Are we there yet? The European sector gnaws at its Covid chains

The sense of frustration within the European gaming sector about not being able to resume travel to the US for G2E is palpable. Messages have popped up on LinkedIn feeds asking whether anyone knows anything about the chances that Europeans will be able to fly to Vegas at the start of October. Questions asked have gone unanswered and the fact is no one knows.

This isn’t just about an industry which feels it has been cooped up for too long and is longing to be able spread its conference wings in the fashion to which it had previously been accustomed, although that is part of the story. 

There is a similar enthusiasm for the European events lined up in the calendar including, of course, iGB Live! and iGB Affiliate in Amsterdam later this month.

But it’s the potential for getting back into the US that is proving to be the biggest area of frustration. As it stands, travel between Europe and the US is still severely restricted and the chances of this changing between now and early October are, it would appear, vanishingly slim.

Instead, the biggest event in the gaming calendar will go ahead with very little by way of European bodies on the ground.

Given the past 18 months, it might be said this is an inconvenience, at worst, and would merely entail a bit of smart work on the travel reservation cancellation front. Those flight vouchers will (surely) be used one day.

Yet, the fact that the European no-show at G2E is occurring right now comes with special significance. 

Like every other sector, the online betting and gaming sector has had its fair share of disruptions during the ongoing pandemic. But the nature of how the sector operates meant the work-from-home directives didn’t truly lead to too much disruption. Meanwhile, as one executive put it earlier this year, deals were easier to complete because none of the decision-makers were jetting off anywhere.

In fact, the sector has barely suffered any significant disruption other than a couple of months when the sporting calendar was all but obliterated.

The momentum for sports betting and online gaming in the US has continued unabated through the pandemic period. Since March 2020 major moves have taken place to further open up the market with Arizona the latest to add to the list. 

This is the source of the European angst.

Sweeping all before it
Even before March 2020, it wasn’t hard to envisage a future where the US market opportunity was everything.

The escalating TAM estimates for the US market might partly just be the hype machine in action. But when matched up with the evident enthusiasm of investors (think the gaming-related SPAC deals and the emergence of online-only betting and gaming plays) and the chatter around convergence involving some very big names indeed (Caesars and ESPN for, instance) it’s clear the numbers are acting like a centrifugal force.

In comparison, developments in the European sector might as well be happening on a different planet. Whether you are talking about Sweden, Spain, the UK or Germany, all the talk is about regulatory roadblocks. The European sector has likely never felt so hemmed in and it’s not all about not being able to travel.

Of course, not everyone in Europe feels left behind. Flutter Entertainment, for instance, is the market leader via its ownership of FanDuel; companies as diverse as Bet365, Kambi, Better Collective, Sportradar and Evolution are representative names of a sector-wide foothold; another way of looking at the talent drain is that European expertise is still very much desirable.

But in all instances, the flow of traffic is all one way. The levels of enthusiasm in what is happening over there far surpass any flickerings of interest in the erstwhile leading hubs of the UK, Gibraltar, Malta or the Isle of Man. 

It is perhaps an irony that in a world where point of consumption has supplanted point of supply, the European industry should now find itself cast aside as an offshore adjunct.

Does not being at G2E change anything about this prognosis? Not truly. Change was happening before the pandemic and has continued while it still raged. G2E will be there next year and the Europeans will surely be packing out the flights. 

But when they finally do arrive it won’t just be the name of the airport they arrive at that will have changed.

Scott Longley has been a journalist since the early noughties covering personal finance, sport and gambling. He has worked for a number of publications including Investment Week, Bloomberg Money, Football First, eGaming Review and Gambling Compliance.

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