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The top 6 things I’ve learned about developing, delivering and operating software in the sports betting industry

Alan Brown - Engineering Delivery Director.

I recently reflected on what I’ve learned in my two years leading teams developing, delivering and operating the OpenBet™ sports betting software (SG Digital’s sportsbook product).

1.  Transaction levels are peaky, very peaky

Retailers have Black Friday and New Year Sales, ticketing sites have Peter Kay concerts and motorways have rush hours, but these are all tame compared to the phenomenon of the Aintree Grand National Horse Racing Festival.

The most famous of horse races generates huge numbers of transactions through the OpenBet systems, with the peak periods inconveniently overlapping with the final stages of a busy Saturday of football. In 2018, OpenBet processed a record 34 million bets during the 3-day festival with a single bookmaker hitting the dizzy heights of 20,000 bets in a single minute. These are not just trivial browsing or page view actions, they are effectively financial transactions, requiring at least seven related operations to check and cross-check before being accepted and processed.


2. Performance is not just about placing bets

Developing and operating core systems for market-leading sports betting operators is not trivial - these are some of the busiest online and on-premise services around.

While a sports betting system doesn’t need to deal with physical inventory and shipping, it does need to deal with prices that change several times per minute (along with the scoreboard and video stream to inform and engage the customer). A sports betting system also has a dynamic product set that changes very frequently, as matches start and end, as well as bets that not only need to be accepted but ultimately settled or cashed out. Furthermore, while a fashion retailer or online grocery store will boast about same-day fulfilment, a sports betting operator will aim to pay out winning bets within minutes of the final outcome.

All the time, with every bet and every price change, liabilities need to be calculated and re-calculated so the operator can maintain good visibility of their P&L. That all happens behind the scenes, allowing the customer to experience the tip of the iceberg that is bet placement. Think of it in the sense that everything is in a continuous motion or flow. No part of the underlying data set or platform is static… ever.

3. There’s a huge amount of data

Have you ever stopped to think about how odds are set for rapidly changing markets? When I first tagged along with my father to races at Market Rasen, it really was a guy in a flat-cap with a tatty leather fieldbook and a chalkboard, assisted by the gloved Tic-Tac men forming a network with high latency and low bandwidth network to convey prices around the course.

Today, there are hordes of people gathering sports data in real-time from stadia all over the world, wirelessly transmitting them back to base. These score or in-game changes are further aggregated and processed before algorithms are applied, generating odds with the smallest possible delay.

4. Mobile is King (and Queen)

The fact that mobile was dominating player engagement should be less of a surprise to anyone who has worked on consumer-facing products, as mobile is certainly the key engagement channel in other sectors.

One hurdle to mobile supremacy in the gaming sector was recently cleared when Google announced that Android apps could be offered via the Google Play store (at least in the UK, Ireland and France). This made it easier for operators to distribute their Android apps and easier for consumers to be confident they are installing a legitimate app.

The convenience of the mobile channel, coupled with low-latency systems like OpenBet, has massively reduced the time it takes people to place bets over the last few years. With TouchID for authentication and rapid deposits from previously saved cards, an in-play bet can be placed within a matter of seconds.

Whilst the native app may be King, mobile websites are still very popular with modern JavaScript frameworks and libraries, like React and Redux, offering a native-like experience all within the humble mobile browser.

5. You’ve got to evolve and innovate quickly to provide the operators and their consumers with what they want

The flexibility of digital channels provides massive opportunities for innovation to improve the offering to operators and consumers. Consumers are demanding more sports, more markets, more combinations of bets and even the option to change a bet once struck (which would have been unthinkable a few years ago).

For the team at SG Digital, designing and developing these next generation betting features, often in conjunction with operators, is a key focus. The functional requirements are often the easy part to deliver - solving “How will it work on Grand National day?” is often much harder.

6. The customer experience is paramount

The volume of betting opportunities (events and markets) is clearly important to ensure a broad range of customer interests are catered for; however, it is critical that volume or complexity does not come at the expense of the customer experience. Sensible navigational hierarchies as well as customisation and personalisation are needed to offer customers quick and easy ways of finding their chosen markets amongst tens of thousands of others. 

Whilst they may be less frequently used than bet placement, the deposit and withdrawal journeys also need to be as frictionless to ensure a pleasant start and end to the engagement. 


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