If there is one thing that the executives at Bally’s want gaming customers to know, it’s this: The best is yet to come.
A cliche? Sure, but completely fitting for a company that in the last two years has snapped up a regional sports network, a sports betting platform provider, a fan-engagement specialist, a software developer, and myriad other pieces of a puzzle not yet complete. From the outside, Bally’s looks a lot like the bully in the sandbox who is grabbing as many toys as possible. But while Chairman of the Board Soo Kim is clearly having a ball adding to the empire, there is a method.
“Even though we’re building these parts, we’re looking past the current sports betting experience into something a little more integrated, a light touch, and the interaction is with the media,” he told Sports Handle. “The 2.0 is a me-too platform, [as] we just need to get something out there.”
Bally’s sports betting platform, BallyBet, is live in only a handful of U.S. states, while the company has market access in 16. That number now includes New York, where it was among nine operators that were awarded a spot on Monday. The state’s population makes it the second biggest with legal wagering behind Florida, where the first bets were taken last week.
For now, the company has what it calls its “1.0 version” live in Colorado, Iowa, and New Jersey, with plans to roll out its 2.0 version in Arizona early next year. But the prize is the 3.0 version, which will combine many of the assets Bally’s has acquired to change the way that fans consume sports, television, and sports betting.
Bally’s exploring big changes to platform
In very specific terms, Kim said the 1.0 versions of BallyBet are up and running on the BetWorks platform, the 2.0 versions will combine the BetWorks platform and Gamesys technology, and the 3.0 versions will go a step further with integrated features that Bally’s believes will enhance user engagement. In the 2.0 version and going forward, Gamesys, which Bally’s acquired last month, will provide the front-end user experience, including a digital wallet, while BetWorks will power the actual wagering experience.
“We will combine media assets with chat, trivia, all the stuff you should be able to do when you’re watching sports with your friends,” Kim said. “As you see the market turning, it kind of peaked in March and now it’s reevaluating, and now stocks are coming down a little. We’ve anticipated this — the fact that some people will sort of lose this unerring faith that sports betting is awesome. We felt that this 3.0 more integrated watch-and-go stuff” would be the next generation.
Because there is a state-mandated deadline for when sports betting platforms must launch in Arizona, Bally’s will move forward with its 2.0 version there, but the plan is to begin sharing snippets of what the 3.0 version will look like by the middle of 2022. While it does seem a little odd to launch a product that won’t exactly be finished, Bally’s is a publicly traded company that must answer to shareholders, who want to see progress. By going live with lesser versions of its platform, Bally’s is also generating cash flow and engaging users.
“It’s interesting that we’re spending all of our time getting 2.0 up and going, but 3.0 is the end game,” Kim said.
Or as CEO Lee Fenton said during a company earnings call last week discussing the product so far, “We haven’t really pushed it. It isn’t the app we want to put before our consumers.” And Bally’s won’t move forward with the newer versions until the integration with Gamesys is complete and company officials are comfortable launching a new version.
Bally’s-Mercury partnership first of its kind
The Bally’s Arizona platform will represent multiple firsts. Besides being the first location with the 2.0 platform, it’s also the first U.S. jurisdiction in which a WNBA team has gotten sports betting market access and partnered with an operator. Arizona lawmakers approved 10 digital and retail sports betting licenses each for professional sports franchises and tribes, but in the initial count of pro franchises, it was unclear how many on the pro side would meet the qualifications.
At this point, the NFL Cardinals, MLB Diamondbacks, NBA Suns, NHL Coyotes, the PGA Tour, NASCAR, the Arena Football Rattlers, and the WNBA Mercury have all been granted access. While the first six seemed pretty clear, the Mercury and the Rattlers were a bit under the radar. Bally’s and the Mercury announced a deal in June, while the Rattlers have partnered with Rush Street Interactive.
“I think it’s a win for women’s sports, it’s about sports, and it’s also, my theory is that sports betting will bring more engagement, and I think it will ultimately help viewership and engagement,” Kim said. “Women’s teams could benefit even more because they don’t benefit from the usual kinds of things, and there’s an opportunity to build. We historically like doing the right things the right way. It was the right thing to do at the right time.”
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Partnering with the Mercury wasn’t a clear path to a sports betting license. The team is owned by the Suns ownership group, which had long before made a deal with FanDuel to bring a state-of-the-art sportsbook to Footprint Arena and launch a digital platform. But after talking with the ownership group — and FanDuel — all parties signed off, and Bally’s (like RSI) will have a digital presence only. FanDuel already laid claim to the retail location, which opened on Sept. 9. The Mercury and Rattlers also play at Footprint Center, so the agreement was for a digital platform only.
Besides that, Bally’s initially had partnered with a tribe, but that was no sure thing — lawmakers allowed for 10 tribal licenses, but there are 16 gaming tribes in the in the state.
“The owner wanted to do it because it was an opportunity to make the same amount of money for the men’s team and the women’s team,” Kim said. “Everyone went with the big teams … but we wanted to make a statement.”
The deal has sparked interest elsewhere in partnering with WNBA teams. The Chicago Sky lobbied state lawmakers to include their home court at Wintrust Arena in the definition of a sports facility. In Illinois, the facility is awarded the license, and then designates an operator. A new sports betting bill that passed the General Assembly this month will allow the Wintrust Arena and the Sky to apply for a license. There are 12 WNBA teams, including seven in states with legal wagering.
With Arizona set to be the test case, Bally’s continues to point to a future that looks nothing like we’re all used to now when it comes to watching sports on TV and betting.
“I think that that is going to be the alternative,” Kim said of the 3.0 platform in development. “That’s what’s going to save television.”