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SG Digital in the US: combining heritage with tech-expertise

By - 1 April 2021

Despite a growing portfolio of platforms, services and technology, SG Digital’s Cathryn Lai, SVP and General Manager – US market, explains why content remains the linchpin and the strategic importance of having the right partners in place to be first to market as states open up.

As SVP and General Manager for the US market, where do your priorities lie?

The US is a very big focus for SG Digital. Since the repeal of PASPA in 2018, we have been closely monitoring regulation to ensure we are strategically aligned with our partners to get into new markets as soon as possible.

Covid-19 has expedited the rate at which states go online so from a prioritisation perspective it is about navigating through the landscape, ensuring we are still innovating upon our products and getting into new markets as they open up.

Alongside sports betting, Michigan recently marked our third state for iGaming. A lot of states will begin with sports betting on the digital side and the hope is they will eventually transition to iGaming.

What attracted you to the role and how does it differ from your previous role at SG?

My previous role was on the brick-and-mortar side running product management, gaming operations and marketing. It was very data and analytics driven so moving into this role has been perfect. At the GM level, you have control over a broader set.

My role is about using a combination of the correct data to create the right products, driving what US product strategy is and having a commercial focus of getting into new markets with the right partners. The data we are currently seeing is showing that a lot of online players are land-based casino players transitioning into the digital space.

What are land-based players moving into the online space demanding?

We offer technology, platforms and services but the core is content. From an iGaming perspective, a lot of franchises that already exist in land-based from Scientific Games translate well into the digital space and this is a real strength for us.

On the sports betting side, our acquisition of Don Best a few years ago is proving hugely beneficial as they are the gold standard of trading and content for US-driven sports. US bettors are very passionate about their hometown teams from college to professional level.

How is SG Digital orientating and evolving the brand of Scientific Games for its US audience?

When you look at SG, we are known in Europe for having a strong history on the digital side from a platform and sports betting perspective, but we are a US-focused company. In the land-based sector with brands such as WMS, Bally and Shuffle Master we have a heritage of delivering the best slots and table games content.

We understand US market players as we have been here as long as there has been brick-and- mortar, yet we have over 20 years’ experience of technology in the digital space on the European side. Bridging those two together in the US market ensures our position as a leader.

We have the best of both worlds. The beauty of Scientific Games is that we have the full ecosystem, and our offering is scalable to all types of partners. We have the services to help partners customise their products, but underpinning everything is the content.

A user doesn’t know the plumbing behind the UI – they see the content and experiences we create. It can be one-size fits all – we have partners who take the full turnkey solution from us including content and platforms – whereas others will just take elements of it. Our value proposition is in our flexibility to partner needs.

How is the raft of commercial deals SG Digital is signing with the likes of FanDuel and DraftKings changing the player offer?

Our partners take what we provide and leverage the technology to drive user acquisition. FanDuel and DraftKings are unique in that they can leverage their strong sports betting brand into the iGaming market. We also have a lot of strong casino brands who are migrating their brick-and-mortar player base into the digital space.

For us, we’re agnostic in that we want to be a good partner regardless. It’s about having the flexibility of our product offering to help turbocharge each partner for what they are going after in the market.

How do you position SG Digital’s products and brand within your platform offering?

The SG brand is very important. From a B2C perspective, I think players associate SG with some of the top performing games in land- based and online with the likes of 88Fortunes, Jin Ji Bao Xi, as well as our Shuffle Master content and table game brands. In sports betting, being powered by Don Best and having the best pricing, risk management and trading means we have strong Scientific brands across the board.

On the B2B side, we are powering some of the biggest sportsbooks in the world with our OpenBet platform. Operators know our platform is reliable and that we can facilitate more transactions than any other. We are robust and can offer services to help customise product offerings to ensure our partners are successful in the market.

Several more states are expected to come online this year. How does SG Digital spread its resources? How important is first mover advantage?

It has to be 100 per cent strategic. We have a finite number of resources, so we have to be strategic about what markets we go into. Not only that, but we also have to be very specific about the partners with which we enter certain markets. That being said, first mover advantage is important.

Michigan is a perfect example. Our iGaming content went live with the first wave of operators and we were also able to bring one of our partners with us to market who had our full platform suite including sports betting. That makes a big difference and is very important because in any product launch the first to market gets an edge.

This doesn’t mean that waves two or three don’t have the ability to recover, but we pride ourselves on having strategic partners who are going to be the first to get a licence so we can work together to be the first to market. We push hard and it’s a big effort for our development teams who are phenomenal.

How do technical platform requirements differ from state to state?

As well as the technical requirements, you also have the unique regulatory requirements. SG does a great job at looking at a roadmap longer term. If a new market opens up, we’re nine months ahead of it and starting to understand the requirements as early as possible.

Our platform is flexible in the sense that we are not redeploying something brand new for every market we go into. Being able to take the layer that is more customisable and specific to a market and putting it on top of the core of our platform helps us get to market faster.

In effectively starting afresh at mass scale when new states come online, how does SG Digital evolve and redevelop its platform on the go?

Innovation is at the core of Scientific Games. No matter what part of the business you are looking at, we are always innovating, particularly on content. We’re able to leverage brands and mechanics across different business units so there is always time for innovation.

A lot of our development time is spent on executing and delivering but we always innovate. Oftentimes operators ask for new features, feeds or integration so innovation never stops. To be competitive in any market, especially a product and service driven offering, we have to continue to innovate and look ahead to see what the market wants.

What is your US roadmap?

We expect two to three more markets to open up for sports betting in the US this calendar year. We are going to be aggressive to make sure we have the right partners aligned to get market access and will hedge on the fact one of our strategic partners will get access.

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