In what is notoriously a week of desperately trying to make space in a bursting at the seams ICE London schedule, CasinoBeats once again takes to Zoom. Everyone’s best friend, or best of enemies, during recent times.
As the early evening darkness engulfs northern England, it’s mid-afternoon on the east coast of the US where our latest guest, Yaniv Sherman, SVP and head of the US at 888, awaits.
The online gambling giant has certainly made its intentions in the US crystal clear, with a trifecta of market access deals, for Colorado, Indiana and Iowa, towards the culmination of 2020 followed up with a multi-year extension to its exclusive B2B poker partnership alongside Caesars Interactive Entertainment.
Addressing a tumultuous year, Sherman makes no secret of a belief that “strong momentum” built up through investments in the product, technology and people have stood the firm in particularly strong stead.
“That’s a great way of going in more aggressively, especially when it comes to the US,” he notes, promising a number of further updates that are currently under negotiation. “So, it’s definitely been a good string of investments that have marked the momentum that we’ve been going into 2021 with.”
“…poker was probably the biggest casualty following the DOJ opinion in 2018″
On the subject of momentum, again lauded as “extremely important,” Sherman elaborates on a structural shift to online, which, as a purely digital player, leaves 888 “very well placed” to capitalise.
Assessing consistent growth trends throughout the year, as opposed to its notoriously strong Q4 and Q1, Sherman comments: “We have been able to demonstrate some significant growth in even our biggest vertical like casino and sport, and naturally poker, that enjoyed some of the resurgence as an entertainment destination.
“People sort of rediscovered poker, and I think the combination between the three is the key. Our ability to give our players a unified experience has been our product tentpole, and we only increased our investment into the product through 2020 and also into 2021. So, it’s been a year of products, and we’re happy to be able to capitalise on it.”
And so attention turns to January’s First Circuit ruling regarding the Wire Act, which clarified that the legislation remains in place solely to prevent the incidence of interstate online sports wagering.
That decision overruled efforts by the US Department of Justice in 2018 to criminalise a broad swath of the gambling sector, when it reinterpreted the Act to include all forms of mobile gambling.
“We’ve been an advocate of gaming in general, remember that we’ve been operating in the market since 2013, and in 2018, late 2017, when Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada signed a joint poker compact we were there to support that initiative and to-date we are the only operating inter-state poker network. And poker was probably the biggest casualty following the DOJ opinion in 2018,” Sherman explains.
“…we’ve always been active around poker, we didn’t build our agenda assuming that this would happen”
Acknowledging that, despite being unlikely, the ruling could theoretically still be appealed, Sherman continues “we hope that that puts things to rest, and now it paves the way to what we believe is an integrated, or integral part, of any US gaming agenda.”
Elaborating on future developments following this decision, he says: “Now, poker will probably always be the third leg, third place, but a podium winner of any gaming race, with sport and casino bigger, but it’s sort of the chicken and egg kind of thing.
“It will be a smaller market but we expect it to be much less competitive operating in poker because of the scale and the liquidity challenge, and we know first-hand as a global poker operator that it is not a trivial thing.
“And we sort of look to, and hope to see, regulators clear the way for other states, like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and other states down the line like West Virginia, states that introduce gaming hopefully, like Indiana and maybe even New York in near term, will join one big network that would offer players an unrivalled experience.”
Staying on the same theme, and the potential of the aforementioned poker compact gaining a number of significant developments, particularly in terms of population size, Sherman continued by touching upon 888’s expectations regarding the Wire Act decision, and if it was something that the group had been actively waiting for.
“First of all, we’ve always been active around poker, we didn’t build our agenda assuming that this would happen,” it is said.
“…it is an inherent in the US gaming culture that was invested here”
“We were hoping it would happen; it seemed like the logical thing. But, again, because of the situation it was at, we had to work on, maybe, the assumption that, at least initially, this would be siloed liquidity.”
Adding: “So in short, this wasn’t our prevailing working assumption, but we are building our infrastructure in the US with a flexibility that allows us to do that. We wanted to create a solution that we develop and present it to various regulators, that enables us to scale up and connect the various systems down the line, and we were fortunate enough to offer.
“Our tech team was very effective in presenting that solution, and I hope that that indeed will be powering the future of online poker in the US. So, we’ve geared towards that from a product platform perspective, and I’m happy to be in the position that we may potentially be able to capitalise on it.”
In terms of liquidity pools, Sherman speaks with excitement about the potential of new additions, with Pennsylvania and Michigan, dubbed “significant additions to such a network,” mainstays of the conversation.
“The US is poker country,” he proudly emphasises. “We sort of forget about that, but it is an inherent in the US gaming culture that was invested here”
Continuing: “The numbers coming out of places like Michigan and Pennsylvania on the back of sports betting, I see tremendous cross-sell potential out of them I see a lot of these players, when Sunday football is over, or even between games, or during games, at the end of the day American sports events are three, three and a half hours long.”
As engagement and the need for social interaction enters the conversation, Sherman brings in the group’s Poker 8 product, which is aiming to build upon European success.
In addition to reenabling a ‘Play with Friends’ feature due to popular demand, which was initially disable in 2019, Sherman points to Poker 8 as “an even more social product” which could also potentially act as complement to other interests.
“People are looking for other forms of entertainment, sports betting is one but being able to play our newest Poker 8 product, some of which was actually designed to play with one hand because we assume that sometimes the second screen experience, which has already been very well received globally, will be very well received in the US.”