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Kelly Vero: Betting on the Metaverse

By - 1 November 2022

The final keynote at the European Casino Industry Forum in Austria, Kelly Vero addressed an audience with little knowledge of the Metaverse, imploring those gathered to transfer their skills and knowledge to new virtual spaces for the good of both real and digital environments.

Do you think the land-based casino industry has the mindset to accept the Metaverse?

I think they’ve got to accept it, otherwise they’ll get left behind. We’ve heard some really interesting insight at the Casino Forum, but these are very limited experiences because of the regulatory bodies controlling this sector. Gambling and casino companies are jealous gods, they like to be able to live within their own space.

I think videogames give an opportunity to do more… when I was working on Tomb Raider I built it with the idea that we could live in that world. So I think we should be able to live in casinos too. If we want to. Though that does pose interesting problems around addiction…

Who are the people entering the Metaverse from the casino sector?

I think many of the people within this Forum are ready to enter the Metaverse, but it’s the people embracing highly stylised aesthetic experiences, such as the live dealer presentations, that are much more likely to enter the metaverse.

People attracted to aesthetics are looking to enter this space, because they know that the social experience will demand it. People providing basic slots experiences aren’t ready to enter the Metaverse, because they don’t know how to position themselves in that space. Whereas, people looking to create fully gamified applications and experiences are the ones to embrace it.

From a regulatory perspective, regulations live inside and outside the Metaverse and online gaming spaces, but a decentralised environment is different. If you take ICE Poker, for example, it’s a poker offer that’s totally unregulated, but they’re not illegal because they have been accepted by the Foundation. The Foundation is effectively the regulatory body of the Metaverse.

Is the Foundation recognised by other regulatory bodies outside the metaverse?

Regulation happens at the point that you win the jackpot, since when you cash out that’s when the regulatory authority kicks in; but in terms of virtual currency, there is no regulation.

Does that relate to betting in the Metaverse too?

People are already betting on esports and having an amazing time. A big part of sports betting’s growth is due to esports. How that plays into the entire experience is exciting because it changes your demographic from the perspective of the regular ‘pale, male and stale’ gamblers. They are becoming younger, and they are not so much thinking about winning, but more about ‘taking part,’ and they are prepared to pay for that experience.

Is there going to be a generational gap, between those playing in this environment and the ones looking to invest and build a gaming environment in the metaverse?

Yes, definitely. We have to stop thinking about winning a jackpot as the reward, as we also need to think about the loyalty elements of what we are creating, which is going to change how your players play inside that space.

It is very easy to say, we need to make ‘X’ amount of money for the house to be sustainable, when in fact your existing players are already loyal to you. The problem is that you’re not giving them anything in return. Your only invite is to come and play. Instead, what the Metaverse is saying is ‘come and play – come and stay.’

How does the competition side of the Metaverse work? Is there first-mover advantage? If you spend the most do you get the biggest share of the play?

No, it’s not about being first. It is about volume. The Metaverse needs more choice. The entire Metaverse experience is about choosing your preferred realities, which is why there are so many worlds to choose from in the first place.

If I visit Grand Theft Auto Casino, for example, that’s what I get (Grand Theft Auto Casino is one of the most popular Metaverse casinos and changes money the fastest). ICE Poker is a totally different experience – and people want that. However, they don’t want to be in the same place all the time.

Does Grand Theft Auto Casino have an advantage as it’s a known brand outside of the Mmetaverse? Albeit a videogame, but one that has significant brand recognition…

Yes, and it skews with many different age groups. You see the characters within the casino and they look like us, whereas if you’re in Decentraland, you see boxy square folks in which we don’t see ourselves.

How diverse is the Metaverse?

I attended an event with the team at Decentraland, whereby 80 per cent are women and around 30 per cent are disabled and people of colour. I think there is a concerted effort to changes things from the past.

So, why are you presenting the Metaverse to the ECA Casino Industry Forum? What do you want them to take away from the experience – and do you want them in the Metaverse?

We want experience and that experience/perspective will make the metaverse work better. I’m pushing 50 now, but when I started working on Tomb Raider I was 19. When I think about being a girl in a sea of men back then – and still to this day – we still need those men.

It doesn’t matter that the percentage hasn’t changed that much, I still need their experience – and the Metaverse definitely needs that experience. The Metaverse is new and exciting, but it stills needs people that have the knowledge to make it better.

I’m really passionate about the Metaverse. have also worked for casinos in the past creating gamified applications. However, I think there is a golden opportunity for the casino audience at the Forum to get under the skin of the Metaverse and change their reputation. We have to stop thinking about gambling as a ‘bad thing.’

One of the things we benchmark as standards when creating games is that if something works in sex, or gambling – then the technology works. When we create games, we look to technology from these sectors to set the benchmark of what we have to create towards. So I think it is only fair that we utilise and optimise the Metaverse for the gambling industry. You have to move with the times and we want to help the casino sector capitalise on that.

One of the speakers at the conference – Laurent Lassiaz – stated that the regulatory casino environment represents safety and security for a business. Does the absolute freedom of the metaverse offer the opposite?

I think the involvement of the casino industry in the Metaverse will change the casino industry, and because of their involvement the Metaverse will change too. And I think the regulation part that scares them right now, will also change as they dip a toe in the water.

Just because they’re dealing with finances, gambling and player protections, doesn’t mean that they have to completely alter the Metaverse. They need instead to enter the Metaverse, meet the people with like-minded mindsets and see how their place within the Metaverse is relative for the future.

Casino operators view play within their locations as social and home-play on a PC as anti-social. Whereas your view is that Metaverse play is completely a social experience…

Parents fear their children playing constantly on their mobiles. They are afraid about what they can’t see. If they enter the space themselves, it will optimise the entire experience.

If I can live on the upper floor of the casino, I can visit the casino whenever I wish. I can move from one space to the other. Our children are already experiencing full connectivity, they are plugged in and they are spending money. And they have become ‘addicted’ to experiences. Unregulated experiences.

When you talk about unregulated experiences, you’ve eliminating whole swathes of the Forum’s audience who can only work in regulated spaces. Would they have to leave their current positions to enter the Metaverse?

When I show ICE Poker to casino executives they’re astonished that it can exist. They don’t believe something like this, a poker experience within the Metaverse, is real. You can play poker for ‘mana’ and then they off-ramp your mana.

Mana is essentially chips. You put the chips in and cash out – there is no difference between these two things and the regulatory bodies in Decentraland are powerless to regulate this type of transaction, because it is decentralised. When you cash out your mana, that’s when you have to regulate.

What’s happening inside the space, however, is unregulated. I think that’s the same in a land-based casinos. The point at which you regulate is when the player enters and when they leave – cash in and cash out. You don’t regulate the chips they’re winning and losing at the table, which is the same within the Metaverse.

You’ve created an omni-wallet for the Metaverse – does it work for both online and offline environments?

Our biggest clients thus far are Tesco, Bupa and ASOS, so we’re already working with groceries and digital fashion in cyberspace. We are also incorporating loyalty, so that anyone using the wallet will be able to use it as a passport into the games environment, since it is an API plug- in.

You can buy something in one space and sell it in another. You can take your digital assets and sell them instantly, while checking your loyalty points, crypto and FIAT balance. It is no different to Google Pay, but it’s blockchain driven.

You’re making moving between ‘real’ spaces and virtual spaces seamless for transactions. Does this work for other assets too?

I mint paintings. I take people’s art collections and I turn them into fractional ownership NFTs, so they become a digital asset that can be monetised. One of the issues we have in creating these NFTs is that we have to adhere to the patriarchy of each country. For example, if I create a Picasso NFT, then I must adhere to the Spanish government’s rules when I mint that painting – ie. it must be minted in Spain.

I think that’s a similar situation with the casinos, wherein you’d need to stick to the rules of the patriarchal country as regards ownership of the brands etc., not where the owner lives – but in regards to the ownership by country of the objects. If I sell something on Opensea (the largest NFT marketplace), I can sell to anybody.

I recently had a relationship with the Swiss Stock Exchange and JP Morgan, and one of the things they suggested was that we shouldn’t worry about decentralised NFTs, until we off- ramp the finances from selling the painting or if the painting went to auction.

So fractional ownership is only relevant once the painting goes for auction, and this must be done within five years of the painting being minted as an NFT. This is done to increase the value of the auction and the painting itself.

At first I thought this was a problem, as the time to money is long – but thinking more about this I understood that it’s actually short – because with digital assets and fractional ownership, when it’s decentralised there is no fiscal regulation. We don’t have to report to the SCC, or the Swiss fintech organisations, so it is literally an open playing field and I see that casinos and gambling are in a similar situation.

I think everyone has to take a deep breath and take a leap of faith to enter the Metaverse. We have to build the bridge and get over this as it’s not like the 1970s, 80s or 90s, this is the future. We are not building for today, we are building for tomorrow – for the next decade. So we have to think about things entirely differently.

NFTs by their nature are a gamble, are they not?

Yes, and the end user is happy to take that gamble to purchase something on Opensee, either buying as soon as it has released, or make a further down the line purchase when the price has snowballed. However, I think the risk is much more spread.

They spread their risk over cryptocurrency and NFTs, with different values within their portfolio. It’s a bit like they are collecting chips instead of money, because they can spend those chips anywhere in the Metaverse.

So you’re trying to convince this audience not that the Metaverse is coming, but it’s already here, you’re just not looking directly at it yet? Otherwise there are two economies running…

Yes, and that’s why you don’t need to be first. You just need to be there. By the time the land- based casino industry is ready to enter the Metaverse, something else will have come along. You just become familiar with digital humans when AI moves things forward.

How do you keep out the bad actors from the Metaverse?

Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAU) are great ways of doing this because it is the players that will eject the bad actors. They will vote people out of the Metaverse, just as they do in current games such as League of Legends, whereby they report people and remove them from the game.

Games such as FIFA have been castigated for their ‘gamification’ of players, drawing them in to spend millions on FIFA Ultimate Team packs. That’s not a bad actor per se, but you could argue that incentivising players in such ways is pretty close to gambling.

FIFA has been castigated by the parents and by the regulatory bodies, not the players. Players want the loot boxes.

Should the land-based industry recreate their casino within the Metaverse? Would this work?

If you visit Vegas, you don’t spend every minute at the craps table. It can be very restrictive if you only want to create a gambling experience and limit other activities.

We need to lower the barrier to entry and make people loyal to something other than just making or losing money. You have to think about the long-tail experience for the player.

Would something like ICE Poker benefit from the expertise from the offline side?

Yes, but don’t help ICE Poker become better. Build your own offering, bring brands into the space like PokerStars, and raise the value of that brand. Brands want to be in the same space as their audience. The interest is there, but right now no one wants to step up to the plate.

The Metaverse needs the experience of this industry to refine what’s being offered to players presently, as the existing offer is already becoming stale. They need to stop worrying about the spectre of regulation and embrace the fact it’s an unregulated space.

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