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How Should Gaming Operators in Serbia Cope with the Implications of the Corona Virus?

by Ivan Stefanović, Deloitte

Turmoil is probably the best word to describe the situation in the gambling industry in Serbia at this moment. Not only had significant technology developments and potential arrivals of new competitors threatened to result in a significant industry shake-out, but also recently adopted restrictive regulations have imposed additional pressure on shaping the future landscape of the gambling industry. And just when things got as complicated as one might imagine, the situation took another twist – the corona virus outbreak.

After the Government declared a state of emergency and put social distancing in effect as a new form of behavior, gambling operators were forced to temporarily close down their land-based operations and focus on online platforms.

Widespread devastating economic effects of the corona virus are becoming more evident, posing new challenges with each day that passes. The gambling industry, which has traditionally been one of the most resilient ones in the midst of severe economic crises, is showing signs of impairment.

After the Government declared a state of emergency and put social distancing in effect as a new form of behavior, gambling operators were forced to temporarily close down their land-based operations and focus on online platforms. However, with sporting events being canceled all around the world, the assortment of actionable opportunities has become much poorer. These circumstances are forcing gambling operators to rethink their prevailing business models, and find new ways in which they can create and deliver value for their customers.

The implications of this situation will be multifaceted. For one thing, in the short-term, operators are forced to enrich their product and service portfolios. This could be done by launching comprehensive offerings of events in the e-sports space, which has grown into a full industry in its own right. Besides that, there are some sports disciplines that could gain traction during this period thanks to their ability to cope with limitations posed by social distancing. For example, the MMA has somehow been under the radar of the majority of operators in Serbia in the previous period despite its enormous growth in global popularity. The UFC, as the number one promotion in the MMA, has made a game-changing decision by moving its events into the APEX, its state-of-the-art facility that allows it to create high-quality sport content (without the presence of an audience) that will be distributed through a pay-per-view system. Of course, in order to enhance their offerings with e-sports, the UFC and other events, operators must act quickly and establish the necessary level of in-depth knowledge and skills in the aforementioned areas within their organizations. This will not be an easy task to master.

In the medium-term, operators should re-examine their operating models, in order to find more efficient ways of creating and delivering value to their customers. This means management should focus on: (1) business process optimization, using lean methodology in order to eliminate process waste, (2) business process automation using software robots, in order to automate repetitive and high-frequency standardized activities that are currently done manually; (3) organizational re-design in order to make their organizations more flexible and responsive to the changes happening around them; and (4) appropriate talent management practices in order to attract, develop, and retain the right people in the right positions.

In the medium to long-term perspective, operators need to do a deep dive into the almost endless-world of technological possibilities and develop their own digital strategies. Technologies that seem promising for the front-end at this moment are definitely natural language processing, virtual/augmented reality, and visualization, while at the back-end one should consider cognitive computing, cloud, robotic process automation, and advanced analytics. Of course, choosing the right technologies comes only after the decision on the TO-BE business model is made, but even then, every operator should start from the relatively simple ones and then move towards more complex solutions.

Coping with the challenges posed by the current situation in the gambling industry requires having a clear vision, specified TO-BE business model with the accompanying business strategy, appropriate organizational design in place, and a company culture that will drive the enthusiasm and efforts of every single individual in the same direction. Taking this into account, it seems that the bold forward-looking leaders will be in high demand in the years to come.