The bingo renaissance is here, but can the industry handle the pace? CasinoBeats talks to Jean-Luc Ferrière, chief commercial officer at Microgaming

CB: Are bingo’s days numbered?

JLF: “Put simply, no. The whole ‘bingo is dead’ argument raises its head from time to time, and it’s usually rooted in broad and short-sighted generalisations. While it’s fair to say that traditional bricks-and-mortar chains have endured a period of decline, there’s a more interesting story emerging around the game and its audience, particularly in its currently thriving online form.

“Perhaps the most prominent myth is that bingo is the sole preserve of an ageing demographic; however, there are a number of fascinating developments and trends that suggest otherwise.

“Figures from a 2018 YouGov study showed that 28 per cent of online bingo players were in the coveted 25-34 demographic, with the 35-44s close behind at 26 per cent. Just a year before, a WhichBingo online player survey uncovered a similar cliché-busting statistic: for the second year in a row there was an increase in the number of players aged 18-34. We know that smartphones are ubiquitous as a gaming platform, and that’s also the case with online bingo, so it’s potentially not all that surprising that there’s a growing, digitally native player base of Generations Y and Z.

“Bingo has found a receptive audience in the newer generations and they’re giving it a whole new lease of life

“An interesting side story to the continuing success of online bingo is the resurgent push of the live sector, again driven in part by this influx of millennials. Live industry mainstays such as Mecca Bingo and Buzz Bingo have embraced a more relaxed, youth-friendly vibe, even making mobile and tablet play available in their venues. Bongo’s Bingo is another fascinating UK-born phenomenon, combining the traditional 90-ball game with full-on raves in nightclubs all over the globe.

“Research group Mintel recently signalled the beginning of a ‘bingo renaissance’. That’s an exciting proposition for the industry. Bingo has found a receptive audience in the newer generations and they’re giving it a whole new lease of life.”

Online bingo arguably revitalised the fortunes of the game, but now it’s a full house. Does Microgaming Bingo have room to grow in a saturated market?

“There’s no question that it’s a bustling market, but that’s just the kind of challenge that fires us up. We see considerable potential for future growth. Our Microgaming Bingo product has always been remarkably resilient, and our continuing success in regulated markets means we’re able to dedicate more resources to make significant developments in the year ahead.

“Microgaming’s focus on ensuring that our products are fully compliant and rapidly deployable into new markets is what sets us apart. Our vision for Microgaming Bingo is expansion on a global scale, ultimately benefiting our customers and players with larger jackpots, 24/7 games, and more attractive promotions.

“Another key area of development for us is our mobile client. It’s an area where we continue to see substantial growth. We know that mobile play represents anywhere up to 80 per cent of bingo play, so it’s essential for us to enhance and perfect the ‘on the go’ online bingo experience.”

Online bingo has enjoyed a period of phenomenal growth, an expanding player base, and its success is even driving innovation in the live bingo industry. But where does it go next?

“Advances in mobile gaming technology in particular have made a considerable impact. It’s a platform we were first to market with 15 years ago, and it’s one that continues to expand. Larger screens, more powerful GPUs and faster networks provide greater scope to create increasingly immersive and graphically rich gaming environments.

“The roll-out of 5G will be the next big step, allowing players to enjoy progressively speedier and more sophisticated games on the move. Evolving and growing with these technological advancements is imperative. Constantly improved networks and tech also grow the potential of the omni-channel solutions that some UK bingo brands have adopted; there’s definitely room for further hybridisation between live and online bingo.

“There’s tremendous scope in giving operators superior tools to retain players

“For such a thriving product, loyalty and player retention will always be key considerations. Improving and tailoring the player experience will continue to be a focus for operators, and that’s where the big strides can be made. Fifty-seven per cent of players now hold accounts with fewer than five bingo brands according to the 2019 WhichBingo report; a notable upsurge in player loyalty when compared to the sharp decline detailed in the 2017 report.

“There’s tremendous scope in giving operators superior tools to retain players. That’s about providing deeper personalisation options and more innovative promotions, giving them the autonomy to offer that all-important premium player experience.”

What are the main challenges facing the bingo industry and your clients?

“There is a prominent challenge facing many bingo operators at present. Tightening regulation and increased taxation, with further advertising restrictions on the horizon, are having an effect on the market’s growth. While it may seem an obstacle, it’s actually an opportunity. Player protection is profoundly important in our industry, and we’re agile and adaptable enough to embrace these changes.

“Ensuring a superior player experience has always been Microgaming’s focus. Online bingo boasts a particularly broad, community-driven player base, loyal to their favourite brands. It’s more important than ever for operators to align with software suppliers whose platforms offer greater autonomy and customisation, and whose software is compliant in a constantly shifting regulatory landscape.

“Bingo is change-adept, we’ve got to be ready for its next transformation.”

“For us, regulation isn’t a barrier to innovation in online bingo – it’s the next stage in the game’s evolution. By working closely with regulators, ensuring players are protected and operators are supported, we have been able to extend the bingo experience on a global scale. The game has a long history, but it has a proven and unique ability to sustain and entertain wide-ranging communities of players.

“Bingo is change-adept, and we’ve got to be ready for its next transformation.”

What can we expect from Microgaming Bingo in 2019?

“We are massively optimistic about the future of this vertical, and we have a strong pipeline of new business and exciting developments for 2019 and beyond.

“Microgaming Bingo currently offers a number of variants, including speed bingo and our 75-ball pattern game. Rich media messaging in a fully integrated chat facility adds the all-important social and community side, while our 420-plus strong library of Casino-in-Bingo side games allows players access to our award-winning slots. Further enhancing the player experience, our network also runs regular promotions, including our ‘Jackpot a Day in May’ – just one of a number of player-friendly bingo promotions available during the year.

“In the coming months, we will be releasing an optimised interface across our bingo mobile solution, providing richer messaging functions and flexible access to our Casino-in-Bingo slot content. The burgeoning social and mobile audience of online bingo will ensure that this technology continues to lead the way in the market.

“Expansion into key regulated markets is also a key focus for us. Operators are live with our content in a number of key markets, including Broadway Gaming in the UK, Aspire Global and Danske Spil in Denmark, and Logrand in Mexico. Our software deal with Betsson Group creates an incredible opportunity to further expand our popular bingo offering throughout major European markets, starting with the UK and Sweden this year, with more markets to follow.”