Bally’s new CEO: Online gambling to complement casino operations, not hurt them

Lee Fenton, the newly appointed chief executive officer of Bally's Corp., who formerly ran Gamesys before it was acquired by the Providence-based company, said the company's new focus on online gaming won't take away from land-based casino operations. / COURTESY BALLY'S CORP.
LEE FENTON, the newly appointed CEO of Bally's Corp., who formerly ran Gamesys before it was acquired by the Providence-based company, said the company's new focus on online gaming won't take away from land-based casino operations. / COURTESY BALLY'S CORP.

PROVIDENCE – As locally based Bally’s Corp. realigns itself to become a digital-first leader of the U.S. gambling market in the wake of a multibillion dollar acquisition of British online gaming operator Gamesys Group PLC, it doesn’t mean that its land-based casinos in Rhode Island and throughout the country will be losing out, according to the Bally’s new CEO.

Instead, Bally’s online products that would potentially come to Rhode Island and other states would be complementary to company’s physical gambling destinations such as its casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton, contributing to overall better brand loyalty among gamblers who like to try their luck both online and in person, said Lee Fenton, recently appointed CEO of Bally’s after about 13 years as a top executive at Gamesys.

Fenton, who has been based in London, said he knows online casinos can be complimentary to their brick and mortar counterparts from his experience in New Jersey, where Gamesys has offered online slots and casino games for 7½ years in a partnership with the Tropicana Casino, which is currently operated by Caesars Entertainment. 

“I might be a digital-first guy by virtue of my background, but I very passionately believe the growth of retail will be absolutely aligned with the growth of online,” said Fenton, speaking to Providence Business News on Tuesday afternoon, following Bally’s announcement of the $2.7 billion merger. “What we’ve seen is the growth of our online activity in New Jersey has not just not harmed the retail establishments, but actually enhanced it. It hasn’t cannibalized revenues. It’s grown them.” 

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But what Bally’s is doing now with Gamesys is taking the concept to a new level, Fenton said, with a casino owner and an online gaming operator that are under the same ownership, allowing for an “omnichannel” approach to cater to the preferences of its gamblers. Even though Gamesys captured a healthy 7% of the regulated online gambling share in New Jersey, among more than 30 different casino and poker sites, Gamesys was not necessarily on the same page as the Tropicana, for which it produced a Tropicana-branded online casino, in addition to Gamesys’ own product, the Virgin Casino.

Gamesys had to have a land-based casino to partner with to provide online casino sites in New Jersey as part of their required licensing and regulations.

“The truth is we got that (7% market share) with two arms tied behind our back,” Fenton said “When you’re working with a property partner who isn’t aligned from a financial perspective – we take a revenue share from providing services to them – it’s very challenging finding absolute alignment in that scenario. This acquisition takes away all of those areas. We can create a different dynamic in the company, where you just become so much more customer centric, delivering the right experience to the customer, wherever they may be and however they would like.”

Asked if the recent acquisition will lead to any additional Bally’s staff hired in Rhode Island or expansion to its administrative operations in Providence, Fenton didn’t have any specific plans to share, but said the company’s efforts to become a unified multi-platform provider of retail gambling, mobile sports betting, online casinos and sports broadcasting (about 20 former regional Fox Sports channels were rebranded to Bally’s earlier this year through a partnership with Sinclair Broadcast Group), will lead to future growth in employment in the Ocean State and throughout the country. Including Bally’s Tiverton and Bally’s Twin River Lincoln, which along with the company’s Providence headquarters employ 1,800 people in Rhode Island, Bally’s currently owns and manages 14 casinos across 10 states, along with a horse racetrack in Colorado.

“We’re in growth mode,” said Fenton, noting the recent groundbreaking for a $100 million expansion at the Lincoln casino. “I think you can only expect growth both in Rhode Island and elsewhere. … It’s just really about continuing what is a great Rhode Island success story. We’re looking forward to a very bright future.”

Fenton said he is not going to be moving permanently to Rhode Island, but will spend much of his time in the U.S., including at his new office at the Bally’s headquarters in Providence, where the company pledged to stay until at least 2043, according to recently passed legislation extending the state’s lottery contract for another 20 years with Bally’s and International Game Technology PLC.

“We are a global company now,” Fenton said. “I’ll be spending half my time based out of the U.S., most of that at the Providence office.”

Fenton said he believes the COVID-19 pandemic led everyone to turn to online services more broadly, and that goes for gamblers, too. And for many months during the initial outbreak of the pandemic, casinos were closed down entirely.

This may lead U.S. regulators and state lawmakers to start taking a second look at regulated online gambling, also known as “iGaming,” which currently is not allowed in most states, except for New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“How long it takes the market to come to maturity is difficult to assess,” Fenton said. “Certainly, over the next three years you’ll see an incredible growth in opportunities online in the U.S. and Canada as well, which is starting to legislate now with Ontario.”

Establishing regulated online gaming will also capture revenues lost to unregulated gaming sites currently operating in the U.S., without any legal authority.

“We embrace regulation. We think it’s important,” Fenton said. “Whenever you do get regulation, you get regulators who look to take measures that make it more difficult for sites that are effectively operating where they shouldn’t be. I expect regulators to take care of that.”

As for sports betting in Rhode Island, where Bally’s casinos have been offering the mobile “Sportsbook Rhode Island” app since 2019, the company said an upgrade is in the works. That will come out in 2022, Fenton said.

“We’re working on a 2.0 product, if you like, that will integrate technology already owned with technology Bally’s can gain from Gamesys,” Fenton said.

Bally’s also said it’s waiting to see how Massachusetts proceeds with its sports betting legislation before rolling out a rebranded sports betting app. In Colorado and Iowa, the mobile sports betting offered by the company is called “Bally Bet,” a title that debuted as the company rebranded recently acquired facilities throughout the U.S. under the Bally’s brand name.

“Ultimately, we want consistency across the page,” Fenton said. “Where we can, we’ll lead everything to the Bally Bet app.”

If Bally’s is able to bring online gambling sites into other states, besides New Jersey, Fenton said he imagines at least one of the Gamesys sites that have found success in Europe may come to the U.S., but that these Gamesys sites would be complementary to the primary Bally’s branded online casinos and sports betting apps. In addition to Virgin Games, Gamesys runs online casino platforms including Jackpotjoy, Monopoly Casino, Rainbow Riches Casino and others.

“We do believe in a multibrand model,” Fenton said. “There may be other brands that are part of the stable, if you like, that could be leveraged. Monopoly, for example, I think is one that would resonate with the U.S. audience. … We expect the opportunity is only going to grow over time as more states legislate for online sports betting and iGaming.”

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN.

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