“When I came into the industry in October 2017, people told me about how quickly it moved,” Light & Wonder’s Dylan Slaney says. He hasn’t dragged his feet since entering the sector either.
Slaney rocketed up the gaming ladder since starting as executive vice-president of gaming at NYX Gaming Group. When Scientific Games acquired NYX, he progressed to senior vice-president of gaming at SG Digital. Scientific Games then went through a significant overhaul. This included divesting its sports betting and lottery divisions and carrying out a high-profile rebrand.
Light & Wonder emerged from this process as a leaner, more focused gaming business across three divisions. Land-based, social casino arm SciPlay and iGaming – the division Slaney leads as CEO – reports to group chief executive Matt Wilson.
Essentially with one employer Slaney has progressed through three major strategic evolutions and is ready for more. “Leading the igaming business is a privilege and one I am very proud of every day,” he says.
Increasing complexity in igaming
Light & Wonder has undergone wholesale change and the industry Slaney entered in 2017 is markedly different. A sector where dot.com markets once loomed large was reshaped by a wave of dot.country regulation. This is to the extent countries such as the US and Brazil – once seen as completely off-limits – are now major growth opportunities.
“As we only operate in regulated markets, for every market we operate in we must tailor our offering according to those regulations,” Slaney explains. “This can dictate anything from spin speeds to bet limits and reporting, for instance.”
This adds a new level of complexity to Light & Wonder iGaming’s business. Although with the ultimate goal of better protecting players, Slaney points out. “Keeping players safe from potential harm is a great benefit of regulated markets and we offer our full support to this endeavour.”
But there has to be balance, he argues. “Too much regulation drives the wrong outcome. Low stake limits, to give one example, ultimately drive players into the black market.
“That is not a good outcome for players or the industry. When it comes to enhanced controls for responsible gaming, such as affordability checks which the industry has embraced, again these have to be balanced and measured,” he continues. “Only then can we all ensure that players who do play responsibly can continue to enjoy the best of what this amazing industry has to offer.”
Innovating around regulation
In Great Britain, Light & Wonder takes an active role in developing and reshaping the market. It led the Gambling Commission’s working group on an industry code for product design alongside Playtech.
By potential changes, brought in through the Gambling Act white paper and resulting consultations, it aims to build new products factoring in a new era for UK gambling.
“It’s been interesting to see how different brands and types of content would be impacted and also how players play different types of content in terms of session lengths, stake levels and so on,” Slaney says.
Light & Wonder’s Wonder 500 series is the result of this research. Stakes are limited to £2 per spin. Wins are also capped at £500 and there is a more frequent bonus hit rate, balancing the lower stakes model. “The impact has been very positive, with players responding really well to this new game style.”
Igaming races forward
Regulation is reshaping the industry, but a fresh wave of complexity comes from evolving player expectations. And coming from customer data science specialist Dunnhumby – UK readers may have heard of one of its projects, the Tesco Clubcard – he’s aware of the level of sophistication that goes into retaining and engaging consumers in other sectors.
“The biggest trend we are going to see impacting igaming over the coming years is enhancing player engagement through additional features that sit on top of a core game,” Slaney explains. “We have already seen a number of these hit the market, but offerings like multiplayer, personalisation and unique rewards will be what players will increasingly want and expect from their igaming experience.
“They have this today in other digital verticals and it will become something they will demand more of.”
Content remains crucial just as it does in console gaming or other forms of entertainment. But being able to do more, or get more, from the experience will shape the next phase of gaming, he adds.
For example, ELK Studios, a business acquired by Light & Wonder two years back, has enjoyed a record-breaking year thanks to the CollectR payout mechanic. This is featured in its Pirots and Pirots 2 titles.
“Both of these games set new records and Pirots 2 is the best-ever launch we have seen in the UK and EU,” Slaney says. “Seeing how players responded to this new mechanic, how these games have created a real franchise and watching new players play Pirots for the first time, has been intriguing.”
It’s an example of two forces converging. Strong content dovetails with new mechanics, to fuel player engagement.
Light & Wonder’s growth arm
As CEO of Light & Wonder iGaming, Slaney is tasked with driving that growth. The supplier’s refocused outlook makes online a key component of its future prospects. With revenue up 21% year-on-year in Q3, it’s the fastest growing division, outpacing SciPlay (up 15% in Q3) and Gaming (up 11%).
However, with Q3 revenue coming to $70m, it still lags behind SciPlay ($196m in Q3) and Gaming ($465m). There’s work to do for Slaney’s strategy of combining unique content with new ways of engaging consumers.
Distribution deals with the likes of crash games pioneer Spribe and unique content including a Squid Game slot – Netflix’s first gaming licensing deal, to be rolled out as a land-based machine first – certainly help. There’s also significant competition in the market, including online-only peers without the level of compliance guardrails a fully regulated provider such as Light & Wonder faces.
If Slaney and his team face a hard road ahead, it’s something he welcomes. “I’m a firm believer that from every win or good decision you learn something but from every setback, failure or bad decision you learn even more,” he says.
“You must teach yourself to truly go back and learn why something didn’t work, do something different next time and take ownership of things you are accountable for. I learned this very early on from a great mentor and it is a principle that has helped me throughout my career.”
What drives Light & Wonder iGaming’s CEO?
This belief in accountability and treating every success and failure as a learning experience was instilled in Slaney from a young age.
“I’ve shared this before with a number of my colleagues but never externally. I have never known my father and grew up with my mum, the real inspiration, and sister in a single-parent household,” he explains.
“My mum had, and still has, real steel and an attitude that you go out and earn everything in life. You put in the hard work, you don’t look to others and you set your own destiny. Nobody else in life defines who you are going to be.”
This mindset has shaped his career and his life, he says. “It’s the one thing I hope [my three daughters] have in their DNA: never take anything for granted and go and be the best they can be.”
Equally it’s an ethos he instils in Light & Wonder iGaming and how he leads that business. “We have this ‘never settle’ value that I always gravitate towards and it’s from that DNA that drives me and our business forward.”
That drive is vital in an industry like gambling, especially online. The sector is unrecognisable from the one Slaney joined in 2017. “The industry evolves at such a pace, with new regulation, new markets, fresh innovation and new competition constantly cropping up,” he says. “It never stops and you have to embrace the pace and learn to like it.”
Some aren’t going to enjoy that pace and Slaney acknowledges this: “It’s certainly not for everyone. However, it’s also a huge positive and one of the biggest reasons I tell people to come and join this industry.
“It never stops and constantly changes and challenges you.”