Lee Drabwell is a retail sports betting expert who brings a wealth of experience to his current role of Regional Director for Playtech Sports where he is responsible for UK, Irish, Belgium and Latam territories. Before joining Playtech, Lee was a key leader in the retail sports betting market in his roles of Managing Director at Ladbrokes and Operations Director in the merged Ladbrokes Coral business.
Figures unveiled by Playtech show just how the retail betting sector has been transformed by the impact of lockdowns, with customers now expecting the same breadth of services available online when they visit bricks-and-mortar establishments.
While the temporary closure of betting shops and casinos across major global markets accelerated the switch towards digital play, changes in customer trends have impacted land-based facilities on their reopening.
Lee Drabwell, the industry veteran who is now Regional Director for Playtech Sports, says that in-play betting – that bastion of mobile play – now accounts for 40% of football and sports business.
Approximately 80% of football betting revenues and nearly 100% of sports betting revenues are now generated through Self-Service Betting Terminals (SSBTs) in retail outlets. Even in horse racing, betting through terminals has risen significantly to nearly 10% of a shop’s total racing business.
Customers increasingly wish to avoid dwell time in shops or using paper tickets to place their bets, and terminals offer the kind of comprehensive service they have become used to online. For example, Playtech’s SSBTs include some 170,000 individual markets across 30 different sports every week.
Drabwell says: “The days of the restrictive betting opportunities on paper football coupons are now numbered and I am confident these will soon disappear from betting shops as they no longer satisfy customer demand.”
Drabwell, whose experience prior to Playtech includes stints as Managing Director of Retail for Ladbrokes and Retail Operations Director for UK and Ireland for Ladbrokes Coral, says the switch to terminals is illustrative of retail trends seen across sectors. In supermarkets, for instance, customers increasingly want to be in charge of how they transact, and there has been a clear shift towards automated checkouts that remove human interaction.
While retail betting levels are between 80% and 90% of pre-Covid volumes, terminal betting has bucked this trend and performed positively. The first few weekends of the current Premier League season saw business levels almost 30% higher than the same period in 2019.
“Customers in all retail and entertainment environments now demand a new way of transacting and being served,” Drabwell says.
“Betting shops have been no different, with customers expecting and demanding sports betting on terminals. Delivering the right quality of terminals and content to facilitate this is a key challenge facing all operators. Playtech sports betting terminals have provided the obvious way to facilitate this new way of transacting by allowing customers to bet quickly and safely in the one-stop-shop for sports and racing betting that terminals provide.
“The digital experience and range of markets provided by terminals is now what customers demand in every shop, and in turn, these technological developments are helping operators address the significant impacts they have seen to over-the-counter turnover and customer numbers due to the pandemic.”
Terminals have been growing in demand and prominence for many years prior to the pandemic, but the shift over the past year has been “significant”, according to Drabwell.
“The technology and scale behind the Playtech terminals are key in supporting the growth of Playtech’s omnichannel offering and a joined-up digital experience for the customer,” Drabwell says.
“Our Remote Mobile App (RMA) with cash out ‘Build a Bet’ functionality, where a customer can make their selections at their own leisure and then transfer direct to a terminal, has been fundamental in bridging that gap. With our licensees having the option to integrate this functionality into their own loyalty card or as a standalone app, the RMA has been widely adopted by shop customers for a more flexible way of betting, and is here to stay.”
Looking ahead, Drabwell expects some rationalisation as smaller shops and operators struggle with costs and pressures of reducing over-the-counter business and in some cases an inability to invest in the technology that the new retail sports bettor demands.
“We expect to see changes in the retail product being offered to traditional customers whilst attracting different demographics of bettors to the retail environment,” he said.
“Terminals and digital technology will become even more important to meet customer betting demand where cash still has a key role to play.”
In short, there is an appetite for more markets and new ways of betting.
“Look at the way football has evolved with the match result not now the focus, but player, corner or goals markets taking prominence,” Drabwell adds. “These can only really be delivered through technology and terminals and will further remove the need for over-the-counter betting.
“We have seen increases in density and investment in new hardware that further shows how important technology and terminals are.
“All major operators have increased terminal numbers significantly and at Playtech we have signed 40 new contracts and extensions in the last six months. Terminals are quickly becoming the key to success in retail betting.”