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UK's Bet365 takes a punt on US market

6th September, 17:46

The Twitter feed of UK betting group Bet365 has looked different in the past week. The usual stream of odds on UK Premier League matches has been interrupted with references to a different type of football: America's NFL.

The gambling company, which has been named as the most profitable in the world by Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, launched a US website and app this week in New Jersey, as the 100th season of the US National Football League kicked off.

It is the 16th sports betting app to launch in the state in just over a year, where gambling groups have been fighting for market share since it won a Supreme Court case in May 2018, overturning a federal ban on sports betting.

New Jersey is the biggest of the three states where online sports betting has gone live so far. In July, sports betting revenue there was $17.9m, compared with $3.8m in the same month last year, according to local government data.

"It's likely we'll see the mother of all marketing battles in New Jersey this NFL season," said James Kilsby, US managing director of consultancy Gambling Compliance. "Bet365 isn't the only formidable competitor."

The two dominant forces are the fantasy sports sites FanDuel, owned by Flutter, Paddy Power's UK-listed parent company, and DraftKings, which between them control 75 per cent of New Jersey's sports betting market.

The UK bookmaker William Hill comes a distant third.

But Bet365 has rivals on their guard. The company controls 8 per cent of the $43.1bn global online gambling market. Testament to its success is the £220m pay packet for its chief executive Denise Coates last year, double that of Sundar Pichai of Google, according to Bloomberg data.

"We're mindful of all competitors but clearly [Bet365] have got a very efficient operation and as and when they decide to come into the US I'm sure they will be tough competitor," said Philip Bowcock, the outgoing chief executive of William Hill.

William Hill estimates potential sports betting revenues in the US could reach as much as $19bn by 2023. According to one industry executive, the market is a "gold rush" for those who can take significant market share.

"Bet365 tends to be a market leader in betting with a breathtaking consistency," said Paul Leyland, an analyst at betting consultancy Regulus Partners. He attributes the Stoke-on-Trent-based company's success to an unrivalled operating skill, and its focus on sports and in-play betting.

According to its most recent set of company accounts, 77 per cent Bet365's sports bets were placed while games were under way. For each match, the company presents punters with hundreds of options.

"The US has not been presented with an offer that is this deep," said Warwick Bartlett, chief executive of GBGC. "But 365 will gradually wean them on to it".

Mr Kilsby said that US punters are particularly interested in statistics. Minutiae such as how many yards a player runs with the ball or who scores the 70th point in a basketball match make for a rich seam of potential in-play bets.

But Bet365 has some stiff competition.

Ladbrokes owner GVC, through a $200m partnership with the US casino company MGM, and FoxBet, a tie up between Stars Group and FoxSport, have also launched in New Jersey in the past two weeks.

BetMGM -- the GVC joint venture's brand name -- went live on Thursday with technology that Adam Greenblatt, chief executive, said will give it an edge: "We're in for the long run and to win long term . . . We are preparing to go toe to toe with the best," he said.

Fox Bet, which has been offering free-to-play sports games in order to build a customer base, launched last Friday. Robin Chhabra, chief executive, said that Fox Sports is available to 99 per cent of US households and that the channel's reach gives it a ready-made customer base.

There are also cultural challenges. Bet365 is traditionally strongest in markets such as the UK, Italy and Brazil, where soccer is the most prominent sport.

Mr Leyland warned that the US customer's domestic focus could be tricky for Bet365. It has had success in creating a "paradise" for frequent betters of round-the-clock global soccer games, he said. But that will be harder to achieve for American football and baseball because they are played in fewer countries.

He added that Bet365 also lacks the brand recognition of DraftKings and FanDuel.

Even Bet365's partner, the casino and resort group Hard Rock, admits that this might be the case. "The American brands have just resonated much louder and much easier than the European brands and I think that's due to the recognition and trust of those brands," said Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock Atlantic City.

If Bet365 is to replicate its success in Europe and South America, its ability to adapt to a different sporting landscape will be make-or-break. Punters using its trial beta website last week noted that it categorised American football by its full name rather than just "football", as Americans would call it. It has been changed on the new site.