Asian online market evolves but slowly

The conditions prevalent in the markets of East Asia mean the evolution of a more recreational online player base is following a different path to how it occurred in Europe and suppliers need to keep a close eye on local preferences.

The well-known backdrop in East and Southeast Asia is of a market dominated by some very big, and not necessarily Asian, betting syndicates which tend to concentrate their firepower on a few very liquid markets such as the Asian handicaps.

It means the well-known names within the East Asian betting and gaming space have tended not to worry too much about appealing to a broader constituency of players.

“First and foremost the recreational punter is not the norm in Asia and trading models in sports are based around making profit from high-volume, low-margin, punters,” says Keith McDonnell, a consultant and Asian gaming scene expert with KM iGaming.

“The big difference with European offerings is that the Asian-facing gaming sites are comparatively rudimentary when it comes to player bonusing and the player journey,” adds Michael Maerz, head of Asia at Sportradar.

Of course, what has to be acknowledged from the off is that the East and Southeast Asian region is not a homogenous block; there are variances in gaming culture and, of course, language, says Maerz.

Then there is the regulatory backdrop or rather, the complete lack of a regulated structure across any of the major markets. Jeevan Jeyaratnam, head of compilation at specialist odds provider Abelson Info, says a recreational punter in Malaysia, for example, faces different barriers to playing than one in most European markets, even if they are unregulated.

“It’s not recreational in the way that we think about it in Europe,” he says. “So a casual punter in Malaysia is risking a prison sentence and while (the authorities) tend to turn a bit of a blind eye, you still have to be careful.”

Without any obvious routes to advertise, moreover, it means that product discovery is more limited. “If you are a big brand name in Europe, you are free to advertise and there are lots of betting options,” says Jeyaratnam. “But you haven’t got that in Asia. You can’t push stuff; you have to find it. If you don’t know about a market, you won’t bet on it.”

 Speed to market

McDonnell says the emphasis for Asian offerings is on speed of bet and the least possible clicks, with priority given to displaying as many markets as possible in a matrix format.

“Design considerations are secondary, although the uptake of mobile has forced consideration towards optimum user experience and making good use of limited screen real estate,” he adds. “Generally, Asia favours functionality and speed; other markets like it to be a little more pretty.”

“Given the huge ex-pat Chinese communities in many SE Asian territories, it’s fair to say that what works in China has a good solid chance of working elsewhere from a presentation perspective.”

Moreover, the high-volume, thin margin business that predominates in Asian markets means further pressure on the suppliers. The focus on football and basketball – as McDonnell points out in many markets the NBA is actually the single biggest league for Asian books although football combined is the largest sport – also means the vast majority of the business comes with very thin margins.

“Therefore suppliers need to be mindful in terms of pricing to the industry,” says Maerz. “Yet we have to be competitive. We have had to also be adept at how we supply our products.”

He points to virtual sports as providing an example. “There you really need to have the product available in different languages but also on the pricing, that has to be competitive as well,” he says. “So it is lower margin.”

Lower margin, maybe, but certainly popular and Maerz suggests that in many respects the product was built for the Asian market, albeit with nuances of presentation. “To make the most of it, we came up with the Asian view; that is, bets that the Asian punter will want,” he says.

A further broadening of the product will inevitably be stunted by the glacial regulatory progress. But the predominance of Asian-facing brands on European-based football shirts is proof at least that more and more people in Asia are betting, and betting with brand names. “You can tell there are plenty of punters,” says Jeyaratnam. “That’s the internet. The infrastructure is there to provide fast streaming. You can watch the games now; anyone can.”