Google Not Interested in Becoming 'Gambling Company'

Google Not Interested in Becoming 'Gambling Company'

Google considers an expanding legal sports betting market in the United States as a tremendous opportunity.

But even though the multi-national technology behemoth helps a global customer base awaken for work, digest its daily news or find the best Thai restaurant in an unfamiliar city, it will likely never help those inquisitors place a legal sports bet.

So much for "Hey Google, bet $50 on the Warriors tonight."

Google can still be a major player in helping groom a nascent domestic market still less than a year since the Supreme Court repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Google’s advertising policy – yet to be finalized for the United States – will impact which companies have influence on customers interesting in betting.

And Google is committed, says Chris Harrison, Google Industry Head - Financial Trading and Egaming, to curtailing an illegal offshore market that remains lucrative and intrusive as only eight states have legalized and formalized sports betting as an industry so far.

In an expansive interview presented as part of Gambling.com's media partnership with Betting on Sports America 2019, which will take place at the Meadowlands Exposition Center from April 23-25, we spoke with Harrison about business, ethics and wagering.

Gambling.com: What is the extent of Google’s interest in and connection to legal sports betting?

Chris Harrison: Google have a long and varied history when it comes to supporting partners in the legal sports betting space, specifically in Europe, Australia and South America.

For the markets we are active in, we support our partners with both advertising and ad/marketing technology throughout Google Marketing Platform suite of products. This provides a unified advertising and analytics platform for smarter marketing and better results.

Further to this, we are now working with a number of gambling companies with our cloud computing solutions. All this activity is primarily run out of specialist gambling teams in London, Tel Aviv and Australia.

Our bread and butter with the industry is in search, video and app advertising working to business objectives such as (net gaming revenue) impact and new customer acquisition.

GDC: Do you believe that advertising revenue will be a boon for Google?

CH: I think we have to tread very carefully, Google has yet to open up to advertising in the US yet. We have to make sure that when we do, we do it in the right way taking a user first approach whilst also recognizing the needs of our client base.

We also need to balance a Google product set designed to work across the country with different state regulations. It’s been interesting trying to get our head around how that's going to work from the state level, whilst also understanding what PASPA means in the wake of the shift at the Department of Justice on the Wire Act.

We are also trying to get the balance right between protecting users, recognizing client needs and then realizing there is an unregulated industry. We understand that we have a role to play in allowing the regulated operators to position themselves favorably against the unregulated industry.

Finally, we're trying to work out what the Wire Act changes mean for the different gambling products; sports casino, poker, daily fantasy sports and then the lotteries. It’s taking a little bit of time.

GDC: Is working out standards and practices and navigating regulations regarding advertising more difficult on a state-by-state basis?

CH: Absolutely. If you are regulated in New Jersey for example, a New Jersey license allows you to advertise across the U.S. But you can only place a bet within New Jersey. From the Google point of view, we have to recognize local state regulation, whilst also considering the cultural norms of any given state.

Do we want to allow advertising in Utah for someone that could only then place a bet in New Jersey for example? So, for us, when we (join) the industry we will start slow, test and learn and examine impact.

We also would have to work out what does that mean for the Play Store? How do we segregate the Play Store by state? Again, no other industry brings these demands, and so anything that we do has to be bespoke to the space. And we're still working that through.

We hope to be able to come to the market in the not-too-distant future with our plans for how we can open up our products to the industry.

GDC: So this is more about standards and practices than permitting?

CH: Yeah, correct. We have to be comfortable that any position we take works in the best interest of our users and the customers.

For us, regulation is a huge signal and will be the building block of anything that we do. We also take into consideration the norms and acceptance of gambling in any given state. We have to recognize customer concerns and face those as well.

So, it's far from black or white in terms of opening up and allowing advertisers to use Google’s products and platforms.

GDC: What would sports betting advertising on Google look like?

CH: We can look to the UK and how we work with the industry as a reasonable guide for how we will open up in the U.S. Every sportsbook would have to be licensed and therefore regulated in order to be allowed to advertise with Google. This applies across all of our products.

For search specifically, our advertising slots take up the first few listings and the bottom few listings following a search query. Any sportsbook advertiser would need to bid on keywords, connected to queries, in order to appear.

We have a quality score component that would kick in alongside the bid to determine what ad appears and in what position on the page. Higher volume queries or queries that bring in higher value players would typically see higher bids.

It's an auction and this provides all regulated operators with a level playing field for competing for new customers, engaging with existing customers and ultimately growing NGR.

GDC: Does Google have an obligation or financial incentive to thwart offshore sportsbooks in the United States?

CH: We don't allow ads from the offshore unregulated market on any of our products. You would need to have a license to advertise with Google. But one of the reasons why we are yet to allow advertising in the U.S. is because we're trying to work out how we can work with the States, connect this to our back-end systems and be 100 percent sure that anyone advertising on Google does have a license.

Further to the requirement for a license, we have a number of checks and balances that are put into place to ensure only regulated operators are able to advertise. We restrict top gambling keywords to only those that have a license, we also have machine learning tech running 24/7 on ads and creative to ensure that these fall in line with our policies and are again restricted to only those with a license.

GDC: Does Google have gaming partners?

CH: No. Our role at this stage is as a technology and advertising partner. Google wouldn't be putting itself out there as a gambling company.

GDC: What about in the longer-term future?

CH: We are yet to open with advertising, in a space that has been regulated for seven or eight months, so I think that probably gives you an indication as to how we are approaching gambling: with a huge amount of trepidation, a huge amount of precaution.

I wouldn't say “never,” but through all the years gambling has been allowed in the UK, it's never been a conversation I’ve ever been part of.



GDC: Could your new video game platform become a gateway to betting?

CH: No. That is very much for the gaming side, not the gambling stuff.

GDC: How important is the mobile product in the U.S.?

CH: It's huge, in the UK we see 70% plus of all gambling queries coming through mobile devices. This industry went “mobile first” some 10 years ago. We're already seeing this with the results coming out of New Jersey, with 80% plus of total New Jersey betting handle coming through mobile devices.

How this plays out against legislative and constitutional issues in other states is still to be seen.

GDC: How big can the U.S. market be?

CH: There is obviously huge potential. The U.S. has a unique opportunity to learn the lessons of the European and Australian markets. The states that can find the right balance of customer protections, advertising regulation and taxation will see a thriving market, well positioned to support the state for years to come.

There are still some challenges with how the states manage cross state issues, money laundering, (know your customer) processes etc., but the foundations are there. This is a sports-mad country already engaging with the offline gambling industry and through unregulated operators in those states still (yet) to regulate for online betting.

I like what I am seeing in New Jersey. Lots of competition, great products and a thriving mobile industry. The discussions we have been a part of to this point focus on pushing the boundaries of what is possible with tech.

The industry has smart people wanting to build an ecosystem that can exist and thrive for many years to come. Customers are happy because they can bet when they want to, on what they want to, and this is a positive for everyone.

I recognize that this isn't possible today in all states for a whole bunch of reasons, but this should be the aim.

Chris Harrison will participate on a panel entitled, “Where Does Betting Fit Into The Sports Media Landscape?” at Betting on Sports America at 4:35 p.m. on April 25.

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