For a good while now, I have been referring to Virtual Sports as something of a ‘niche’ market in the sports betting industry, the underlying assumption being that it is one of the smaller markets in terms of gross gaming yield (GGY) for sports betting services.
However, with the latest half-yearly figures now in from the UK Gambling Commission, we may now have to revise using those terms.
That’s because for the six months of the report, Virtual Sports betting is now the third most popular form of betting in the UK.
Admittedly, it is still some way behind football (£772 million) and horseracing (£556 million) in terms of importance, but with a gross gaming yield of £170 million over those six months, it comfortably beat the next most popular sport, tennis into third spot, with tennis taking £129 million over the same period.
Of course, football and horseracing are the two most popular forms of betting in the UK and have been for many years and it would take a seismic cultural shift both in terms of betting habits and in the popularity of sports, for this to change, but what these latest figures show is that Virtual Sports are an increasingly important part of an online casinos services.
Indeed, many would argue that any online casino not offering Virtual Sports, is doing so to the detriment of their profits and their customers.
The unsurprising and surprising aspects of these findings
On the one hand, the fact that Virtual Sports remain so popular is perhaps unsurprising. We know that in terms of revenue generated by online casinos, slot games provide a massive proportion of their annual profits and are by far and away the most popular form of gaming that players can play on these sites.
Given that Virtual Sports, although aesthetically very different to a slot game, actually works around very similar mechanics to govern whether players win or not (both games work by utilising a Random Number Generator and probabilities) it is perhaps unsurprising that punters that usually enjoy a wager, would likely enjoy the freedom of not having to research their bets in great detail before placing them.
Also, given the popularity of slots and other random chance games or competitions, such as the National Lottery or scratchcard gaming, it is easy to understand why a high proportion of sports betting enthusiasts, many of whom will likely buy a lottery ticket or scratchcard each week, or who may enjoy a spin on the slots from time to time, would also enjoy what Virtual Sports has to offer.
Yet on the other hand, these findings are somewhat surprising. For many punters, the element of being able to research your sports bets is an absolute fundamental of their appeal. Many punters feel that by conducting research on a potential bet, they can reduce the chances of them backing a loser and perhaps back a few more winners.
Indeed, it is this very reduction of the ‘randomness of selections’ by using form and other statistics about a selection that makes sports betting so appealing to some. Yet strangely, this is at odds with the data which tends to show Virtual Sports betting seeing a massive upsurge in popularity with punters on sports betting sites. So where between the two different approaches does the truth lie?
The answer may well lie simply in the fact that whether you are a sports punter that works hard on the statistical side of things to place your bet, or whether you are a punter who just enjoys any form of wager across many different varieties of bet, there are enough of the latter to ensure that Virtual Sports are proving to be a huge success.
Furthermore, people that do work hard to place bets in terms of research they conduct, may well find the more random aspects of Virtual Sports betting a welcome diversion from their usual form of betting and a nice change of pace (remembering that Virtual Sports events can be decided usually in a maximum of three minutes).
So what about the remaining subset of sports betting punters that want to reduce the chance aspect of their bets as much as possible and for whom Virtual Sports, as they stand, do not really appeal? Well the good news is for these punters, that this may well be about to change.
Virtual Sports of the Future – Adding Context to Virtual Sports
As the interest and amount of money spent on Virtual Sports has grown, so has the number of bookmakers offering the service to customers and critically, so has the number of companies seeking to develop their own Virtual Sports games to license out to betting companies to use and the next generation of Virtual Sports games are set to change the way you can bet on them forever.
There are already examples of companies that have developed Virtual Sports that now offer more than simply generated games or races one after the other. Some companies have developed Virtual Sports which are based on tournaments, such as the Premier League or the World Cup, where teams play matches in the tournament, their results are stored and can be accessed by the player as a form of research to help them place their bets.
This is a fundamental aspect for punters that like to use data to inform their betting. These new generation of Virtual Sports games will not only generate their own data, but it will be stored to allow punters to use that data to inform their bets. At present, the amount of data stored for each tournament is generally isolated to the ‘headline data’, items such as results for example, but over time this data could grow to include more detailed data.
This also means that the markets offered by a next generation Virtual Sports offering may be different. There may be more markets available on a typical Virtual Sports event, more in line with those offered on a standard sports event, and the overall effect on this will be to make Virtual Sports feel more real than ever before.
It’s clear that the Virtual Sports industry is still growing and finding its feet and it is increasingly clear that as exciting as Virtual Sports are now, we have only just begun to see what they can do and the next few years promises to be a hugely exciting time for anyone with an interest in this form of betting.