Voice of the Industry

World Cup kick-off – Are gaming operators ready?

Monday 4 June 2018 09:40 CET | Voice of the industry

Chris Smart, SVP Gaming and FX markets at emerchantpay, offers gaming operators essential tips for scoring during the 2018 FIFA World Cup

The 2018 World Cup is just a matter of days away and excitement is reaching fever pitch. 64 matches played across 31 days can be pure footballing heaven for some, maybe less so for others.

All of the 32 teams competing in the tournament will currently be busy preparing for the start of the tournament, which kicks off on 14th June, so too will all the bookmakers across the world. The World Cup is the biggest sporting (and betting) event on the planet, with an estimated 1 billion people watching the final (2014), a ninth of the entire population of the planet.  

The biggest betting show on earth

With viewing figures like this, it’s little wonder that the World Cup is the biggest betting event in the world and presents a timely opportunity for gaming companies to welcome new customers. Indeed, industry analysts estimated that British gaming customers bet more than GBP 1bn over the course of the 2014 tournament in Brazil, making it the biggest betting event in UK history, streets ahead of the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National. There is a high possibility this record will be surpassed again in 2018, although tight regulation, especially from the Great Britain Gambling Commission ensures that the customer’s wellbeing is a continuous focus

European and Asian operators will benefit this year due to the tournament taking place in Russia because of the scheduled kick-off times. Compared to the tournament in 2014, where the later games took place during unsociable hours late at night, which will have obviously impacted both viewing and betting figures.  

The world will be caught up in the excitement and hype that surrounds the build-up to the tournament and key matches. The competition to reach and win these new customers will be fierce and unrelenting, meaning that the cost per acquisition is driven up. 

Therefore, gaming operators need to think creatively to attract new punters, through innovative betting options and bonus offers, but ones that do not encourage reckless behaviour. In many ways, that’s the easy part. The real challenge is to retain new customers beyond that initial bet, to keep them engaged and secure that second and third deposit. 

What to expect at World Cup 2018 from a betting perspective

On the pitch, we can expect to see some amazing skill from the World’s greatest footballers, plenty of theatrical diving and no doubt some highly-debateable refereeing decisions, not to mention the additional controversy which VAR may produce.  

And when it comes to betting, operators should fully prepare themselves, for both the expected and unexpected! Here are a few points to consider:

It will be a mobile-first World Cup

More than any previous tournament, the majority of online bets will be placed through a mobile device / smart phone. According to EGR Intelligence, more than three quarters (76%) of all sports betting (by stakes/ revenues) is typically done on mobile devices and some operators report that figure is to be well in excess of 80%. 

This means that operators need to ensure they have a highly optimised user experience on mobile. Anything less than a premium service and they may lose the new customer and their potential lifetime value.

There will be more choice than ever before

Not only will consumers be able to choose from a larger pool of betting operators than any previous World Cup, the range of different types of bets available will also be unprecedented. 

This World Cup will be the first to be characterised by customer-led betting. That’s where punters can build their own bets on the site, based on multiple components. 

There will also be the usual challenge of a potential increase in the decline rate on card transactions due to the high number of new account registrations during the tournament. Operators should analyse their payments configuration to find exactly the right balance between acceptance and risk. Small tweaks in this area can make big differences to their success rate.

Some matches are bigger than others 

It’s easier to plan for likely betting scenarios in the Group Stages. We know that the four most anticipated matches in the first few weeks are likely to be the big heavyweight clashes: England vs Belgium; Portugal vs Spain; Germany vs Sweden; as well as the tournament opener which includes the host nation, Russia, when they kick off against Saudi Arabia. These matches have prime time evening kick-offs, have big football betting cultures and are likely to draw the most attention and betting activity.

Operators need to ensure their payments platforms are configured to deal with big peaks in betting activity, with fast and robust processing. They also need to ensure they are allowing customers to pay using the preferred payment methods in each market. For instance, operators will see significant volume through local payment methods such as Mister Cash in Belgium during the big England game, Multibanco in Portugal for when they take on local rivals Spain and Trustly will be popular in Scandinavia during the Germany vs Sweden encounter.

Quick reactions are key  

Operators also need to plan for beyond the Group stages. History shows that betting activity drops sharply in a country when their nation’s team gets knocked out. So should England fail to qualify from the Group stages (God forbid!), operators will need to work even harder to ensure punters remain interested and volumes of bets are maintained.

This is where operators need to stand out from the crowd, by offering genuinely innovative, compelling and unique bets in order to keep people interested. Multi-component and in-play betting need to come to the fore. Of course, we all want England to progress into the later stages of the tournament (that way, everybody wins), but, based on our showing in previous World Cups, it’s definitely worth having a strategy for Round 2 onwards without England!

And remember, it could be a lot worse. Football giants Italy and the Netherlands aren’t going to Russia at all and operators in these countries will be suffering as a result. 

They have the unenviable challenge of stimulating and maintaining interest amongst their customers who will still be mourning the fact that their national teams didn’t qualify for the tournament. 

Speed is the name of the game

Much like on the pitch, where Cristiano Ronaldo and co. will be looking to get past opponents with raw pace, operators need to put speed at the heart of their World Cup strategy. That means fast deposits, and rapid settlements. Real-time betting means speed is key.

Operators should be analysing how many steps users have to go through to make a deposit and should streamline this as much as possible. Let’s face it, many of us will be watching the games with friends, maybe out socialising, and will want to be able to place a bet quickly, before getting back to the action and our friends. Local payment methods should be made available and easily accessed, processing should be as quick as possible. Settlement timelines should be reviewed and fully optimised. This last point is crucial as the sooner a customer receives his or her winnings, the better their customer experience and ultimately the sooner they can potentially place another bet. 

A great example of an operator that is using innovative new products as a way to stand out and drive revenue in a competitive World Cup market, is BetVictor.


Eoin Ryan, Head of Product from BetVictor, said:


“Obviously the World Cup will present an opportunity to acquire new customers and therefore having exciting and innovative new products is key. Our unique PriceItUp Builder will allow our customers (both old and new) to build their own one-off bets and get exclusive odds by handpicking and predicting a number of possible components and outcomes during any game of their choice during the World Cup.


PriceItUp will provide vast choice to create exciting bets throughout each game and across the whole tournament. We’ve made it really easy for people to add in different components and to choose from a whole range of options, to build their own accumulator, completely bespoke to them. It’s going to be a great tournament and we really believe that PriceItUp will only add to the excitement for our customers.”


The crucial moments before kick-off

The World Cup is a massive event and we’re all starting to feel the excitement (well, most of us are anyway!) Operators should be focused on meticulous planning and final preparations, to make sure their payments systems are fast, flexible, robust and fully optimised. Get the planning right now, and they’ll be primed to enjoy a winning World Cup. 

About Chris Smart 

Chris Smart is SVP Gaming and FX markets at emerchantpay. As a gaming and FX subject matter expert, Chris Smart partners with operators to increase their online conversions and optimise their payment efficiencies. 

Chris has spent nearly a decade working closely with some of the world’s leading gaming and forex brands, helping them implement online growth strategies. Prior to him joining emerchantpay, he worked at Worldpay where he was responsible for some of the largest UK focused sports betting and casino operator acquisitions.  

In addition to his passion for online gaming, Chris is a keen sports fan, supporting his beloved Philadelphia Eagles and Coventry City. Outside of work, he loves spending time with his family.


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Keywords: Word Cup betting, betting operators, gamming operators, eMerchantPay, Chris Smart, footbal betting
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Countries: World