Sports betting

Spreading its wings: Inside the launch of Oddschecker USA

EGR North America speaks to Oddschecker’s international director and newly installed head of US to find out how the odds comparison firm is aiming to replicate its success stateside

The repeal of PASPA back in May 2018 has seen an influx of sports betting companies enter the market that are all too familiar to a European audience. The likes of William Hill have really upped their game in the US, while traditional B2B platform providers such as Kambi and SBTech have also got in on the action in a big way across multiple states.

European sports betting affiliates, on the other hand, have been relatively absent from the US market. One company seeking to disrupt the status quo is UK sports betting heavyweight Oddschecker – a 20-year-old business that offers consumers a handy comparison grid of the best prices from the biggest bookmakers around.

The London-headquartered company recently hired the talents of Nick Wilby, head of sports publishing at Catena Media, to spearhead Oddschecker’s march into the nascent US market. In collaboration with the firm’s international director Andy Lulham, Wilby will now be tasked with navigating what is arguably Oddschecker’s most important international expansion project to date.

EGR North America talks to both Wilby and Lulham to find out how they plan to take the Oddschecker concept to the US public.

EGR North America (EGR NA): Nick, why did you decide to leave Catena Media in favor of joining Oddschecker? What was it that particularly excited you about the new role?

Nick Wilby (NW): The emerging US sports betting market has naturally created a lot of excitement within the industry and, ever since PASPA was successfully repealed in May 2018, there has been a significant shift in where the major global operators and affiliates are looking to drive growth and focus their expertise.

This excitement, coupled with the chance to work for OGM (Oddschecker Global Media), an organization that I have followed closely and admired throughout my career, is something that hugely appealed to me. The US represents both a huge opportunity and a unique challenge, so having now worked in the egaming industry for over 10 years, it just felt like a natural move to make.

EGR NA: Does Oddschecker plan to open a US office or do you believe you can make headway out of your current London HQ?

Andy Lulham (AL): As it stands, we are basing our US operations out of our Hammersmith HQ, with Nick in particular spending an increasing amount of time out in the US. It has also been important for Nick to be close to our product and development teams to help immerse him in the Oddschecker International business as he continues to shape our US strategy.

That said, it is obvious in the longer term that we will not succeed without people on the ground stateside, so a US office is definitely something that I anticipate being a serious consideration in the not too distant future. Better understanding US customers, the nuances of the market, building close relationships with our partners, and opening up new commercial opportunities is currently far more effective from New Jersey or NYC than it is from London, and that is unlikely to change.

As we move forward, it is going to be vital that we combine local US knowledge and expertise with the skills and experience we have in the UK, and getting that right is going to be absolutely key.

EGR NA: Do you think you will need local expertise to succeed in this market and are you hiring many people at the minute?

AL: I think we would be incredibly naïve to think that we could succeed in the US without local expertise. We have a small but growing US team, working alongside dedicated resource within our central International team.

Most operators currently establishing themselves in the US are creating teams that combine European (and/or Australian) industry experience with great local talent, whether that be people from the US retail gaming sector, DFS firms, or from outside the industry altogether.

There are already a huge number of ultra-talented people in the US egaming market, and I actually think some of the local talent is ahead of what some in Europe might have you believe. We will need great people to achieve what we want to.

EGR NA: How big an opportunity do you think the US market realistically is for Oddschecker?

NW: I have absolutely no doubt that it represents a huge opportunity for our business, though obviously the potential will not be truly realized in the short term.

In recent years we have expanded the Oddschecker footprint into a number of international markets; namely Australia, Spain, Italy and Germany. Now that we have evolved into OGM our goal is to become a truly global organization and there is no reason why we should not strive to add value to egaming customers in every viable, regulated market.

Given its potential scale and player value, plus the expected number of states regulating soon, the US will be central to these plans and we will look to establish ourselves quickly in what will likely become the world’s biggest regulated online sports betting market.

EGR NA: What is your short-term market plan to gain a foothold? Which states will you initially be focused on and when will you be going live?

NW: Following the regulatory breakthrough, we moved quickly to establish our plans and launched our core responsive Oddschecker product into the US market at the end of February, initially targeting New Jersey customers. Our iOS wrapper app has also recently been submitted to the App Store. Our Ancillary CSIE license has been ‘deemed complete’ by the NJDGE, giving us added flexibility around our commercial relationships. We currently have five operators with their odds fully integrated on the site, with a further three on our welcome offers page, and for whom we will have feed integrations completed soon. Likewise, we are working closely with other live and soon-to-be live operators in the NJ space.

Essentially, our market focus will be determined by the regulatory landscape; initially NJ but when other states open up and become viable for a range of operators creating competition, we will look to follow. We have ambitious plans for improving and enhancing our product and traffic is growing steadily. Our short-term growth strategy is SEO-led, with additional immediate opportunity around social, CRM, and cross-sell opportunities from the other OGM group assets including Poker News, Casino Smash and US traffic currently landing on Oddschecker’s established UK site. As our product evolves and the US market matures, we will significantly step up our investment in marketing.

EGR NA: A number of European affiliates are currently going all guns blazing in the US. Do you foresee the market opening up at a slower pace than people think and will Oddschecker be slightly more cautious as a result?

NW: Our aim is not necessarily to be more cautious, we will definitely invest and push hard when we see the right opportunity but, equally, I do think we have to be realistic about the market and acknowledge not just the huge potential but also the myriad of challenges.

Since the initial excitement over PASPA being overturned, there have been a number of issues that both operators and affiliates have had to wrestle with. Differing interpretations of the Wire Act and how that will be repurposed to be fit for the digital world, questions over potential integrity fees, varying taxes, restrictions on deposit methods and the presence of the ongoing offshore market to name just a few. Nevertheless, we are bullish in our belief that market forces will come into play and these environmental challenges will significantly reduce as the market matures. Like others we are continually evaluating how best to approach the market and will be nimble when required.

Our success in the US is not intrinsically linked to how quickly various states open up. Yes, quick progress is likely to benefit everyone, but our focus is very much on our long-term strategy and great execution. This is very much a long-term play for OGM.

EGR NA: How do you think the US affiliate market will differ to the UK and Europe more broadly?

Is it a concern that the US could be retail-led, which isn’t necessarily your area of expertise?

AL: Without wanting to sit on the fence too much, there will no doubt be a number of similarities but also plenty of differences with the UK and European markets. Product, great technology, and the best marketing execution will be vital.

Given the nature of the casino industry, it is fair to say that retail will have a big role to play, but I definitely think mobile will emerge rapidly and quickly become dominant. The opportunity is just too great to think that it will not. I also think data will play an even more significant role within the US affiliate industry, and high player values (and affiliate rewards) could well lead to an even more aggressive and competitive affiliate marketing space. Another big difference will be the importance of geo-targeting, for not only licensing requirements but also to ensure that we can scale quickly and create a product that appeals to users with different interests across the country.

EGR NA: Are you going to have to change much about your product in the US?

NW: A lot of the debate about the US and who will succeed revolves around product quality and differentiation and we are fully aware of its importance. We appreciate that a US-facing brand and the ‘Americanization’ of Oddschecker’s existing assets is going to be key, and localization and personalization of the content we provide is hugely important.

I also agree in that there will be pressure from the US consumer to display contextual data around major sporting events and we are looking to embrace the magnitude of stats available around all the key sports, teams and players in the market. Odds comparison will remain our core proposition, but it is important that we create a broader content offering. Developing an Oddschecker that works for the US customer is an exciting challenge and one we are looking forward to.

EGR NA: Will you have to educate American customers about Oddschecker and its value in some respect?

NW: For sure, but that is no different to some of the other markets we’ve entered recently, such as Spain. The reaction we have had to odds comparison in the US has, so far, been positive and demand will no doubt increase as the market slowly matures.

I also think that the established offshore market, savvy marketing campaigns from existing operators and DFS and ADW opportunities means that some US customers are likely to be more educated about betting than some might imagine. One of the likely reasons an offshore player will turn to the regulated market is if the licensed operators have parity in the value they offer, and our proposition is obviously all about highlighting value.

That being said there is still a huge segment of the market who will be exposed to online sports betting for the first time and there is a burden on all the major operators and affiliates to help educate the audience. After all, it is in all of our interests.

Oddschecker | Sports betting