LatAm operators find silver linings in times of crisis

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Operators in Latin America – a sports-centric and retail-heavy region now deprived of its main drivers – speak at the SBC Digital Summit about the challenges, but also opportunities, presented by the covid pandemic.


Staying afloat through the covid19 pandemic has thrown up a myriad of major challenges for operators in Latin American markets. 

With many firms in the region relying heavily on sportsbooks – and often via cash bets from unregistered retail players – the dual impact of lockdowns and the cessation of sports has, in the short term, been crushing.

Yet even in these most trying of times, speakers at the SBC Digital Summit showed an unshakable flare for looking on the bright side – finding in the crisis an opportunity to diversify and expand their offering, while speeding up the inevitable process of responsibly moving more of their customer base online.

“We’ve gone through a few phases,” said JD Duarte, CEO of Betcris. “We have to find a new routine, as far as what products we have to offer, and how to keep our customers active, while considering they might have other things on their minds at this time, and keeping their health as our number one concern.”

Duarte described the initial challenge was to ensure staff could work from home, before  renegotiating financial obligations to prevent supply chain disruption, while preparing for the fact that many customers may suddenly want to withdraw their funds (which thankfully did not happen.)

“The next phase was to focus on the product, what we could add to our offering, and how we communicate to our customers – which was a challenge, because most of them cannot go to our shops, they don’t visit our website, and most don’t read their emails. So this is something we’ve been working on overcoming,” Duarte said.

“The third phase will be waiting for the leagues to return and monitoring how the economies recover in the different markets in which we operate.”

In terms of the takeaways, Duarte assured that when life returns to a “new normal”, remote working will continue at Betcris – given productivity has risen rather than fallen – with office work only in special circumstances. Daurte said the firm was taking the time to hone how it interacts with clients, and add and understand more verticals, while “ staying true to the identity of the business.”

“As humans we need to develop antibodies to this virus – and as companies we need to do the same,” he added. ”To find ways to be virus resistant, so we can prepare for what might become a seasonal thing, or something that happens more often.”  

Alberto Alfieri, COO at Vivagol, noted the acute difficulties in his home market of Portugal, where esports and other potential cross sells are not allowed. “We had to review everything from marketing strategies to communication and spending,” said Alfieri. Adding to the challenge, Portuguese operators decided to adopt responsible advertising “which also reduced communication.”

Yet the heightened risks associated with the lockdown was itself proving to be a good opportunity to implement strong responsible gambling initiatives, Alfieri considered – which are increasingly required by regulators, with or without a pandemic.

“With less events, and more people spending time at home, with less income, the overall environment has changed; the psychology of the players has changed.” While responsible gambling and education should already be a priority for all operators, now is a good opportunity to understand what that entails and implement it.

For Gonzalo Perez, CEO of Apuesta Total – which relies on retail for 85 percent of revenues – there was no overstating how consequential the pandemic has been. The firm has been working on migrating retail players to new online services (a tall order given many pay in cash and have not registered online) while also balancing a responsible approach.

“Our customers, from one day to another, may have no income,” Perez reminded. “So we don’t want to be too aggressive with the advertising.” In fact the firm has taken the opportunity to give something back to the community, while also introducing its players to its site, by launching free bingo with cash prizes through Facebook. “99 percent of the comments are positive because people recognise that were entertaining and also helping people.”

Overall there are many lessons to be learnt from the crisis, Perez concluded. “Even though we are retail focused we need to boost our online channel. We have some really big competitors, who have a lot of experiences. And while we trust in our knowledge of the markets – there is a lot we can take from this situation, and move forward to increase our sales and give our customers a better experience.”


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