The iGaming Show EP 15 - (Exploring March Madness Betting In Ontario With Zachary Schlouch)

The iGaming Show EP 15 - (Exploring March Madness Betting In Ontario With Zachary Schlouch) cover

The iGaming Show EP 15 - (Exploring March Madness Betting In Ontario With Zachary Schlouch)

March 20, 2024

In this episode of The iGaming Show, we explore the impact of the March Madness tournament on Ontario’s regulated iGaming and sports betting industry. With basketball being a highly popular and heavily betted-on sport in the province, the tournament’s significance goes beyond the court, influencing the dynamics of online gambling.

Guest: Zachary Schlouch, Director Of Sportsbook Operations at Rush Street Interactive.

The iGaming Show, presented by Paramount Commerce, is a podcast that will analyze gaming industry trends with experts from various gaming organizations.

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Full episode transcript:

Varad Mehta: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the 15th episode of The iGaming Show, presented by Paramount Commerce. I’m your host, Varad Mehta, and in this podcast, we analyse gaming industry trends with experts from various gaming organisations. In today’s episode, we will explore the impact of the second March Madness tournament in Ontario’s regulated iGaming market with Zach Schlouch, the Director of Sportsbook Operations for Rush Street Interactive. So without further ado, let’s get the show rolling. Okay, so, Zach, how we start this podcast, as always, is by asking you a few fun questions. So I have a couple lined up for you before we go into the topic of discussion. The first one is a good teacher always leaves something amazing for you through who they are or what they taught you,or how they encouraged you. Can you tell us about Miss Marilyn and the spring swing,if you know what I’m referring to?

Zach Schlouch: Yeah, that was very unexpected.Yes. No, Miss Marilyn from the spring swing was actually a dance instructor from my time being in theatre programmes throughout high school. So she was super influential on me because I wasn’t naturally inclined to be a dancer coming into those activities through high school. Very much appreciated my participation in all the music programmes. But when I got involved in theatre, you could say I had two left feet at first. So Miss Marilyn was very influential in taking her time and being patient with me and showing me how to tap dance, specifically in the first show that I was in, which was 42nd Street. So from a very early age, she taught me the importance of being patient with the people that you’re leading, because there were very many folks who probably had exceeding skill sets far beyond myself when it came to dancing like that, going into it. So she definitely gave me the confidence to know in that moment that I would be able to ultimately get better at something I’d never done before, because the acting and the singing piece of things came a little bit more naturally to me than that aspect. But, yeah, no, great lady, may she rest in peace. 

VM: Great one. My next question for you, Zach, would be, have you ever visited the Reading Pagoda? Is how you say it, or Reading Pagoda. And can you tell us what that is basically?

ZS: Sure. Yeah. So the reading pagoda, it’s essentially a structure on the hill that’s lit up at night. It’s an area where a lot of people in the Burks county Reading, Pennsylvania community gather, meet. There’s walking trails around it. So it’s just a very nice vantage point of the entirety of the city of Reading. Growing up around here, I know it’s the type of thing you go to on elementary school, field trips and things like that. And then once you get a little bit more independent, you can go up there on your own time and just enjoy. Know it’s a little bit of a respite from the craziness of the city that is Reading. So just a nice cultural tourist area within the area that I grew up.

VM: Love it, love it.My next one. Just two more. My next one is, if you had the job of introducing Foo Fighters to someone who hasn’t heard them before, what are three songs you would pick for them to listen?

ZS: No, come on, just three. No, probably the three that I would go with is Learn To Fly to start. I like that song because I’m an Eagles fan as well, so there’s a bit of a tie in there. That one, My Hero, is another good song. And then the classic, arguably, but not, in my opinion, the best song of the 1990s Everlong. So, yeah, that’s the staple. That’s the one that you have to probably start with. So I probably listed those in reverse order, but definitely an easy power three there.

VM: Yes, that’s a pretty good one. And my last question is, you yourself know some great musical people. I think you know someone, technical sergeant Seth Ebersol, who’s also a jazz saxophonist. So did you play saxophone and how do you know these many musical people?

ZS: I did play saxophone for several years. I was a district and all region sax player in high school. Now, granted, I say that, but the individual you just asked me about, Seth Ebersol, is a very accomplished saxophonist, as I’m sure you were able to see. He was a great friend of mine growing up. I was very fortunate to get to sit alongside two who have gone on to become professional musicians who gig professionally today. Seth and then another, Nathan Bellott, who plays in New York City. Seth particularly, actually, it’s funny you bring him up. I just had the fortune of getting to see him play for the first time in a while, a few weeks back with my family, he actually came back around the area living, playing in the Air Force. He’s living down outside Washington, DC at this point, so he was able to be back around. And we got to see those two individuals that I mentioned play together, actually kind of as a reunion show around here. Just from being involved in all those music programmes, as I alluded to earlier, I’ve been able to keep some connections with those folks, some of which were able to take it to that next level and go professional, playing music in a way that I wasn’t able to necessarily do.

VM: No. That’s amazing. Still, I’m sure you pick up the saxophone or any musical instrument still gives you peace, right? That’s all that matters. I love that. And I love know beyond whatever we’re here to talk about, Zach is so appreciative his teachers, music. There’s so much there. So yeah. Now, going to the topic of discussion, we’re here to talk about March Madness and its possible impact in Ontario, Canada, and what it’s going to bring this year versus what it waslast year, probably. So my first question, Zach, is that during the Super Bowl this year, we saw that there was a huge rise or a huge interest in sports betting, possibly more than it was the previous year in Ontario, there was also that same experience. So how do you think this year’s March Madness tournament will be and how will it kind of impact Ontario’s regulated gaming industry?

ZS: Transparently off the bat, we operate in several states, right? There’s no market that we are operating in from an online sports betting standpoint that I’m more excited for going to this tournament than Ontario. And that’s just because of the growth that we have seen in the sport in general in that. It’s no secret and it’s something that we’ll get to a little bit later as far as there not being local Canadian teams involved. So it’s taken a little bit more of a ramp up for people to become acclimated to the sport to understand there’s a million teams, right? There’s a lot of teams,a lot of different players. So it takes a little bit for people to get their preferences for wager types, get their preferences for teams, for players that they’re looking to bet on. So I think because a lot of that has happened this year in a new way somewhat, which I’ll get into a bit because of the state of the game itself and sometimes some of it due to the maturity of the overall Ontario market. I think players have just been in a unique position to try and A) check out different betting products than what they were accustomed to upfront. Of course, we’ve seen a lot of popularity with hockey and with your professional sports. As you alluded to the NFL, we just came off of a record month of January in playoffs particularly. Definitely see and expect this to happen. Some of the trends that I would expect us to see that will probably push us to increase performance versus last year would be continued expansion of live wagering. Players in Ontario and really across the board now that they are starting to understand and follow teams and there’s a cast of characters, star players, there’s that desire to place pre-match wagers, but then stay close throughout the entirety of the game because of the convenience of the products that are being offered via the mobile phone. So I think that it’s kind of a perfect storm, if you will, right. Of all those things, there’s been a discovery period over the past year, which I think is probably what’s going to push things even further. But it’ll be very interesting to see with the way the team shook out and the way the bracket took shape, there’s a lot of compelling matchups that I think will suit well to the preferences from a team standpoint that we saw Canadians really turn to throughout the season, particularly the past month.

VM: Yeah. And maybe apart from the competition itself, you mentioned something really interesting there, that last year was a discovery phase for betters inside of Ontario. So now that they possibly picked a favourite sportsbook or an operator that they’re comfortable betting with, did you notice any trends apart from that during the discovery phase in Ontario that you feel might be noteworthy in this year’s tournament or something you saw during the Super Bowl that you think might continue in this March Madness tournament?

ZS: Yeah. So I was talking about the different market types and just honing in on the live wagering aspect of things. There’s a huge appetite for placing wagers on markets that happen quickly. Start of the game, the type of the first field goal type, right, a two pointer versus a three pointer, someone to win the first quarter. And the convenience of the products that we offer at BetRivers with our same game parlay tool is you can combine a lot of those bets into one single wager and you have that gratification early in the game and then you can set it up so you have different parts of the wager that take place and result at different points of the game. So that I think was a very big thing that Ontario residents particularly tried out, if you will, because NFL provided a great springboard, because again, the players are of higher profile. There’s overall on a per game basis going to be more bets for an NFL game. So it gave that opportunity for true discovery, know the depths of everything at the bet offer. So I think particularly something that I’ll be interested to follow over the next couple of weeks are those quick hitters is the best way to put it, those type of markets and how people engage with those both from a single betting and parlay wagering standpoint.

VM: And you mentioned something interesting during your first answer is that there aren’t any Canadian teams involved, but yet there’s so much interest and love for this tournament. So are there specific strategies or plans that you try out to make sure that Canadians kind of engage with this event more? On a betting side, I’m sure from a viewing standpoint it’s different. But do you also do that from an online gaming experience way?

ZS: Yeah, I think it’s all about the way that you present content to the users, right? It’s no secret who your blue blood teams are in the United States and the same trends have followed into Canada you know your Dukes, your North Carolinas, Kansas, Kentucky. Those teams are always going to be more popular in the grand scheme of things just because of their history. So finding creative ways to present that content to users when they’re first coming into the site when we know those games are going on in a crowded space, right, especially Thursday and Friday, there’s a bunch of games going on at one time. So finding ways to cut through the noise, to really find those events, to showcase the teams that have a particular heightened betting interest versus some others, is one thing that we’re super intentional about, and that goes to some of our marketing efforts, too off the sports books, reaching out to our customers, reminding people the teams that are involved, that have been popular for them from a wagering standpoint throughout the year. Someone took a liking to Houston earlier in the season because they play really great defence, reminding them that they’re involved, the way their matchups are going to line up, it becomes in a crowded space when a lot of gaming companies are sending a lot of messaging around, it’s trying to be personal and remind people of the stuff that cut the noise, essentially is the strategy that we take for trying to appeal to the widest range of people.

VM: That’s a good one. And how do you sort of use content and specific marketing strategies to engage with Canadians? Because that’s a unique way that, hey, we’re not possibly sending out an ad, but hey, here’s an interesting content piece about these are XYZ teams within March Madness and here are stats or something like that. Are you using some of those things as well?

ZS: Yeah, I think particularly what we try to do with some of those same game parlay offerings. If you go to our websites, they function like carousels that sit at the top of each of our pages that feature some of this content with, as you’re alluding to some narrative information, X player scored 20 plus in the past five games. So to position the information so it can become a bit of a fact findingmission for folks and then they still have the opportunity to place the wager again, should they so choose. And then when you’re presenting that understanding that not everybody’s going to want to take that one wager. So providing convenient means for people to go and be able to manipulate whatever you’re presenting to them as well. I think another thing that will be interesting, cross sport opportunities, right? There’s still major sports going on during March Madness, and we know that’s the focal event. But how are there opportunities to take core hockey betters or core NBA betters and try and bring them across? And while we know it’s the end of the season and there’s not a ton of volume left from college basketball this year, building that into their repertoire, because as we know, sports gaming in general is a seasonal activity.

VM: That is a good one. And as an online gaming operator, responsible gaming is so important to whatever that you do. So are you more conscious about responsible gaming initiatives and efforts during major sporting events such as March Madness or Super Bowl? Something like that.

ZS: Yeah. Truthfully, I think the key to having a robust and effective responsible gaming programme throughout the year is not needing to force yourself to have greater, heightened, greater consciousness on it during these marquee events. So that’s all to say, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it stands out because we’re very heightened and conscious of it throughout the year. Just the same in the summer months when it’s the dog days of baseball, as we are during these times. Now from again, you talk about featuring proper areas of our product and making sure our customers are aware of what we have out there. Of course, it’s a messaging piece. It’s something that we’re going to include in all our communications leading into the tournament, want to make sure that people understand A) all the tools we do have available, how easy they are to use, and the fact that we have a support team to help them, to put them in place should they need it at 24 hours a day. So it’s preserving the fun and control nature of what we do is a 24/7/365 exercise. It’s not just during the Super Bowl. Or during March Madness.

VM: It’s not a one day thing, right?

ZS: Exactly.

VM: That’s a good one. That’s a good one. And my last question for you, Zach, would be whenever you look at these big, because you’re heavily involved in the sports booking operation, what future trends do you see when we talk about Ontario and when we talk about major sporting events such as March Madness or SuperBowl or some NBA final, are there trends or something you’re looking forward to when it comes to these big like you said, live wagering, are you looking at incorporating some live streaming aspect? What are you looking forward to that you want to deliver to the industry as well as the consumers?

ZS: Well, it’s funny you say that because I think the streaming is a great point. The watch and wager concept is gaining huge popularity, right. And I think what we as an industry will continue to understand is the juxtaposition between watching and wagering events that you can find on normal television versus the ones that are a bit harder. Right. Some of your deeper we see a lot of success and popularity of streaming sports such as soccer, tennis, even things like darts, which are super popular among our Ontario betters. How does that translate to some of the higher profile core sports? We’re always investigating those opportunities and trying to find the strongest synergy between wagering and watching and bringing that experience as close as possible. Because it’s one thing to have a stream on there, but if it’s not super convenient from a user experience standpoint to find the bets and place them, we’re not really accomplishing much. So I think those are continued opportunities that we’ll see as we move forward here. The goal is always finding the way to properly bridge being the operator of the sports wagering content versus providing the companion media content, statistical content. And how can those things kind of coexist within one singular platform? I think we’re going to see that occur a lot more across really every sports property as we move things forward.

VM: That’s a good one. Zach, I want to thank you for your time, you joined us I think, today. Yeah, the March madness kicks off so what a fantastic day to interview you. Thank you so much for your expertise. And yeah, I hope whoever listens to this can understand the trends, consumer behaviour and whatever else amazing information that Zach shared with us. Thank you so much again, Zach.

ZS: I appreciate it. Thanks for your time.

VM: This year’s March Madness tournament is set to be a record-setting one for Ontario’s regulated iGaming market. With so many sports betters interested in major sporting events, I want to thank our guest today, Zach Schlouch, the Director of Sportsbook Operations from Rush Street Interactive, for joining us today and providing his expertise. If you have any questions for us or Zach, then please do comment them down below. Please don’t forget to like share and subscribe to our YouTube channel. For the episode transcript and more content, please visit our website: or check out the description. Thank you so much for tuning into The iGaming Show, presented by Paramount Commerce. I’m your host, Varad Mehta. And until next time, keep gaming.

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