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Gary Trask
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 25 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

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PlayEngine is primed to transform the sports betting space

1 May 2023
By Gary Trask

Minutes before kickoff of this year’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles in Arizona, sports bettors back in Nevada were experiencing the unthinkable.

As players who use the Caesars Entertainment-owned William Hill Sportsbook and Racebook were trying to log in, the app was not loading. Instead of being able to plunk down wagers on the biggest event on the U.S. sports betting calendar, they received an error page explaining there were “technical difficulties.”

The app was down for most of the big game and remained that way for almost 72 hours, which also meant that the retail sportsbooks, betting kiosks and mobile sports betting apps associated with William Hill in more than 100 casinos statewide were also affected.



In the aftermath, a sheepish William Hill released a statement, blaming the issue on a “system failure.”

While this is an extreme example, technical glitches and annoying bugs remain a lingering problem when it comes to mobile sportsbook apps.

For users, it’s all about speed, ease of use and reliability. On the operator side, it’s imperative that those attributes are delivered to players on a consistent basis. These days, more than ever, player retention and building loyalty are irrefutable keys to success and survival. One bad experience can cause an operator to lose a valued player for good.

“It’s a very frustrating experience for every sports bettor,” says sports betting and iGaming industry veteran Dr. Laila Mintas of the glitches that are still an all-too-common issue. “For a long period of time in the U.S., there was no need for innovation because Nevada had a monopoly. But times have changed.”

Indeed.

And that’s why Mintas, a lawyer by trade who has spent the last decade as a high-level executive, consultant and investor in the sports betting and iGaming space, joined start-up PlayEngine as co-founder and CEO back in October. Originally founded by UC Berkeley alumni Aram Cherkezyan and Rafayel Mkrtchyan, PlayEngine is a full, turnkey, B2B sports betting and iGaming software provider to both online and retail gaming operators that uses “data-driven solutions to empower sports betting operations” and promises to help operators grow revenue and cut operational costs.

Cherkezya and Mkrtchyan, a former engineer with Google and BetConstruct, teamed up with advisor Vache Shirikian, an analytics engineer with Netflix, to build PlayEngine’s in-house technology that it says is the “most automated and data-driven platform” available on the market.

“The problem with most of the platforms out there is that they are using ‘legacy tech’ and, really, that’s just a nice way of saying the technology is outdated,” Mintas told Casino City. “The market is so competitive right now; operators simply cannot afford to lose players due to their tech being insufficient. We can change that.”

Born and raised in Germany, Mintas published her Ph.D. thesis about betting via the internet in her home country in 2006, while earning her law degree at Humboldt-Universität in Berlin. In her thesis, she challenged the fact that Germany ran sportsbooks in the country as a monopoly and didn’t allow outside bookmakers, saying it violated European law. A year after her book was published, the European Court decided in the same direction, confirming her thesis.

Executives at FIFA took notice of Mintas’ work and hired her to become Head of Legal and International Development for its Early Warning System and, with that, her career in sports betting was off and running. She eventually moved on to become deputy president in charge of Sportradar’s U.S. operations where she helped increase business to a market share of over 85%. She has also held senior executive and strategic advisor roles with Bet.Works and PlayUp, in which she invested as well, while launching her own consulting company, based out of Las Vegas.

As Mintas was making waves in the sports betting industry, Cherkezyan and Mkrtchyan were back in Silicon Valley laying the groundwork for PlayEngine, which was established in 2019.

In 2020, PlayEngine graduated from Berkeley Skydeck's HotDesk Fall program, a renowned startup incubator and accelerator program. A few months after bringing on Mintas as CEO, PlayEngine was announced as a winner of Pitch ICE and was one of 12 gaming sector startups to receive a space in February at ICE London, one of the largest and most well-attended gaming shows each year, where it was able to present its product to the more than 40,000 visitors and signed up its first customer.

The company has not gone live with its first partner yet, but, according to Mintas, is close to launching a platform soon.

CEO and cofounder Dr. Laila Mintas

CEO and cofounder Dr. Laila Mintas

Our biggest challenge right now is getting that first customer live,” says Mintas, who was named a Sports Business Journal “Game Changer” in 2018. “Once the product is out there, it will obviously be much easier for people to see it and to really understand the value of it.”

According to PlayEngine, there are a number of factors that differentiate it from other platforms, beginning with the all-important speed factor.

PlayEngine tested itself against the Top 10 U.S. and European sportsbooks on the market and at ICE London revealed that it was fastest in three key categories – average load time (1 second for PlayEngine compared to 3.1 seconds of the other books), average page speed score (98 compared to 69) and average CPU usage (11% compared to 31%). PlayEngine’s platform can also handle 10,000 bet placements per second and 120,000 bet settlements per second and, through a strategic partnership with Sportradar, its real-time, data processing engine can offer players 24/7 content featuring 415,000 pre-match events from more than 60 sports and 250,000 live events from 23 sports.

Those kinds of lightning-quick numbers are beneficial to both the player and the operator.

“For the operator, if you're not fast, you're losing money,” says Mintas. “From my time at Sportradar, I learned the importance of speed and the accuracy of data. What we do at PlayEngine is provide a two-second update for the operator on all the operations. So, if they put out a promotion for a certain game, they’ll see the results immediately in real time – How is the market reacting? Are we making money? Did we miscalculate? So, you can adjust while you go. With other platforms, you don't get any results until well after the game is over.”

Not surprisingly, PlayEngine is also AI driven, meaning its in-house risk and trading department is “highly automated,” which saves on overhead.

“Unlike other brands on the market, we don’t need a room full of traders,” Mintas explains. “There will always be human interaction, but we are 85 to 90% automated. That allows our trading team to be small and agile, because the technology, AI-driven algorithms are doing the work, rather than people manually working on it.”

Another unique feature is PlayEngine’s PaymentEngine, which offers over 10 secure, integrated payment methods, covering more than 20 currencies, including crypto. The “seamless, multi-wallet experience” allows players to use a single account when traveling from state to state and they can also access the same account when using it for iGaming and/or sportsbook. Mintas says this helps create player loyalty for a brand and provides operators the opportunity to cross-sell its players.

While all of the above bells and whistles will certainly make PlayEngine a serious player in the market, above all, it is the reliability factor that can make or break a mobile sportsbook experience, as seen by the William Hill-Super Bowl debacle.

PlayEngine’s Genesis Platform is “self-driving, self-monitoring, and self-repairing,” meaning it provides “preventative protection against unplanned downtime” and “rapid, automatic recovery from outages.” This ensures that operators will maintain 99.99% platform uptime and 99.95% betting uptime “under stress environments.”

“The first online sportsbook has been out there in the market since the 1990s. In the last decade, we have seen hundreds of new sportsbooks entering the business every year," Cherkezyan said in a company press release last year. “However, there is nothing disruptive about the way they run their operations and the experience they provide to their players. PlayEngine came to change that mindset.”

Added Mintas, “I think it's a fair statement to say that not everybody is completely happy right now with their platform partners. We are seeing many operators switching platforms when entering new states. Our platform is superfast and super agile. And it was built from scratch on new technology.

“In the end, it will help retain existing customers and save operators time and money. Especially with the changing market conditions in the U.S., that provides a great opportunity for PlayEngine.”

PlayEngine is primed to transform the sports betting space is republished from iGamingNews.com.

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