Smartphones have transformed the gambling industry. Digital turnover for ASX-listed Tabcorp – which generated more than $2 billion in revenue in FY17 – grew by close to 14 per cent over the last financial year.
But physical bookmakers and betting venues remain an important part of the company’s business model. Tabcorp considers its retail network as a key point of difference from its online-only wagering competitors.
“To the end customer, Tabcorp venue partners are the face of the business. Ensuring Tabcorp retail venue partners feel valued is a key part of delivering an optimal experience for the end customer,” explains chief information officer Kim Wenn.
The gambling giant’s licensed venue and agency partners also play an important role in the community, the company says. With the rise and rise of bets made in-app, their future needed to be secured.
“Pubs and clubs are part of the Australian social fabric and the erosion of wagering revenue through the growth in digital wagering impacts the communities they serve,” Wenn, who leads a technology team of more than 900 people, explains.
A trend was emerging: often customers would place bets via digital devices, even when they were in a retail venue. On average, up to three per cent of betting turnover in retail venues is now placed through the TAB app rather than over the counter or through an electronic betting terminal in the venue.
But there was a problem. Bets made on smartphones and tablets ‘in-store’ were not being captured, meaning partners were potentially missing out on due commission.
After a number of experiments and fast fails, Wenn’s team this year launched digital commissions. It has proven hugely successful – in the first six months’ since its introduction, the system picked up more than $100 million in in-venue digital turnover and delivered the applicable commission on these bets to the retail channel. What’s more it saved more than $4 million in potential hardware and rollout costs.
It is in no small part thanks to Wenn and her team that digital gambling has really taken off in Australia.
The company’s apps and websites are considered “best in class” by Tabcorp CEO David Attenborough, with new features being constantly added like Quaddie Cash Out, Check Collect and Bundle Bet to name a few.
“But the digitisation of the wagering business was leaving Tabcorp’s venue partners behind,” Wenn says.
“My technology team needed to act fast to find a technology solution that would bring the company’s retail network into the digital wagering world.”
An initial proposal planned to put Bluetooth beacons in Tabcorp’s more than 2,800 retail venues in Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT. It was quickly determined to be unviable in terms of cost of the hardware and installation.
“This was strategically overcome with the new solution removing any need for hardware,” Wenn says.
After much experimentation, the team instead used a GPS, Google Maps and sophisticated big data enabled reporting solution, with no hardware required.
“We’ve embraced an agile way of working. This agile thinking allowed the team to quickly adapt to find a new solution,” Wenn says. “The ability to scale rapidly meant Tabcorp’s retail venue partners saw results quickly which was important from a cultural impact perspective.”
The financial impact was significant too. The company’s retail wagering network received commission on more than $100 million of bets in their venues. Some venues are receiving commission on an additional 8.5 per cent of turnover that previously wouldn’t have been picked up.
The Australian Hotels Association – one of Tabcorp’s largest venue partners – even went out publicly to thank Tabcorp for the initiative.
Another recent initiative has also supported the retail channel, and given customers greater choice while keeping within strict regulatory requirements.
Keno – a lottery-like gambling game – is an important and growing part of Tabcorp’s offering. Keno revenues reached just over $212.7 million in FY17, up two per cent from the previous year.
A digital offering of the app saw 13,400 customers sign up. But the company had to make it’s app work within the bounds of NSW government regulation which restricts Keno play to within a venue boundary.
“We needed to find a solution that enabled a customer to play Keno via the app within a venue, but for the play to be disabled once outside the venue. The boundary needed to be strictly accurate to adhere to regulation,” Wenn says.
“The innovation process consisted of working through a large number of prototypes to determine which technologies were worthy of further exploration. Through this process we eliminated many technologies and solution designs in a short period of time for very low cost by executing short, highly focused proof of concepts,” she adds.
The result – developed in partnership with Israeli indoor location technology firm Spreo – utilises 3D geo-fencing with Bluetooth beacons, intelligent floorplans and a complex algorithm embedded in the Keno app. It meets the regulatory requirement of accuracy to within one metre with the ability to recognise a physical boundary.
“Once the high level solution was identified, the team and I began to rapidly iterate to improve the proof of concept design. To date the team has rolled out over 170 iterations of the geofencing software, each one delivering an incremental improvement to some aspect of the system. It’s a continuous cycle of innovation,” Wenn says.
“The team continues to gather feedback from customers, venue partners and analytics platforms to identify further areas for improvement and have a long list of further innovations and enhancements they are working through.”
Seat at the table
Wenn has a seat at the Tabcorp executive table, which she considers “vital to achieve success as a CIO”.
“Tabcorp is essentially a large technology company, processing millions of transactions each year. We compete in a highly competitive and regulated environment – innovation and technology enhancements are crucial to our company’s financial success,” she says.
“My biggest lesson is understanding that all organisations are disrupted through technology. It is important for CIOs to work collaboratively with business peers to embrace the changes – and not be too defensive of decisions made in the past. It’s easy to defend – it’s really hard to find a way to disrupt with your peers.”
As well as raising the level of collaboration between the technology division and the wider business, Wenn is a noted champion of women in the industry.
She is involved in formal mentoring programs at Tabcorp including the Women’s Mentoring Program – a 12-week programme designed to empower and grow females to fulfil their personal and professional goals – which has been completed by more than 150 women at the company.
Wenn also supports a mentoring group in her team called “Women in Wagering” and a technology community outside of Tabcorp called Node Girls. Women in Wagering is a self-starting group that meet monthly to discuss challenges in the sector. Node Girls is led by a Tabcorp developer and offers workshops for women who would like to learn and develop their coding skills.
Wenn this year also led a project to conduct research into the lack of women in STEM based careers and begin a national debate about ways to fix the problem.
Her efforts mean women now make up 39 per cent of the Tabcorp’s senior leadership roles.
“This has been a period of profound technological change at Tabcorp as we have responded to the shift in preference towards digital betting from our customers while simultaneously bolstering our retail network,” said David Attenborough, managing director and chief executive officer Tabcorp. “Both the size and importance of our technology function has grown markedly during this time.”
And given the huge successes of Wenn’s team over recent years, it’s a safe bet that will continue.