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Live casino, streaming and online slots: the future of live gaming?

Live casino games and online slots are distinct product verticals in online gambling. Both are profitable and popular, but diverge in how they attract players and how they are brought to market.

Online slots are the most popular online gambling product in the UK. According to the UK Gambling Commission from April 2021 - March 2022, online betting, bingo and the casino sector account for £6.4 billion in gross gambling yield (GGY), from a total of £9.9bn (lotteries excluded). Of that £6.4bn, online casino games account for £3.9bn, with online slots responsible for £3bn, so almost a third of the total annual GGY in the UK, with the remaining £900m GGY coming from online casino table games such as roulette and blackjack and live dealers.

With some slight variations in GGY figures, this pattern of online casino game revenue has been the same since the start of online gaming. Slots have always ruled as the most popular and most revenue-generating game. They are also one of the most regulated as they have the highest losses per player: there are rules for how slots are made, how they pay, how fast they spin, and some functions have even been subject to outright bans - we’re, of course, thinking of feature/bonus buy buttons. Moreover, more regulations are on the horizon, with potential stake limits coming into force as part of the upcoming Gambling Act Review.

The long-standing history and popularity of online slots mean it is a very competitive landscape. There are thousands of slot games, a myriad of licensed online software providers creating them and multiple slot sites regularly launching to meet player demand. The popularity is partly due to the fact that they appeal to all players with various themes, styles and bet levels that everyone can enjoy.

As slots generate more revenue, they attract more research and development investment and a continual stream of innovation. There is also much focus on content aggregation, where some companies aggregate numerous games studios and developers to act as a single source of content for operators and provide access to the market for those studios and developers. 

Content aggregation has in fact now become the main route to market for new slots developers, which tend to be smaller and have less resources to develop deals individually. 

There are arguments to be made that the competitive landscape increases the pressure to release new titles, potentially affecting the quality of products, and that content aggregators' own rules can act as restrictions. Alternatively, through content aggregation, slot providers gain access to technology sharing and more resources that make creating and marketing their products more accessible. 

Live casino games

Live casino games are slightly newer than online slots, but have been around for around 15 years already. The live casino market is dominated by Evolution and for a long time the Swedish group was the only provider of live casino games in the sector. There are more competitors these days and suppliers such as Pragmatic Play, Lucky Streak, Bet Construct, Vivo Gaming and Playtech are now making their mark and starting to compete with Evolution. However, unlike online slots, there are only a handful of software providers that supply live games to operators.

While UKGC doesn’t provide details of live casino game revenues, a look at Evolution’s recent results gives an idea of the sector’s revenues and its trajectory. Evolution launched almost 20 years ago and was focused on live casino games and over the past few years acquired leading slot providers, including NetEnt, NoLimit City, Big Time Gaming and Red Tiger Gaming. 

According to Evolution, the high demand for live games has generated a +45% growth rate YoY for 2022, with profit for the last quarter growing 37.1%. In part, the growth is due to the less competitive landscape, but it’s also because live casino customers tend to be high-value players. Stakes on slots start from as low as 1p and tend to max out at around £500 per spin. Live dealers range from 50p a round to £10,000 on high roller tables, meaning live casino players tend to have bigger budgets and more disposable income.

Live streams and online slots

The rise of streaming platforms has brought online slots to new audiences, with online slots play being streamed to significant audiences via sites like Twitch and Youtube.  

As a major streaming platform Twitch attracts millions of viewers who tune in to watch their favourite streamers play real money casino games while acting as major affiliates to casino sites, despite a recent clampdown on crypto gambling.

However, there were two major issues with this: the age of the audience and, therefore, early exposure to casino games through these channels. Exposure to unregulated gambling sites like crypto casinos recently caused Twitch to ban unlicensed casino streams, and signalled a new attitude towards the platform’s responsibility to encourage safe gambling behaviours.

Nevertheless, live streaming has proved so popular that it’s encouraged a new generation of game suppliers, like Livespins.com, to capitalise on the social gaming element and reinvent the gaming space, or as they put it, “socially charging the iGaming space through shared experiences whilst creating a new category of play”. 

The concept is similar to Twitch, but with greater monetisation and social elements. You can play alongside the streamer and bet, meaning it is no longer a one-way experience, and slots are no longer a single-player game. The stakes and prizes are not pooled; your bet and the streamers are separate, but when they win, so do you. Plus, as the session is recorded, it’s also shareable across social media, making it the perfect meeting point between some of the most popular trends both in and outside the casino industry.

Is this the future of online slots and live gaming? Quite possibly, considering that the tech from Livespins brings down the cost of traditional live casino gaming (slots have lower stakes than live dealer games) while providing the same benefits, but with the bonus of greater social media integration.

Nonetheless, this new marriage of live streaming and real money gambling may cause future issues for age-gating and the exposure of younger audiences to gambling content due to its sharable nature, among other regulatory matters. 

However, with Evolution acquiring some of the industry's most innovative and leading slot studios rapidly over the last few years and reporting disappointing slot revenue results, they, alongside other software providers, are primed to take advantage of this new format of live play should they wish.