Finding the Path to I-Gaming Success at BMM’s Workshop

If you’ve ever been to a conference series, whether put on by a trade show or other professional organization, you know how some sessions can feel like those celebrity house maps—full of hype but will lead you nowhere worthwhile. But one conference I just returned from was more like Frommer’s—a comprehensive and concise how-to guide to navigate your travels. While Frommer’s will help you if you want to trek through Europe, this event helped tribal leaders navigate the murky waters of i-gaming.

Put on by test lab BMM, the first of the series of tribal i-gaming boot camps and workshops was held at Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino on July 31 and Aug. 1. Here, experts from BMM and the i-gaming industry gathered to provide information specifically for the tribal community, and participants gained the skills to analyze their own business and help them make the best strategic decisions for their path to i-gaming success.

Regardless of whether you oppose or favor the legalization of i-gaming in the U.S., these discussions and presentations covered what you need to know, no matter what side of the fence you’re on. The reality is that i-gaming will more than likely be here sooner than later, so casinos need to be properly prepared. While the larger operators are already well-equipped to handle this, many of the smaller tribal operations may not be. Which is why BMM set out to give them a helping hand.

Inspired by a conference panel originally at NIGA, where BMM was a presenter, BMM’s Senior VP of Regulatory – Americas, Richard Williamson, said that there simply wasn’t enough time to cover all of the information attendees needed to know about i-gaming. CEO Martin Storm capitalized on the opportunity, launching the bootcamps to provide information and training that the NIGA attendees were thirsty for.

After a delicious lunch on day one, the event kicked off with BMM staff welcoming everyone, and a message read from CNIGA chairman Daniel Tucker, who wrote in support of their efforts to further education and information to the tribal community. It was followed by a presentation of colors by Picayune tribal members, and a song and prayer by Mark Powless, a commissioner at Big Sandy Rancheria.

The first session was a great way to open the conference, as GamblingCompliance’s Jennifer Webb provided a thorough examination and look at the various gaming markets in the U.S., sharing information on the latest legal updates in each, and the regulatory structure and licensing requirements there. She also discussed various federal issues, including details of Sen. Harry Reid’s draft Internet poker bill where tribes would have to opt out if they did not want to participate, but if the legislation is introduced in 2012, they’d have to opt in.

One thing Webb noted as a concern at the federal level is that many of the bills say that they will have no effect on tribal-state compacts and no effect on IGRA. “It’s one thing to say the sky is green, but it’s still blue,” Webb said. “You have revenue sharing provisions in your compacts, so even if a law says it won’t affect that, when it goes into practice, that may not really be the case.”GamblingCompliance’s Jennifer Webb opened the event with an overview of the U.S. markets.

GamblingCompliance’s Jennifer Webb opened the event with an overview of the U.S. markets.

Day one continued as Jason Rosenberg and Gian Perroni from American iGaming Solutions took the stage—and stayed for most all the rest of the workshops. In “Selecting a Revenue Model,” the duo discussed the four basic models in which to build your i-gaming business: free-play (with the easiest regulatory path), virtual currency (a la Zynga), subscription (points-based, but based on sweepstakes and lottery-style regulation) and real money.

Rosenberg reminded that the world will visit Facebook, Google and YouTube far more often than they will ever visit your site to gamble. You can capitalize on this, though, by taking a cue from Zynga and engaging in viral marketing by building a buzz about your brand, doing things like asking your players to share their positive experiences on your site on your Facebook page—which you also better have.

Rosenberg also shared his magic formula for not failing, based on witnessing hundreds of sites do just that, and it all comes down to three things—technology, marketing budget and experience. And you do need all three of those. Referencing, he says they had the technology but not marketing, which is likely why they only had 12 players on the site at the time he visited, while also having the largest demographic to draw from.

Ultimately, though, Rosenberg advised that while play-for-free and subscription models are OK and may actually be best to start out with, it shouldn’t be your sole long-term solution. Real money is the best way to ensure your long-term i-gaming success.

Williamson led the “Regulations” session and used the DoJ’s revelations of Black Friday regarding Full Tilt Poker’s Ponzi scheme and the subsequent Alderney Gambling Control Commission’s investigation of Full Tilt Poker as examples of adopted rules and their related risk tolerance. Regulations from the Isle of Man, Alderney, Nevada and Malta served as examples in the discussion about your own risk and relevancy.

Later, in “Physical Infrastructure and Web Security,” Perroni talked about IP intelligence and things like age verification (a given for land-based casinos but a little trickier online), geolocation and identity verification, and how to stay compliant.

Day one ended with an enthralling keynote over dinner. Richard Schuetz, a commissioner for the California Gambling Control Commission, took the floor and engaged the crowd, sharing his knowledge and observations of the industry from decades of experience—and of course some funny jokes.

Refreshed and ready for more, attendees filtered in on day two as BMM’s Senior Director of Service Delivery – Americas Adam Fong got up to talk about responsible gaming and customer service. An array of features can be made available to help players help themselves, but Fong says the three main areas are identification of problem gamblers, preventing problem gamblers from playing once they’ve been identified and promoting responsible gaming in general. He advised to not mislead players on their odds on your site and to have links to problem gambling websites. The usefulness of self-exclusion, he says, is debatable as players can simply go to another website or opt back in. Geolocation, what seemed to be the buzzword of the conference, was mentioned again here as an option. He also shared that we can use the same data and algorithms we use in marketing to identify behaviors in problem gamblers, such as loss chasing, erratic betting, increases in play, frequent payment method changes, etc.

One observation throughout the conference was that all the attendees remained engaged and excited throughout each session, and it was evident they were learning just what they needed to. In fact, one attendee, Sherry Rodriguez from the La Jolla Gaming Commission, stood up during a session to comment that as a regulator and parent, she struggles with finding the balance between offering online gaming and doing it responsibly. “This really scared me,” she said, “but this seminar opened my eyes a lot. I have a better understanding so I can go back to my tribal council and say this is what I found out. They knew I was opposed to it, but I’m not as closed-minded as when I came in. I think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s going to take a lot of work and working together to make this work for us.”

Rosenberg responded that, “Personally, I think it would be phenomenal to see Indian country take the lead on this issue.”

Moving on to the customer service discussion, Perroni piped in to say that having good support and assistance is essential, especially online, because your customers can’t see you. Telephone support is best, but other options include live chat, e-mail, ticket system, etc. As with the brick-and-mortar casino, customer service is also the best customer retention tool online.

Moving on to marketing, Rosenberg and Perroni took the lead, and explained the six steps to player success, which includes identification, acquisition, conversion, recognition, retention and reacquisition. Rosenberg later asked for an attendee volunteer to help in his demonstration of value. Rosenberg gave the volunteer a $1 bill and offered him the option of choosing a water bottle, water bottle and hand sanitizer, or water bottle and new digital camera for that dollar. The attendee chose the last option.

Promotions are a great way to add value for your players, they explained. Beyond having an attractive site, you want to have clear promotions and calls to action to keep players engaged. One easy-to-execute idea was to offer play-for-fun games as an alternative for players to play in the downtime from gambling with real money.

Rosenberg and Perroni continued day two with back-to-basics marketing techniques that can be used in online gaming sites, such as social media, SEO and analytics, ending with the statement, “It’s plain to see that not paying attention to analytics is like getting on a plane with a blindfolded pilot or driving in the dark without headlights. You truly need to see where you’re going, and traffic analytics is the way to do it.”

When the conference concluded, attendees walked away with such a higher level of understanding, which was something that made BMM proud to have been able to do. Mike Dreitzer, BMM’s COO for the Americas, shared that: “I like that fact that there’s been a lot of interaction, a lot of questions and a lot of debate. That says a few things—one that they’re interested and nobody’s sleeping, and that they’re furthering their understanding based upon questions.”

Throughout the entire two days, it was just good comments all around. Lester Stanley of the Rincon Gaming Commission shared: “I’ve been to many i-gaming conferences, but not one of those gave such direct and appropriate information as this workshop run by BMM. Finding Your Path was incredibly useful, and we will all take away real-time information that we can use.”

Adding even more value and illustrating the company’s own concern for tribes, BMM offered this program at no cost to tribal regulators, even offering complimentary meals and snacks to assist tribes with smaller travel budgets that would benefit from attendance.

The fact that the only complaint was of a slight chill in the room served as a testament to this program’s usefulness and its resounding success. In fact, because of that, BMM has announced that its next i-gaming workshop will be in Keshena, Wis., at Menominee Casino Resort Oct. 17-18 this year. Will you be there?

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