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The Innovative Strategies Propelling America’s iGaming Startups




It’s been six years since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was repealed, allowing each state to legislate sports gambling independently. In this evolving landscape, American startups have been at the forefront of innovation in the online gambling industry. Their fresh approaches and adaptive strategies have set new benchmarks in customer acquisition and retention, reshaping the market dynamics significantly.

According to a study conducted in March 2024 by Waterhouse VC, a comprehensive analysis of customer acquisition strategies reveals key trends and tactics employed by these startups. The study outlines seven primary strategies that have been pivotal in securing the first customers for these emerging companies.

Surprisingly, most startups attributed their initial user acquisition success to a singular strategy, with only a minority leveraging more than three methods. This focused approach underscores the startups’ strategic clarity in navigating the competitive landscape.

High-touch customer engagement emerged as the most popular strategy, emphasizing the importance of personalized interaction with customers in the early stages. This approach, often considered unscalable, proves crucial in building initial momentum and establishing a loyal customer base.

Interestingly, the report noted a significant omission – the reliance on paid advertisements was not a prominent strategy for acquiring the first cohort of customers among these startups. This deviation from traditional online marketing tactics signifies a strategic shift in the industry, highlighting the innovative thinking of these companies.

An overview of the innovative strategies employed by iGaming startups. Image: Waterhouse VC



“We had to very quickly focus on being more ‘hands-on’ with customers engaged with unfamiliar sports and less traditional formats – both from a marketing and trading perspective. Be prepared to dive extremely deeply into how your vision translates into customer (revenue) upside.” — Joseph Dunnigan, Founder & CEO, ALT Sports Data

“Early on, we realized that helping customers navigate the many common pitfalls of registering, funding, and betting with online operators was more challenging than expected. Due to the complexity of passing KYC checks, linking reliable payment options, and even navigating difficult to understand app interfaces, our hand-to-hand concierge services were uniquely positioned to support customers and operator clients alike. We overcame these challenges by dedicating ourselves to becoming the resident experts on our operator products in order to properly represent them with customers, and also seamlessly guide those customers through their respective journeys, regardless of their previous betting experiences.” — Jai Maw, Co-Founder & President, Betting Hero

“We saw that in our product journeys where many potential users would see our prices/odds on another web property or chat group, and come to our site with the intention of placing a bet, but had difficulty procuring a crypto wallet (or understanding what this was). The CEO or another member of our leadership team reaches out to every single one of these users to try to ease the learning curve and onboard them to the site. This isn’t a scalable solution, but is highly important to do and valuable in an early stage company to learn about your customer base.” — Varun Sudhakar, Co-Founder & CEO, BetDex

“Prior to Low6, I had been running a sports events marketing agency and my co-founder was in retail bookmaking so we initially leaned on our connections in both fields to introduce them to our free-to-play pool betting app. We were quite fortunate that the app was built on social competition so had some early success with the power of network effects in building out our customer base.” — Jamie Mitchell, Co-Founder & Group CEO, Low6

“We leveraged the anticipation and excitement of our waitlist by offering early access to those who signed up. This created a sense of exclusivity and urgency, encouraging people to join and engage with our platform. We implemented a strong referral program that rewarded existing users for bringing in new customers. This not only helped in customer acquisition but also fostered a sense of community around our platform.” — Jacob Fortinsky, Founder & CEO, Novig

“Choosing the right strategies and being willing to pivot when necessary is critical. While some methods may yield immediate results, others may require patience and adaptation. It’s about finding that balance.” — Tom Waterhouse, CIO, Waterhouse VC

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Following a hugely successful first event in Cincinnati, Ohio in September 2023, the Moneymaker Tour is returning to the Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati on September 17 – 30, 2024 with a packed schedule that will guarantee more than $1 million across 15 trophy events. 

In September 2023’s inaugural stop at Hard Rock Cincinnati, the $1,500 Main Event was contested by 788 players and won by Joseph Bakun for $208,034. He was joined at the final table by Chris Moneymaker himself and WSOP Champion Joseph McKeehen and as well as the top cash prize, he also took home a crystal Moneymaker Tour trophy and a guitar trophy.

The Moneymaker Tour was created in 2023 by 2003 WSOP Champion and ACR Team Pro, Chris Moneymaker and Moneymaker Tour Executive Manager, Tony Burns. The Tour was conceived as a way for Moneymaker to give poker players opportunities to have their own ordinary to extraordinary moments as he did.

Despite its relative newcomer status, the Moneymaker Tour has made a name for itself, recently being voted the third most popular live poker tournament series behind only the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour, in a State of Poker survey. Since its inception, there have been eight events throughout Florida, Cincinnati and Houston.

The Tour has also recently announced new venues including a first visit to the birthplace of the Moneymaker boom with an event in Las Vegas from June 28 – July 6 at MGM Grand and its first international Main Event at Casino Aruba in October.

“Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati will team up with the Moneymaker Tour for a return in 2024” said Christopher Herbert, Hard Rock Cincinnati Manger of Poker & Sportsbook. “Hard Rock Cincinnati is grateful to be a part of the fastest growing poker tour in 2023. Chris Moneymaker, Tony Burns and their staff delivered an incredible experience for our guests during the 2023 Moneymaker Tour stop. There’s no better place to be in September 2024 than Cincinnati Ohio!”

“After an amazing series last September, we are excited to return to Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati”, said Tony Burns, Executive Manager of the Moneymaker Tour. “Continuing to partner with one of the most recognisable brands in the world amplifies our reach, resonates with our audience, and rocks our business to a whole other level.”

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Zenni Optical Announces Partnership with ESL FACEIT Group (EFG)




Zenni Optical, the world’s leading online eyewear retailer, announced a partnership with ESL FACEIT Group (EFG), the leading esports and video game entertainment company. Designed to integrate eye health education with innovative eyewear solutions for the esports community, the partnership will officially launch at DreamHack festival in Dallas, taking place from May 31 to June 2.

This collaboration will showcase a co-branded collection of lifestyle and competitive eyewear and accessories, highlighting Zenni Optical’s commitment to promoting overall eye health, particularly in addressing issues like eye fatigue and strain. Additionally, the initiative will incorporate essential eye health education across various DreamHack Festivals, in alignment with EFG’s broader mission to foster inclusive gaming worlds and engaged, supported communities.

“DreamHack and ESL represent some of the most community-centric and prestigious competitive events in the world. In their own unique ways, they embody esports for everyone. By partnering with these incredible brands across the gaming and esports spaces, we aim to create engaging experiences that combine eye-health education with innovative eyewear solutions for players and fans at all levels,” said Robb Chiarini, Head of Gaming, Sports, & Events at Zenni Optical.

“We are thrilled to partner with Zenni Optical as the Official Eyewear Partner of DreamHack and ESL. The genuine passion that Zenni has for the esports industry is a refreshing sight to see, and a major driving factor for the decision behind our partnership. Zenni’s ongoing commitment to provide eyewear for everyone mirrors our own drive to create worlds beyond gameplay for gamers everywhere,” Craig Levine, Co-CEO at EFG, said.

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Circa Sports Launches Mobile App in Kentucky




Circa Sports has expanded its operations into Kentucky with the launch of its popular mobile betting app. Debuting via a licensing agreement with ECL Corbin LLC at its Cumberland Run harness track, the brand will take the highest betting limits in the industry along with offering tight money line splits, transparent odds, exceptional customer service, and more.

Marking the fifth state for Circa Sports, the app is now available for download through partnership with the Cumberland Run property in Corbin, Kentucky. The Circa Sports Kentucky app can be downloaded and funded remotely from anywhere. Bettors will have access to transparent and fair limits, made possible with a business model of providing betting lines and odds that are more favorable for the customer.

“We are thrilled to launch Circa Sports in the great state of Kentucky. We’ve always had our sights set here as we know it is a major hub for college sports, horse racing and more. We are looking forward to providing Kentucky bettors with some of the best odds and expertise out there,” Derek Stevens, CEO of Circa Sports, said.

The Circa Sports Kentucky app was designed by players, for players. Available to patrons ages 18 and over, highlights include high betting limits, tight money line splits, transparent odds, exceptional customer service, option to browse the complete menu and live odds from anywhere at any time, and aggressive, higher-than-most betting limits for everyone – even winners.

The Circa app also includes future bets in parlays, two-sided Yes/No future betting, remote registration that can be done from anywhere on a mobile device and deposits and withdrawals that can be done through the app from anywhere.

Marc Falcone, co-owner of the ECL Corbin LLC properties, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Circa Sports to the Commonwealth as a sports-betting partner. They allow us to offer another amenity to complement our existing gaming.”

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