‘state-by-state’ basis at this point?

Absolutely, it’s been a state by state approach since the US legalised sports betting in 2018. 23 jurisdictions in the US have legalised sports betting since then and every state has different regulations you have to comply with, different tax rates, different products that you can offer.

To enter the US was logical for us  because Australia has a population of around 25 million people that are historically betting fans. Sports betting has been around for a while in Australia and is part of the culture, similar to the UK. But when you compare it to the population of the US it was an easy decision.

The US definitely has the potential to become the largest legal sports betting market in the world. Estimates say the market size would be around 17+ billion dollars in revenue per year.

The US definitely has the potential to become the largest legal sports betting market in the world. Estimates say, in the theoretical scenario that all the states regulate online and retail sports betting, the market size would be around 17+ billion dollars in revenue per year. Compare that to the UK, probably the most mature market in Europe, which is a 2.6 billion US dollar market.

Also culturally sport has been so important in the US as part of our everyday life. American sports fans are very interested in deep analytics and data around the athletes and the teams. So sports betting really needs to be seen as a tool to engage the sports fans over here.

How is the US market finding it in terms of catching up to other countries like the UK and Australia? Is it more difficult because of those regulations?

You really need to see each state as almost single countries. If you look into the progress the US has been doing since May 2018, it’s a tremendous success already. 23 out of 50 states have legalised sports betting, so we’re almost halfway in, and this year there are many more states expected to legalise their markets. We will see that happening especially now as states are looking for more potential revenues due to the pandemic and that will help accelerating  the process.

We saw experimentation earlier in the year with the XFL having live odds displayed on the screen during a game, do you think that those innovations and integration into broadcasting is that next step to make it the norm?

There’s a lot of space for disruption. On a global level, you look at all the established markets, what was the last big revolutionary change on the sports betting side?

I think it was probably enabling the watch and bet experience. There hasn’t been too much significant innovation over the last couple of years and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of that happening now in the US as we have a great start-up mentality in the tech and sports space. The XFL  is a very good example and with the new investors I am sure there will be some movement soon.

If you don’t give people the legal channels to bet on esports, they’ll do it anyway in offshore markets where there’s no customer support or protection.

For me, I have always been interested in using data for different purposes, when I was heading up FIFA’s integrity efforts to prevent match manipulation and of course at Sportradar getting the best available data in the market to our customers. Now I’m looking to how we can use data to have outstanding differentiating products in the market to engage our sports fans.

There are a lot of solutions out there in the sports betting space,  , but at the moment most operators have very similar products. It needs products that are really different, therefore I think ideas like the XFL one and live proposition bets, that’s a future we have ahead of us.

You mentioned eSports betting and that in some states it’s legal and others it’s not. What role do you think gambling has to play in that market, because it can be a difficult thing to regulate, particularly in terms of anti-corruption?

Absolutely. I think integrity and making sure you have the right regulations in place is very important, especially as esports is often played, and watched, by a young audience.

However, it needs to made sure that the market doesn’t get over-regulated. Operators need to be able to offer eSports betting within a certain legal framework. If you don’t give people the legal channels to bet on eSports, they’ll do it anyway in offshore markets where there’s no customer support or protection. They don’t always get their money paid out when they win and they don’t know what happens with their personal data. So it’s very risky.  Also, it’s a loss of potential revenues for the states. Therefore there need to be legal channels.

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