European operator is moving aggressively into US

Can Unibet Make A Dent In The Pennsylvania Online Gambling Industry?

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Unibet fully launched, offering Pennsylvania online gambling on Friday, following a three-day, soft-launch testing period that began on Tuesday.

Pennsylvania law requires that all online gambling operators in the state have a land-based partner. In Unibet’s case, that is the tribal casino Mohegan Sun Pocono, which is outside of Wilkes-Barre, about a two-hour drive north of Philadelphia.

Sports and casino, but no Unibet poker

Unibet’s launch brings the total number of operators in the state to seven.  All seven offer a sportsbook; furthermore, five operators, including Unibet, also provide casino games and slots.

PokerStars-Mount Airy remains the only poker product in the state. Unibet offers online poker on its international platform, having split off from MPN (formerly Microgaming) in 2013. It hasn’t applied for a poker license in Pennsylvania and, as a result, will not be among the options that PA players can expect.

Unibet launched its sportsbook and casino verticals simultaneously and in a well-integrated fashion. Its players will have a single account and balance for both and can easily tab back and forth between the sports and casino sides of the site.

That makes sense, given that Unibet is a company that seeks to balance the two verticals. Some operators skew toward one or the other; for instance, in New Jersey online gambling – the only other state in which Unibet currently operates – Unibet’s revenue has been almost evenly split between sports and casino.

Technical problems during the soft launch were to be expected

The soft launch did not go entirely smoothly. The first testing period, which scheduled to begin at noon on Tuesday, was delayed 90 minutes by unspecified technical difficulties.

Once the site was up and running, some players reported difficulties when attempting to deposit by credit card. There were some reports of similar deposit issues at PokerStars Pennsylvania when it launched last week. In both cases, the problem seems to have been dealt with quite quickly.

Dealing with such glitches is, after all, the reason Pennsylvania mandates a soft-launch testing period for sites so that they can be dealt with prior to the full launch.

Unibet’s head of US marketing, Arnas Janickas, said as much, “It’s a good thing it’s a soft launch – we get an opportunity to fix these things without exposing too many users to those issues.”

That said, another common issue, the lack of an iOS mobile app, is unlikely to be resolved as quickly. Recent policy changes by Apple have imposed significant hurdles on companies attempting to develop mobile gambling apps.

It’s, therefore, the new normal that Apple users should expect new sites’ iOS app to trail the launch of the desktop and Android products by many weeks and probably months.

Unibet takes a local approach to marketing partnerships

Partnerships between gambling companies, sports franchises and media outlets are going to prove to be very important for the US market as it expands. Unibet’s strategy in that regard seems to be to take a very localized approach.

Unibet is primarily a European brand. It didn’t have a history in the US prior to entering the New Jersey market earlier this year. Unibet, therefore, faces an uphill marketing battle against US brands like DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars. There are other competitors with major US media partnerships like The Stars Group with Fox Sports and GVC with MGM.

Its solution looks like it will to take a state-by-state approach and work with local major league sports teams, rather than entire leagues or teams with more nationwide popularity. So far, it has secured marketing deals with the New Jersey Devils in the NHL and the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL.

Generous launch promotions on offer

Aside from its relative lack of brand awareness in the US, Unibet faces the problem in Pennsylvania of having been one of the later operators to go live. Of those originally expected to launch in 2019, only Harrah’s Philadelphia, Valley Forge and Presque Isle Downs have yet to do so.

Unibet online casino and sportsbook is attempting to compensate for that by throwing a generous amount of promotional money at the problem.

First, it offers new players the choice of one of two sign-up packages. Each consists of one instant bonus upon sign-up and one that requires a deposit. One is specific to the sportsbook, while the other is called a “casino welcome package,” but players can apply it to either vertical.

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Two welcome packages: sports and casino

Players who choose the sportsbook package get two $10 free bets for immediate use. If these bets win, only the winnings are credited to the player, not the $10 stake.

After depositing and making at least one $10 cash wager, players can unlock a one-time “risk free” bet of up to $250. This promo requires the player to post the wager using funds in their account. If the bet then loses, the stake is refunded, but as bonus money that the player must wager one more time before it is withdrawable again.

Players who choose the casino package get $10 in bonus cash with a 3x playthrough requirement if used for casino games or 5x if used for sports bets. They then get a 100% first deposit match bonus up to $500. The playthrough requirement for this is 10x if used for sports bets or 20x if used for casino games.

Additional sportsbook promotions

The two sports promotions are ongoing and available for New Jersey players, as well. The first of these offers 10%, 20% and 30% boosts for three-, four- and five-leg parlays. Each of these can be claimed once per week.

The second is more interesting. The “100K Pigskin Parlay” asks players to make a $10 wager on a six-game NFL parlay. To qualify, the user must bet on the favored team to beat the spread in each leg of the bet. If all six teams beat the spread by an additional 9.5 points, the site pays out a $100,000 jackpot.

Gauging by the odds offered on alternative spreads, favorites are about a 3:1 shot to beat the spread by 9.5. Hitting six in a row at those odds is about a 0.02% chance. That means that the jackpot is worth perhaps $20 in equity, which is not bad on a $10 bet. That assumes that it goes to a single player, however. If other bettors duplicate another’s selections, it could be worth a fraction of that.

There is also a weekly casino game promotion. Those wagering $100 at the chosen game will receive $25 in bonus money. This money comes with a 20x playthrough requirement on casino games, or 10x on sports wagers.

All in all, there’s a lot of value on offer at Unibet, particularly in this first week. The strings-free sign-up bonuses should be particularly appealing. They may convince plenty of potential customers to register, although converting them into depositors will be the next challenge.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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