Online Poker Touted as Alternative Revenue Stream for Bookmakers During COVID-19 Shutdown

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The SBC Digital Summit is giving gaming industry insiders from around the world the chance to talk in a convention setting while still abiding by social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines. And while there are plenty of topics of discussion, operators seem to have a particular interest in one product during the coronavirus shutdowns: online poker.

SBC Digital Summit online poker
The SBC Digital Summit highlighted online poker as an attractive way to generate revenue during the COVID-19 shutdowns. (Image: Getty)

The Sports Betting Community (SBC) Digital Summit, which ends on Friday, has an emphasis on sports betting, but is touching on every aspect of the gaming sector.

SBC Digital Summit Takes Place of Live Conference

The digital summit was supposed to overlap with SBC’s Betting on Sports America conference, which was scheduled for April 28-30 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey. SBC moved that event to December due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Few sports betting operators have much in the way of positive news to share with their colleagues. The sports world has largely shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, and while there are a handful of competitions ongoing, organizers are still postponing major events while the most popular leagues, including the NBA, MLB, NHL, and all major European soccer leagues remain shuttered.

Any business that is suddenly forced to remove its main product from sale is going to have a major problem,” SBC managing director Andrew McCarron told AFP. “And that is the situation bookmakers find themselves in.”

That’s left sports betting operators scrambling for ways to generate revenue. Increased betting on esports, politics, and the remaining sporting events that are still playing has kept the action going, to a limited extent.

“The alternatives can’t make up for the loss of the casual customers who have a weekly football accumulator, a couple of bets on Saturday afternoon’s televised racing, or a punt on the weekend’s big fight,” McCarron said.

Online Poker Has Crossover Appeal for Sports Bettors

Many sportsbooks are looking for alternate verticals they can offer customers, and that’s where online poker has come into play. Online poker traffic has risen across the globe as people find themselves stuck in their homes without other outlets for entertainment, let alone the opportunity to play in live poker games.

I think poker is acting as the lifesaver for sports betting operators right now, along with casino content and virtual sports,” Dmitry Starostenkov, CEO of poker software firm Evenbet Gaming, said at the SBC Digital Summit. “What we are seeing now, interestingly, we are seeing high demand from players for sports betting operators for online poker specifically. Even the operators which weren’t very keen on adding the poker vertical into their portfolio are all now contacting us to add poker.”

Some operators have reported that traffic numbers are closing in on the levels seen back in 2011. Malta Poker Festival founder Ivonne Montealegre said companies are experiencing growth of as much as 300% according to an report.

As promising as those numbers are, they don’t guarantee that players will stick around after the pandemic ends. However, operators hope that at least some sports bettors will find that they like online poker, and will keep playing even when there are games to bet on again.

“We’ve been trying to cross over the sports bettor to poker, and it’s been very difficult,” Montealegre said. “This pandemic has been the catalyst.”

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