Listen as Knup sits down with iGaming veteran Victor Bigio of Sportech. The guys talk legalized sports betting, future of offshores, Victor’s career path and much more.
Ryan Knuppel: 00:00 All right. Welcome to the Knup Sports Show. I’m here with a very special guest today. I have Victor Bigio on the line. Victor, are you with me?
Victor Bigio: 00:08 I am here and very excited to be here on this podcast.
Ryan Knuppel: 00:11 Awesome. Thank you so much for joining me. For those of you that don’t know Victor, a lot of you probably do know Victor from his time in this iGaming space, but he’s a sports book and online gaming marketing consultant currently working with Sportech.
Ryan Knuppel: 00:24 Victor, you’ve been around this industry for quite a while. Tell us how you got involved. We’ll just jump right in, but tell us how you got involved with iGaming space and most recently more of the Sportsbook side of things.
Victor Bigio: 00:37 Yeah, sure. Absolutely. Well, being based up here in Canada, I can tell you that it gets cold most of the year, or at least a good chunk of the year. So growing up, it was a lot of time spent in bars watching sports, finding out that you could make bets, usually at a lot of these bars.
Victor Bigio: 00:57 I would say I never thought it would really be anything more than just recreation for me, but in mid 2000 I met someone up here who asked me how much I knew about sports betting, and after I got over the fact that I wasn’t being audited or this guy was a cop or something, he actually was the head of sales for Sportsbook Software company. That was back in 2000, so it was a pretty rudimentary piece of software as you can imagine, really meant to help offshore call center operators.
Victor Bigio: 01:25 So I said, “Well, I knew a fair amount about it and and enough to get myself in trouble.” And he said, “Great, how’d you like to move to Costa Rica in three weeks time?” And so, sure enough, that’s what I ended up doing with another couple of folks, and we ended up getting into the industry during the wild west time of online betting all the way back in 2000. I can’t say that I really studied to do it. I had a background in marketing, but it was really just dumb luck that I met somebody who was in the industry looking for people who wanted to get involved in sales and marketing, so there it was.
Ryan Knuppel: 02:03 That’s really cool. So you’ve been in this industry for 15 to 20 years. We’ve actually been acquaintances online for quite a while as I’ve been in the industry for years as well, but we actually met in person for the first time down at the SBC event in New Jersey, and it was very apparent to me that you had been around the industry for a while and you’ve done a good job at making connections.
Ryan Knuppel: 02:30 It seemed like you knew just about everybody at that event, which I thought was really cool because that’s one thing that’s overlooked in this industry is the the cool connections and networking and people that you meet. I guess, explain a little bit. Was that by design, or did you just know people from your time here? I mean, I was blown away by the number of people you knew and it just seemed like everywhere you went you were in a conversation. Was that by design or just kind of something you’re good at?
Victor Bigio: 02:58 I mean first of all I think it’s being able to talk to people. Certainly I have no problem with words, as you probably know from our time sitting down together. I mean, it’s a little bit by design, but also I think it’s a real testament to the industry itself. This was an industry, especially on the online side and especially on the North American facing side, where we did not really spend a lot of time face to face for obvious reasons. Because people’s travel schedules are very different, where they were based was spread all over, so these shows really were an opportunity to meet the people that you were talking to in the beginning via MSN messenger and email and things like that, and now we have the opportunity to actually see them a couple times a year.
Victor Bigio: 03:46 So once you got used to the faces, and if I’m being quite honest, once you can be reminded of the faces in the era of social media and LinkedIn and so forth, it does make it a lot easier to walk up to somebody that you haven’t spoken to in a few years time. But to me, what I’ve always been shocked by certainly in the last year, especially in the US as there’ve been so many shows in the US over the last year, is just how many people have been in the industry just as long or even longer than I have. And that’s pretty remarkable considering all the ups and downs this industry has faced.
Ryan Knuppel: 04:20 Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So yeah, you spent a lot of time at different companies. I’m looking back through kind of your resume. You got some time at Odds On Gaming and some poker stuff and some other other companies. So now you’re currently at Sportech, right?
Victor Bigio: 04:35 That’s right.
Ryan Knuppel: 04:35 Explain a little bit about your role at Sportech, and I guess how long you’d been there, what you’re doing, and I guess what your role entails.
Victor Bigio: 04:42 Yeah, sure. So, it’s funny how things come full circle. I started out in the sports betting side of the business, sort of morphed along the way to casino, and then poker when it was really popular, and then for various reasons you you find new avenues for your businesses. I’ve been consulting for just under 10 years now, or just over 10 years, sometimes the years escaped me, and it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve done a lot of work that I didn’t know that I would ever get into, whether it be on the lottery side of the business or with the early days of mobile gaming, skill gaming when it was unheard of that somebody might be able to play a skill game for money.
Victor Bigio: 05:23 And then, that’s how I actually interacted with Sportech at the beginning. I did some consulting for them a few years back on a social gaming project they were working on, and then a about a year and a half ago I got a call, because their CEO is based here in Toronto as well, saying, “Look, we have a horse racing business software that runs all the tote and we’ve got 90 clients in the US. As you can imagine, US sports betting is going to be at the top of everybody’s lips and minds, and so we would like to have you come board given your expertise in the sports betting field to help us build out a B to B strategy for our clients, and also a B to C strategy since Sportech owns the license for horse racing in Connecticut and invariably we’ll get a license in that state barring any issues with the tribes, so that’s a different conversation altogether.”
Victor Bigio: 06:21 But yeah, so for the last year and change, I’ve been helping their clients prepare themselves for sports betting, because these are a lot of racetracks and OTBs that will either need some new hardware or need a more focused digital presence or just needed marketing help in general, and then also assisting where possible with the negotiations that have been going on in Connecticut for legislation in there as well.
Ryan Knuppel: 06:45 That’s awesome. Well, congrats on that role. I mean, that’s a good company and that’s a great role, and you certainly have the experience to be there, so that’s pretty cool.
Victor Bigio: 06:54 Yeah, it’s a great opportunity. I mean, I really think that that the horse racing in business, if you’ve ever spent any time at a track, you realize there’s just a lot of romance around horses. Unfortunately that hasn’t translated into people going through the turnstiles, and the betting revenues are down for various reasons, but there’s still some beautiful locations. The race tracks are definitely in that first echelon of US gaming entities that are receiving sports betting licenses, so Sportech’s really sitting in the catbird seat with this many people using their technology already.
Ryan Knuppel: 07:33 Yeah, that’s really cool. That’s a good opportunity for them and you and everybody, so I can’t wait to see how that progresses in the US especially, and as these new states come on board it’s going to be fun to watch.
Ryan Knuppel: 07:43 Speaking of new states, I mean, I know you’re very active on LinkedIn and you kind of follow the industry as much as I do in terms of news and just what’s going on. I mean, man, we’re seeing a frenzy of news over the last 6 to 9 to 12 months with different media partnerships, different states coming on board, different casinos and operators jumping into the space. Oh, I mean, I don’t have a specific question yet, but just give me some, I guess, dots on this area. I mean, let’s talk a little bit just about this industry, especially in the legalized United States sports betting space. It’s wild right now.
Victor Bigio: 08:21 Yeah, I mean look, I don’t think you could ask me a specific question because I don’t know if I can give a specific answer. So, as someone who has seen the industry in that country grow crazily in a very gray area and then be chopped down in various forms, no one is happier to see legislation than me, because we go to these shows, people talk about the US being a fledgling market, and it might be for certain types of betters, but there’s billions upon billions of dollars already being bet on sports in the US illegally. So, the good news is the market is more mature than some might think, but that also is a detriment because there’s a lot of offshore sites that continue to make lots of money who aren’t going to go anywhere just because there’s legislation.
Ryan Knuppel: 09:12 Well hold on, let me jump in right there real quick, because I think that’s a subject that doesn’t get talked about enough in this space and maybe just because it is such a gray area, but you made the comment that the offshores aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I mean, is that truly your belief? Do you think that they’re going to be around and they’re still going to have US clients for the near future here, or do you think something big is going to happen where they go away magically? I don’t know how that would happen, but I’m curious to get a little more insight into that take that you just had there.
Victor Bigio: 09:44 Sure. And it’s interesting because this is something I tend to talk about when I’m on panels and so forth, too. I’m trying not to be pessimistic about it, but it is just trying to be realistic about it. There’s a couple of things at play here. First of all, because of the digital age, first let’s talk about the Wire Act. The Wire Act is designed or has been tried to be used to thwart these offshore books, but unfortunately even if you’re breaking the law in the US, if you’re living in a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty and you don’t go back to the US, then I don’t know exactly how you’re going to get caught, and they can be as brazen as they seemingly want to be.
Victor Bigio: 10:29 I mean podcasts like yours, I’m surprised haven’t been infiltrated by sportsbetting.ag or one of those other online sites that I always hear advertising on some of the other larger podcasts across the US, but again, that’s because there’s nothing stopping either party from being involved in that transaction.
Victor Bigio: 10:48 So, let me take you through another argument that people have, which is, while people are going to be more trusting of a local place that they know is a land based casino they know exists, and that might be the case for a novice better, but if you see an ad for Bovada or hear an ad for a sports book on a podcast, and you go to that site and take their cue to make your bet and win that bet and withdraw your money and you get a check or Bitcoin or however else that they can pay you, they’ve already created a circle of trust, and if you’re a person who doesn’t need to bet on multiple books then you might just not be bothered to stop playing there.
Victor Bigio: 11:31 So, it’s going to be tougher to pull back a lot of that business, especially because the onshore, the legal sites, are going to be paying taxes and will have to price their bets accordingly. I think we saw in New Jersey when, I think it was DraftKings that launched their book and had prices that were so far off of what the offshore books were offering, that somebody posted it immediately on Twitter and they had to readjust their pricing and so forth.
Victor Bigio: 11:58 So do I think there’ll be some consolidation? Sure. Do I think that they’re going anywhere, the big guys? No, of course not. I mean, in fact all we’ve been doing over the last 12 months by making sports betting a national conversation, but legislation a state by state conversation, is that if you’re someone sitting in California right now and you’re listening to this podcast or another podcast about gaming or turn on ESPN and see something about betting and you want to bet, you go on Google, type in online sports betting, and one of the offshore sites comes up.
Victor Bigio: 12:30 So all we’re doing right now is filling the databases of illegal companies. Maybe not to a massive number, but that doesn’t matter. We need to make sure legislation passes faster than it is across the country in order to start to find a way to combat these offshore sites.
Ryan Knuppel: 12:49 Yeah, and I mean what can or what could the US government I guess, or the state by state government do to stop something like this? Especially now because most of these offshores … It used to be, okay, we’re going to stop credit card processing so you can’t deposit into these offshores. That was the solution back in the day, but now with this crypto and Bitcoin and all the different ways of funding an account, I mean what really, I guess, can they do to stop it?
Victor Bigio: 13:20 You bring up a good point. There’s no question that it’s much harder than ever before to get your money to and from an offshore sports book, and that has slowed the industry down. There’s no question about that. But you’re right, there’s just multiple options to fund accounts that seemingly are harder to control.
Victor Bigio: 13:44 I don’t know if there’s a solution that’s a hundred percent foolproof. I think there’s some European countries that have done IP blocking, but it’ll only be a matter of time before the offshore sites would just create new Ip’s, and it’d just be a constant cat and mouse game, but it has worked to a degree. I mean, you could make legislation stronger worded against these sites, but again, unless there’s a way to actually indict them, and there have been, certainly in the poker world, there have been US district attorneys that have been able to do it at least remotely successfully.
Victor Bigio: 14:23 And then I think finally, and probably the easiest thing that a state could do, or at least the FCC could do, is just not allow these advertisers to accept ads. I mean again, this year on ESPN during the World Series of Poker, I saw an ad for an offshore company. I thought like, “How did ESPN, how did Disney, allow this to happen again?” And I don’t know if it happened on a local level, maybe because I was watching from a certain state and it was a local affiliate that took it.
Victor Bigio: 14:54 I’m not certain that the dynamics of it, but the fact that and what I talked about earlier, these podcasts that are being sponsored by real money betting sites, that there’s other albeit fewer of them, commercials for other sites on other forms of media. But you have to get the media on side too, because up until ESPN was showing Bovada’s lines for their football on their programs. So I mean, it’s you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You want the industry to shut down, but you’re just allowing them almost guilt-free advertising inside the country.
Ryan Knuppel: 15:32 Yeah, and it’s certainly going to be a very interesting where this space goes. I mean, I could talk to you about that space forever, but for sake of time I want to move on because I have a few other questions for you, but I do appreciate your insight on that, and I know that you’ve spoken on that topic at different panels and things of that nature, so getting your input really means a lot. I appreciate that.
Victor Bigio: 15:53 Yeah, thanks.
Ryan Knuppel: 15:54 Yeah, but moving on. So as far as states that are legalizing, I know we just had Iowa come on board. Well they came on board a while back, but they just started taking bets a few days back as of this podcast recording. What are your predictions as far as what other states we’re going to see in the near future, or how many we’re going to see, let’s say in the next year or so, come on board?
Victor Bigio: 16:16 Well, that’s a great question. I have been now at probably a half dozen shows between last fall and today where that question has been asked, and there’s been so much variance in the number. It’s wild. But look, I think if you’d asked me two months ago, three months ago even, what the outlook was for this year, I would’ve said pretty dismal considering how few bills seemed to pass before the end of legislative sessions.
Victor Bigio: 16:50 However, we’ve seen states like New Mexico for example, we’ve seen states that just don’t wait for legislation, that do it through tribal compacts. I think we’ll see probably a couple more states like that over the next year. It’s great to see some of the states like Iowa getting on board as quickly as they can.
Victor Bigio: 17:08 What’s the number? That’s hard to say, but I would say that by the end of 2020 that we’re going to have over 50% of the states will be taking bets.
Ryan Knuppel: 17:19 Nice. I tend to agree with you. I think that’s a … Yeah, I know it’s an impossible guess and that was a tough question to ask, but I would agree over 50% seems like a number. I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to see … I mean, because these states that are legal are going to see some huge numbers come over the next three, four or five months here with football season starting up. I mean, the handle is going to only increase, which is only going to open up other eyeballs in these states and these people, the decision makers in other states are going to hopefully, I guess, come around to this as they start seeing these eye-popping numbers of the amount that New Jersey and Pennsylvania are generating in tax dollars for the state.
Victor Bigio: 18:02 Yeah. It’s tricky. I do agree that these numbers are spectacular compared to what certainly maybe people thought they were going to be. It’s fantastic. I think that is because it is a national conversation, because now you and your buddies are able to talk about betting on games more than ever before, I think that that is propelling people to the idea that they can bet. The fact that you can bet, and if you look at the states that are doing the most now, the fact that 80% or 70% to 80% is all being done by mobile, your access to betting is so much better than ever before.
Victor Bigio: 18:40 And I would point out, this is where regulated sites do have an advantage over unregulated sites, is what they’re going to be able to do in the mobile space, and secondly, what they’re going to be able to do from a live sort of in-play space. I think that’s the key and where I’m looking over the next six months, certainly through football and basketball season, is how does the US market really take those popular sports, the two most popular for betting historically in that country, and modernize it and almost make it easier and almost more fast twitch for the casual gambler, the younger gambler? That’s where I think it’s really [inaudible 00:19:22].
Victor Bigio: 19:21 Sure, seeing the New Jersey numbers from last month and realizing that they are as high as they’ve ever been, higher than Nevada’s numbers, and we’re just in a month that is so down from the number of sports being played, ah, I mean I’m super excited about it.
Ryan Knuppel: 19:36 Yeah, it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a fun space. What’s funny when I have these conversations with you and others in this industry is we start talking about all the states and the legislations and the bills and things of that nature, that it’s almost like the sports get lost in this. I haven’t said a word to you about sports yet.
Ryan Knuppel: 19:55 I mean, who’s your football team? Who are you cheering for in football this season? We’ve got to get back to the basics here.
Victor Bigio: 20:02 I know, I hear you. And it’s so funny, because of the industry I’m in … So I grew up on the east coast of the country in Nova Scotia, and local television, because we didn’t have the sports networks of the world back in the day, I’m probably aging myself a bit here, we got the local US feeds from that era. So we grew up with the Patriots, obviously we grew up with the Dolphins, and we grew up with the Chargers as our west coast team. So in that era that we sort of followed along there, I moved up to Toronto, I got behind the Bills a little bit because they were so close, but then realized that go into those games in minus 30 degrees was not really a lot of fun either. And then when I discovered betting, I really sort of became a of points spreads and totals and not necessarily the teams itself.
Victor Bigio: 20:52 Look, I love the game. I have my own football podcast with my brothers, and we just love talking about football, and the NFL is just such a spectacular sport simply because there are so few games and every game matters and everything around an NFL game, the pageantry is really incredible to me because we don’t have it up here, we have the CFL in which there is virtually no pageantry.
Victor Bigio: 21:20 So I can’t pick a team, but if I was going to pick a team for this year, I would definitely go out on a limb and say I think this year we are going to see a rematch of the Falcons and the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and I’m pretty certain that the Falcons are going to win the Super Bowl next.
Ryan Knuppel: 21:37 Ah, Atlanta. That could be. I think they have a good shot this year, and I’m a hundred percent onboard with your take there on the point spreads and totals seems to be who I cheer for. I mean it’s funny how fantasy sports kind of changed that for a lot of people across the world, and then, “I’m cheering for whoever’s on my team. I’m cheering for players.”.
Ryan Knuppel: 21:57 And then the emergence of daily fantasy sports even changed it even more. I’m cheering for different players at different days and different weeks and everything. But then yeah, sports betting just over the years kind of diminishes the loyalty to a team to some extent. I mean, you obviously have people out there that are huge, huge fans of teams, but I’m kind of like you, and myself, I don’t really have loyalty to any team. Besides my St. Louis Cardinals in baseball, I have no other loyalties, so I’ve kind of adopted local … I’m here in Florida, so I like the Gators. I like the Bucks or the Jags or the Dolphins or kind of whoever the team of the week in the area. So, I don’t know if I like that or not, but that’s kind of the reality of the industry.
Victor Bigio: 22:46 Yeah. I mean, I hear you. I mean look, I’m a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. I live in the city of the NBA champion Toronto Raptors, but I lived in San Francisco for five years during the beginning of this crazy run for the Warriors, so I always cheer for them as well. Look, for me, as long as sports stay healthy enough for our industry to survive, that’s there’s still something that my kid wants to go see, then I’m fine. Players change teams so often now that it’s tough. If you fall in love with the player, it’s tough. What do you do when that player gets traded or leaves during a free agents [crosstalk 00:00:23:28]?
Ryan Knuppel: 23:28 Sure.
Victor Bigio: 23:28 Whatever the case may be. So I’m just happy that people are fans and they’re still going to the games.
Ryan Knuppel: 23:31 Absolutely. Hey, what’s the name of your a your football podcast? You mentioned you guys have one. I’d love to put a link up to it on this podcast notes.
Victor Bigio: 23:38 Yeah, I appreciate it. It’s actually in the process of changing. It was called the Bigio Brothers NFL Podcast, but as it turns out, not a lot of people are particularly interested in that name. The reason we did it originally, my brothers and I when I started, I was in San Francisco. One brother was in Montreal and the other was in New Zealand, so it was a way for us to have a weekly conversation about our own family football pool and our love of the game. It is in the process of changing to a podcast called End Zones and Time Zones, for which subscribers to the Bigio Brothers podcast will be automatically forwarded on to End Zones and Time Zones, which will be back for season number five starting in a few weeks.
Ryan Knuppel: 24:24 Nice. End Zones and Time Zones. All right, well we’ll definitely put a link up in the show notes as well, a link out to that. But for those of you guys listening, make sure you subscribe to that podcast.
Ryan Knuppel: 24:34 Well Victor, for sake of time here, I could just talk to you for hours, but I think we probably should wrap this thing up. Anything else? Any last words for the audience? Anything else you want to talk about here real quick?
Victor Bigio: 24:47 No, I would say if you’re someone who bets a lot on sports and listens to this podcast, keep listening to it. There’s a lot of great insight on the industry. If you’re someone who doesn’t bet on sports, don’t be afraid of it. There’s something for you and it will make the games more fun, especially if you are stuck watching a Jacksonville-Arizona game with friends or significant others. There’s always something to bet on in those games.
Victor Bigio: 25:12 And look, it’s been a lot of fun for me to be on this. It’s great to have guys like you continuing to promote the industry and I’d be happy to check back in in a few months to see if our predictions about these states comes true.
Ryan Knuppel: 25:23 Awesome. Well, I’d be honored to have you back on. That would be awesome. We will definitely take a look at what you’ve got going on in your football podcast. Hopefully can help me when my fantasy league or something like that, but in the meantime, I appreciate you joining, and hopefully we could actually meet up at another conference. Physically meet up, have a coffee or something, and hang out.
Victor Bigio: 25:43 I have no doubt we will see you somewhere on the trail this fall.
Ryan Knuppel: 25:46 Awesome. Well, everyone listening, I appreciate you tuning in. That’s Victor Bigio with Sportech, and just an all around good guy in this iGaming industry. Victor, thanks again for joining me.
Victor Bigio: 25:57 Thanks for having me.
Read more about what Sportech does here.
Find Victor on LinkedIn here.
Link to the Bigio Brothers podcast (reminder it’s switching to a new name soon).
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