As the Great North American land grab continues to gain momentum, iGaming operators are firmly focused on leveraging the newly-opened territories as a means of scaling up as quickly as possible. However, with each state having its own set of regulations and customer trends, entering these new markets can be challenging and a huge drain on resources.
We caught up with Adam Noble, Co-Founder of PlayStar to hear more about his company’s US expansion activities and what steps PlayStar has taken to help make the process of new market penetration as seamless as possible across the fast-growing US iGaming states.
As an online casino brand that has its sights set firmly on the US, your recent launch in New Jersey was obviously a significant milestone. Now that the dust is starting to settle on that achievement, how do you think it all went, and are there any key takeaways for future markets?
“PlayStar’s New Jersey launch went fantastically well in the grand scheme of things. It wasn’t without its hurdles. There were mountains to climb and bugs to fix but the team did a great job overcoming these challenges and we’ve continued to build momentum since. It must be remembered that New Jersey is our first market, so we’ve had to do everything from scratch and the entire team has done an amazing job. But we now have a very strong foundation in place and will look for optimisation, and scalability, as we expand into additional markets across the US.”
In addition to your range of online promotions, one of the most notable things about that launch was the huge number of promotions you offered in tandem with local businesses. Was this always a key part of your strategy, and why do you think these types of deals are so important?
“Localisation is a key part of our strategy and a major differentiator for PlayStar. When determining our position in the market, we saw an opportunity to localise in a way that other brands haven’t done. We set out to offer rewards outside of bonuses and cashback, and to give our players tangible prizes, savings and experiences that enhance their day to day life outside of their PlayStar time. This includes being able to cash in reward points for dinner in a local restaurant or claiming tickets for events and concerts in state.
“We’ve even recently sponsored the New York Jets (who of course play their games in New Jersey), and given away VIP tickets. Money, alone, can’t buy experiences and merchandise. This is similar to how land-based casinos reward players but, as an online-only brand, we don’t have the same facilities available to us. Instead, we’ve made the entire state of New Jersey our “land-based” casino. Experience, engagement and personalisation are at the core of our proposition, so rewarding players through local suppliers and businesses aligns nicely with this approach.”
Following the New Jersey launch, you’ve definitely been busy. You are now preparing market entry in Pennsylvania, and future entry in Indiana and Colorado. What are your hopes for each of these markets and what sort of experience can casino customers expect with PlayStar?
“We’re looking to replicate our early success in the Garden State (New Jersey) and take the early learnings into Pennsylvania so that it’s even more optimized from launch. We’ve found that our brand and casino experience has landed well with New Jersey players and we’re confident this will be the case in new state launches. We’ll take the same approach to localisation in each state we enter and will deliver on our strategy to provide a personalised and engaging customer experience. When it comes to the former, we personalise every journey, promotion and offer around the player and not solely the content we have.
“This is all based on player preferences and also predictive models so that we can give a truly unique experience to every player based on what they like. We look to enhance their experience at all times, and we are doing this at a much higher level than our rival casino brands.”
With legislation taking place on a state-by-state basis and some regions being more advanced than others, what sort of time frame do you put on your US expansion plans? Are you expecting to be live in these new states imminently, or is this part of the company’s longer-term planning?
“It’s both. We intend to launch in Pennsylvania next year. In Indiana and Colorado, we’ve already secured market access but are awaiting enabling legislation and regulation. I’d hope to see Indiana open up next year, but we’ll just have to wait and see. But for Indiana and Colorado, and any other states that we secure access to pre-regulation, we’re now in a position to be among the first to launch rather than playing catch-up as we have done in New Jersey and will have to do in Pennsylvania.
“This will have a positive impact on player acquisition and being live from day one will give us a chance to compete with the big boys. Standing side by side as the starting line with these titans, combined with our strategy of spending smart rather than spending big, will help us quickly secure our target market share in each state moving forwards.”
Looking beyond the states that you’re already preparing to enter, what are PlayStar’s future ambitions for the US? Are you eventually hoping to be live in all regulated American markets, and are there any other states that you’re currently targeting as part of your 2023 road map?
“Our intention is to be live in all regulated online casino markets that make sense. Some of the smaller states just don’t add up from a commercial perspective at this stage, while some of the larger states, such as Michigan, present market access challenges due to the restricted number of skins permitted. We want to be in as many online casino states as possible, but the business case must stack up in each.
“But with this said, we have a roadmap of markets we can enter over the next few years that will contribute positively to our bottom line. It must be remembered that these are still very early days for the US market, and as it matures licenses will come up for renewal and that will present a second opportunity to consider states that are not currently viable. As PlayStar matures, we will also consider acquisition opportunities that could open up opportunities in states that are not currently available to us.”
While it would only be speculation at this point, which of the US states that are yet to legalize online gambling do you see as having the most potential? And what about the potential mega-market that is California?
“Indiana is a market with huge potential, and is in sight when it comes to legalising online casino. It has a sizable population that has an appetite for casino gaming and the forecast numbers look good, too. It also sits in an area with a strong land-based casino presence with Michigan to the north, which also has a thriving online casino market.
“Then you have New York which has great potential but is likely another two or three years out. States like California and Florida are a little fuzzy. The former has just voted down online sports betting again, while in the latter there’s an ongoing legal battle between the federal government and the Seminole Tribe over sports betting rights. Texas has the potential to be a significant market. But for now it looks set to be sports betting only. I do think states will look to bolt-on online casino once they are up and running with sports betting, but this will likely be several years away.”
Given the patchwork nature of legislation in the US, how challenging is it for an operator to be live in multiple states simultaneously? How do you manage to stay on top of so many local regulations, and what measures do you have in place to ensure all regional laws are followed?
“We need to dispel the idea that the US is one market. In reality, it’s the United States of 50 countries. While there are some synergies between each legal online casino state, in reality, operators must start from square one in each and certainly from a regulatory perspective. There are also cultural differences to consider, and that’s why it’s vital for brands to offer a highly localised experience to players. At PlayStar, we have a dedicated compliance team in charge of ensuring our operations across each state are in line with regulations. We also have access to external consultants and have good systems and processes to ensure that we are playing by the rules in each market at all times.”
When it comes to selecting in-state partners throughout the U.S., what exactly is it that PlayStar is looking for? As a brand that has a huge focus on the community and working with local businesses, is it important that the brands you partner with share similar values and ambitions?
“We want our players to feel they’re getting real value at PlayStar, not only in a casino sense through great promotions and bonuses, but also by enhancing their lifestyles. Whether that means discounts at their favourite restaurants, a voucher they can redeem against their favourite brands or money can’t buy experiences, we’re looking for local partners that allow us to deliver this experience to our players. In short, we want them to feel like the star of the show no matter which state they are playing from.”
After catching up with Adam, it’s clear that successfully entering New Jersey was the key first step in their North American quest. New Jersey is widely accepted as the benchmark state for US iGaming. Now that PlayStar has been able to establish itself in this jurisdiction, with lessons learned, strategies tested, approaching the rest of the vast US market should be significantly easier.
It’s also important to remember that iGaming is still a very new product in the US.
Much work still needs to be done to “educate” and introduce players to product and iGaming possibilities — to make them aware of the products available. PlayStars’ local marketing strategy has been very successful. By partnering with local movers, they’ve been able to spread the gospel of iGaming much easier; while giving players tangible prizes and rewards outside of gaming that give players a local experience that has built brand trust and loyalty.