Social gaming: An appetizer to the main course? By Nick Sortal, CDC Gaming Reports November 16, 2017 at 8:41 am We know that social gaming (online games that involve a social network) still has plenty of unexplored territory. We also know that to be a successful casino in the future, you’re going to have social casino gaming in your mix. But there’s a lot we don’t know. Will the laws change to allow playing for money, rather than for fun? Will social casino gaming be profitable as a stand-alone venture or is it vital to somehow connect players to the existing brick-and-mortar establishments? AGS is betting on the latter. Bryan Bennett, senior vice president of AGS Interactive, sees social gaming acting more as an appetizer to the main course – which is in the casinos. To that end, AGS creates mobile games that mirror the titles they provide to casinos.“Casino partners are starting to understand, ‘Hey, when my players leave my floor, they’re playing these social casinos. So why shouldn’t they play mine?’” Bennett says. “We know the real win for the casino is getting them back on property.” AGS titles for social casino gaming include Buffalo Jackpots, Golden Wins, Jade Wins, Colossal Diamonds; they range from slots to table games such as blackjack, to video poker and bingo.“We feel pretty strongly that the games played on social/mobile need to be the same as that the player experiences on the casino floor,” Bennett says. “So when we launch a new AGS land-based title in our social apps, it’s as much of a one-to-one port as the technology allows. While all the animations and things of that nature may not be exact, the math, art, sounds, and music are as close as our mobile technology will allow. “ Offering familiar games allows casino marketers to then play to their strengths, Bennett says. “We want casinos to use the two things they bring to the party, and that’s their brand and their databases,” he says. “Most of our casino customers have databases in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, and those are the customers they should be focused on.” Social gamers are connected to casinos, according to research from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming. Their study shows that 85 percent of social casino players visit a casino at least twice a year. Bennett suggests bolstering that bond by allowing customers to earn credits playing social games online and then redeem those points upon return to the land-based property. A social gaming portfolio came to AGS via an acquisition, which kind of brings a storyline full circle. AGS, originally known as American Gaming Systems, was rebranded AGS after being purchased in 2013 by funds affiliated with Apollo Global Management. Since then, AGS itself has made $425 million in acquisitions, including approximately $375 million for Cadillac Jack. Then in June 2015, AGS acquired RocketPlay, a startup Bennett joined as a founding executive in 2012. “At the time, some casino customers wanted to partner with us, but it wasn’t in our wheelhouse. Casinos were still exploring this space and determining what they wanted and how to integrate it into their existing marketing, communications, and player promotions programs,” Bennett says. Since then, the social division of AGS, now called AGS Interactive, took the platform that was built for a direct-to-consumer offering, and applied it to casino partners’ players. “We were able to take the consumer-oriented platform we built and create a white-label functionality that could be offered to casino customers. We really pivoted into that business in the first of this year,” he says. Current clients include BJ’s Bingo & Gaming near Tacoma; Shoaltwater Bay Casino in Washington; and Gray Wolf Peak Casino in Missoula, Montana. AGS is now targeting larger properties. Bennett says that the decision whether to use social casinos for generating revenue or purely for marketing should depend on the operator. “When we’re discussing B2B white label options with operators, we’re quick to point out that both options are available and that we’ll work with them every step of the way to make sure our solutions meet their unique needs,” he says. He also acknowledges that real money online gaming is still very small in the U.S., so for now, AGS sees a bigger opportunity internationally. But whatever development happens next, it isn’t difficult to deduce the elements: nobody is getting rid of their smartphones, and very, very few jurisdictions around the world have ever reduced their available gaming offerings. So somewhere in the future, those elements are likely to become much more tightly entwined. Exactly how and exactly when is yet to be determined.