How fast payments and groundbreaking technology are transforming how we play

Nearly 100 years ago, a British archaeologist named Sir Leonard Woolley unearthed an ancient game board at a dig site in Iraq.² They estimated the artifact to be about 4500 years old, making it the world’s oldest game on record.   That discovery shows how ingrained games are in human culture. There’s evidence that gambling in China³ started as early as the Shang Dynasty (1600 B.C. to 1046 B.C), and artifacts discovered at Greek archaeological sites suggest that people wagered on the outcomes of Olympic games nearly 3000 years ago.⁴ We’re gamers at heart, and apparently have been since the start of recorded history.

That’s a long time for the gaming industry to evolve. But even though we’ve seen how we wager, play, and win change significantly over millennia, there’s an argument to be made that the last decade has seen some of the most transformation in how we play and pay. According to a Visa commissioned study, the gaming money movement volume is an estimated $870 billion⁵ across casinos, lotteries, and sports betting. The largest gaming payment volume is in Europe ($400 billion) followed by North America ($245 billion) in 2022.⁵ eGaming has also emerged as a force in the industry, with the mobile gaming market expected to grow from $101.21 billion in 2021 to $116.43 billion in 2022.⁶ Our love affair with gaming hasn’t changed, but the way we play is in a constant state of evolution.

“We've seen so much change when it comes to different product types and social behaviors with regards to the convenience of virtual and online gaming,” says Warren Tristram, Head of Gaming, Lottery, and E-sports at the payment platform Nuvei. “But the fundamental reason why I work in gaming is that when it’s done sensibly and responsibly, it’s a great form of entertainment for people to enjoy.”

$ 870 B

Total Gaming Money Movement Volume

$ 400 B

Largest Gaming Payment Volume (Europe)

$ 250 B

Followed by Gaming Payment Volume in North America

Wide World of Sports Betting

There’s a joke among sports betting aficionados: If a sport was invented at breakfast, people would be wagering on it by lunch. Like any good joke, there’s a kernel of truth buried in there. 

Sports betting has grown exponentially in recent years as sportsbook and fantasy sports platforms have become more ubiquitous and focused on optimizing player experiences. The global market for sports betting ballooned to $83 billion in 2022, with Europe and the U.K. providing a stable foundation for the market and the rise of legalized sports betting in the United States driving much of the growth.⁷  Fantasy sports have been growing alongside traditional sportsbooks as well, with the industry slated to grow past $56 billion by 2030.⁷ Fanduel and DraftKings have become two of the dominant players in the American market,⁸ offering daily fantasy sports games for millions of players looking to add some of their own competitive spirit to the sports they love.

Digital sports books are poised to accelerate in places like the Asia Pacific region⁷ in the next decade as security infrastructure improves and the dust settles around regulatory decisions. People are also increasingly able to bet directly from their mobile devices, lowering another barrier to entry for throwing down a wager on a team.

But sports betting’s increased availability has also led to a transformation in customer expectations when it comes to ease of use and how quickly winnings are paid out or a gaming account gets funded. Bettors want to know their money is moving quickly and securely through different platforms. “It’s horrible when you don’t know where your money is. Imagine you win and then your winnings are stuck somewhere for a week or more. It’s awful,” says Mickael Marceau, Director of Payment Solutions at Kindred Group. Kindred Group is a Swedish online gaming conglomerate that has 9 different brands under its umbrella and more than 30 million customers in Europe, Australia, and North America.

“It’s horrible when you don’t know where your money is. Imagine you win and then your winnings are stuck somewhere for a week or more.”

A headshot of Mickael Marceau, Director of Payment Solutions, Kindred Group.
Kindred logo.
Mickael Marceau, Director of Payment Solutions, Kindred Group

Bringing fast and secure payouts and funding to all of the sports betting platforms in the Kindred Group family with the help of Visa Direct was a driving mission for Marceau, and he says that the company saw dividends in the form of improved customer satisfaction and growth. “In the Netherlands, we saw a lot of customers choosing us because of fast and safe payments. And we grew our customer satisfaction massively because for years payment speed had been a friction point.” 

Apuesta Total, a Peru-based gaming platform with a large sports betting operation, credits its emphasis on customer experience for its loyal customer base. When the pandemic hit, Apuesta Total, which operates brick-and-mortar gaming storefronts and casinos as well as their digital platform, had to adjust how they attracted and retained customers as lock downs stopped most traditional sports. And with soccer and other live sports on an indefinite hiatus also saw an uptick in betting on eSports, which they embraced by partnering with some of the region’s biggest live streamers. “At the time the pandemic began, our main focus was the physical stores. So when we had to close them, we refocused totally on our digital channels,” says Andrea Zolezzi, Digital Channel Manager at Apuesta Total. Peru had also been slow to adopt digital payment methods until spurred on by the pandemic,⁹ which means that both Apuesta Total and its players were adapting to a new paradigm in real-time.  In response, the gaming platform started developing new games for players stuck at home and reduced the minimum deposit amounts that were required on the company’s mobile app.

“People want their money as fast as they can. When they make a deposit, they want the deposit reflected in their accounts at the same moment.”

A headshot of Andrea Zolezzi, Digital Channel Manager at Apuesta Total.
Apuesta Total logo.
Andrea Zolezzi, Digital Channel Manager at Apuesta Total

As Apuesta Total’s digital business grew, the company realized that accelerating funding and payout timelines for their players was a massive business opportunity as well. “People want their money as fast as they can. When they make a deposit, they want the deposit reflected in their accounts at the same moment,” Zolezzi says. Visa Direct is able to help facilitate fast funding (taking into account compliance requirements) and real-time¹⁰ payouts, giving platforms in emerging markets a leg up in a competitive landscape. “We did a lot of work during the pandemic to get people their money in and out quickly and when things started up again, clients started coming back to us.”

Zolezzi says that as an entertainment company their goal is to create a safe way for people to entertain themselves. From sports betting, to digital casino games and bingo, one thing many of the Peruvian customers have in common is security. “Security is a very important thing for people here [in Peru], even though perceptions are changing as a lot of people have started using digital wallets,” she says. Zolezzi says that Visa’s reputation as a safe way to make online transactions has helped Apuesta put their players’ minds at ease when digitally depositing or withdrawing their money from the platform. “Visa is a very strong brand, so I think people feel confident when using a Visa card with the Visa brand,” says Zolezzi. “They do a good job in making people feel safe.”

The Evolving Landscape of e-Gaming

As the availability of online sports betting has grown, so have the types of games on offer. Kindred Group saw their players expanding what sorts of games they wagered on as pandemic lockdowns stifled much of the traditional sports betting avenues as well. The pandemic encouraged Kindred Group to be more experimental about their products, a strategy that helped them thrive in a tough environment. “Our players didn’t just vanish,” says Marceau. “We saw a shift with a lot of players trying out new games and new sports. E-sports grew a lot for us as physical sports stopped for example, so it helped us develop our multi-product strategy.”

The global video game market is rapidly approaching $200 billion¹¹ with billions of players¹² around the world. The games themselves are changing as well. Modern video games are increasingly living projects, with updates and new content being delivered directly to players. Gamers need to be able to fund their digital wallets to purchase game skins and downloadable content, just as gaming platforms need to be able to seamlessly refund players if necessary.

The rise of gaming live streamers has also put the need to facilitate fast payments for donations in focus, as more content creators and influencers look to platforms like Twitch and Kick for income. The gaming live stream industry is projected to surpass $15 billion globally by 2028 with much of the growth being driven by creators in Asia.¹³

No matter what sorts of games people are playing and wagering on, though, platforms that can help players fund and withdraw from their accounts quickly, securely, and smoothly will be a cut above the rest. “It's all about speed. It's all about security. It's all about seamlessness,” says Warren Tristram, underlining the pillars integral to success in the gaming industry. “When those three elements come together, they help you build trust with consumers.”

The Winning Ticket

The national lottery is something of a pastime in England. The first one was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I more than 450 years ago¹⁴ after she decided that she would rather raise money to expand the royal fleet of ships through a lottery rather than raise taxes. Winners stood to take home fine tapestries, porcelain, and £5000, which is about $3 million in today’s money. (Apparently winners were also granted immunity from petty crimes.)

After a long hiatus, the National Lottery returned in 1994¹⁵ and has evolved into one of the world’s most sophisticated lottery platforms—and they’ve been helped by platforms like Nuvei who have given players the ability to fund, play, and withdraw funds directly from their accounts.. That updated user experience has created an environment ripe for growth in one of the world’s oldest lotteries. “Being able to go and play the lottery seamlessly, efficiently, and quickly with a method that you can trust, that just delights players,” says Tristram from Nuvei. “They’ve won and they want to go withdraw their winnings and get ahold of their funds without being held up by a bank or financial institution. Quick and direct payments help lotteries grow.”

In the U.S., some states are starting to experiment with fast payouts, especially for larger winnings. The Maine State Lottery worked with Visa Direct to help facilitate fast payouts for players who win more than $600¹⁶ and are traditionally paid with a paper check. Those players are able to go to a lottery redemption center and receive their winnings directly to a debit card, which has helped streamline Maine’s payout operations. “Once this got off the ground, we started hearing other things were easier for our frontline staff when it came to managing all the payments that we do,” says Henry Beck, the State Treasurer of Maine. “It made my staff happier. And when they are happier, they are doing a better job for the people of Maine.”

In other U.S. states there’s a growing appetite for innovation in the lottery space as states get more digitally connected. A handful of states including Michigan, Illinois, and Virginia have legalized online lottery playing, and have introduced mobile apps and platforms where residents can fund, store, and withdraw funds to wager with. “You can put $100 into your lottery account the same way you might fund an account, and spend $20 today and $30 tomorrow on games,” says Christopher Granger, the Gaming, Wagering and Lottery Lead at Visa. “But at any point in time with those apps, the player has the ability to withdraw the funds back to their original source of funding, which in this case would be a Visa debit card.”

Lotteries face much of the same security challenges as sports betting and other gaming platforms do, but with the added complexity of being managed by public entities. Nuvei has been operating in those highly-regulated arenas for over 20 years, and they’ve developed a technology stack that gives operators strong anti-fraud and anti-money laundering tools without sacrificing user experience. Granger considers regulatory structures as a vital part of the gaming ecosystem. “Regulation is really important,” says Tristam. “It instills standards which allow operators to provide their services and protect the consumer in a consistent and controlled manner.” 

Nuvei’s focus on technology has helped their clients thrive in those regulated markets, including when it comes to account funding and withdrawals. “Giving customers a preferred payment solution and the speed where they can see their funds instantly deposited and withdrawn is really important,” says Granger. Lotteries focusing on technology can also potentially tap into the next generation of digitally native players. There’s been a growth in mobile app development for lottery authorities in North America and the UK with digital-first lotteries becoming a growing part of the gaming industry. “Younger, tech-savvy players where everything they do is on their phone may have never considered going into a retailer to buy a physical ticket,” says Granger. “But now that they can buy it via an app that can go into their entertainment mix.” We may not have a chance to win fine porcelain or woven tapestries when we buy a lottery ticket anymore, but being able to fund, play, and win from wherever you are is a decent substitute. 

“It's all about speed. It's all about security. It’s all about seamlessness...when those three elements come together, they help you build trust with consumers.”

A headshot of Warren Tristram, Head of Gaming, Lottery, and E-sports at the payment platform Nuvei.
Nuvei logo.
Warren Tristram, Head of Gaming, Lottery, and E-sports at the payment platform Nuvei

Tomorrow’s games

Even though the gaming industry has arguably evolved more in the last 20 years than in the last 2000 years, there’s still more to come. Groundbreaking innovations like augmented and virtual reality present exciting new opportunities for sports betting platforms that can put you courtside from the comfort of your living room and digital casinos that make you feel like you’re in Las Vegas. “It’s all very nascent at this stage, but bringing more of a physical feel into digital gaming seems like a natural evolution,” says Tristram.

Visa Direct believes that payments are the key to unlocking that next chapter of the industry. Understanding how to integrate funding and withdrawals into an immersive digital environment is a tough challenge to overcome, but as technology and infrastructure improves there’s an opportunity to create a gaming ecosystem that had only been imagined in sci-fi movies. There are green shoots of innovations in payments already happening as well. Casinos are even starting to offer players the option of making cashless wagers using bespoke mobile apps that  let players load and withdraw funds from an account.¹⁷

Security will play a big role in building that future as well, and Visa’s focus on giving players a safe, transparent experience will potentially help to facilitate that digital transformation. That means a safe and seamless experience from the moment players fund their accounts to when they withdraw money.

Humans have been playing with and wagering on games for thousands of years, and there’s still more ground to break when it comes to the next chapter in gaming. Visa Direct is continuing to drive that conversation and evolution forward. It doesn’t matter whether we’re playing on carved boards inlaid with gems or on our smartphones, to game is to be human.

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This article was published in December 2023.