Who Makes Online Casino Games?

If you’ve played at more than one online casino, you’ve probably noticed that they often have many games in common. On the other hand, you might have switched to a new casino and been disappointed to discover that you can’t find your favorite game there. Have you ever wondered where casino games come from and what determines which ones are available on which site?

The brands you associate with online casinos are known as operators in the online gambling industry. The three with the biggest market share in the US are FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM.

Operators do a lot. At a minimum, they’re responsible for things like:

They also curate the selection of games for their site or app. In most cases, however, they don’t make their games. Often, they don’t even own the software that runs the casino itself.

To some extent, most online gambling companies depend on third-party suppliers for content and other software.

Suppliers vary widely in size. The smallest slots studios consist of perhaps a dozen people in a single office, releasing a few games each year. At the other extreme, the world’s largest supplier, Evolution, has a market capitalization of $24 billion and employs more than 16,000 people worldwide.

The Supplier-Operator Relationship

One way of thinking about operators and suppliers is a retail store analogy. Foot Locker, for instance, sells Nike shoes, but it doesn’t make them. If you’re playing a Light & Wonder slot at BetMGM, then BetMGM—the operator—is analogous to Foot Locker, while Light & Wonder—the supplier—is like Nike.

Before a US online casino can offer a game, the supplier must obtain a license from the state regulator. This is separate from the operator’s license. The regulator will test the supplier’s software to ensure the games are fair and bug-free.

Once the operator and supplier each have the correct license, they’re free to strike a partnership deal.

Typically, the terms of this agreement include a revenue share. Whatever money an online casino wins from the players using a particular game, some percentage will go to the supplier.

More established suppliers enjoy better bargaining power and might receive as much as 15%, while the tiniest studios might receive as little as 1%.

Here’s how that math works out: a typical online slot has an RTP of 96%, meaning that the casino will win four cents on average for each dollar wagered. Thus, if you’re playing $1 spins and the game supplier has a 5% revenue share, they’ll collect one cent for every five spins you play.

That tiny percentage of a percentage means suppliers need to make up for it with volume. It’s essential that they get their games onto as many sites as possible once they’ve invested in a license. That’s why you see many of the same games at every online casino.

Distribution Platforms and Conglomerates

Small studios can find it hard to attract operators’ attention at all. Because of that, larger suppliers sometimes act as distribution platforms for the smaller ones, taking a cut of their revenue share.

That makes the distributors one-stop shops for the operators, adding to the near-ubiquity of some games across casino sites. For instance, every online casino using Light & Wonder’s remote gaming server has access to the same content catalog. That will include games from all the little studios that have struck distribution deals with Light & Wonder.

These larger suppliers sometimes end up acquiring the smaller ones. For instance, Big Time Gaming, NetEnt, and Red Tiger began as independent studios but are now all subsidiaries of Evolution.

Exclusive Content vs. In-House Content

Of course, not every game is available at every casino. Different operators make different decisions about what to offer. Sometimes, to stand out, they’ll ask for exclusivity from one of their suppliers.

“Exclusive” can mean a lot of different things when it comes to slots.

Often, it’s a limited-time arrangement, allowing an operator to offer a new game a few weeks before the competition. But if those games are popular, you’ll still see them appear at other online casinos after the exclusivity period expires.

Other exclusivity deals involve customized branding. For instance, IGT’s Cleopatra is available at most online casinos, but only Caesars Palace Online has the bespoke Caesars Cleopatra variant.

However, the most distinctive games come from operators with in-house suppliers. For instance, DraftKings has established its own content studio to develop a line of DraftKings exclusives.

Meanwhile, Entain owns half of BetMGM and its related brands (Borgata and Wheel of Fortune Casino), so its games are exclusive to those brands in the US.

Licensed Content

Sometimes, suppliers even strike deals with other suppliers to let them use certain aspects of their games.

For instance, you’ve probably seen a lot of Megaways games out there. The patent for those games belongs to Big Time Gaming, a subsidiary of Evolution. However, you’ll see Megaways titles from other studios, some of which don’t belong to Evolution.

That’s because part of Big Time’s business model is letting other companies make Megaways games in return for a cut of the proceeds.

The same thing happens in reverse with GamingRealms and its Slingo series. You’ll see Slingo games based on other companies’ brands. Rather than licensing its Slingo mechanics to those other studios, Gaming Realms licenses the branding and graphics of popular slots and makes Slingo versions of them.

Live Dealer Content

Live dealer casino games are increasingly popular at US online casinos and, on the business side, work a lot like other casino content.

There are currently five suppliers providing such games in the US:

  • Evolution
  • Ezugi (an Evolution subsidiary)
  • Authentic Gaming (a Light & Wonder subsidiary)
  • Playtech
  • Stakelogic (exclusive to Bally’s Rhode Island)

        No US operators currently have in-house live dealer capabilities. However, several online casinos have struck deals with Evolution to provide them with exclusive tables and custom designs.

        Usually, this just means that the table features the casino’s branding and that their players are separate from those of competitors who use the generic tables. However, we’re starting to see more creative possibilities being explored. For instance, Caesars Palace introduced hockey-themed blackjack for NHL fans just before the start of the 2024 playoffs.

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        About the Author

        Alex Weldon

        Alex Weldon

        Alex Weldon is an online gambling industry analyst with nearly ten years of experience. He currently serves as Casino News Managing Editor for Bonus.com, part of the Catena Media Network. Other gambling news sites he has contributed to include PlayUSA and Online Poker Report, and his writing has been cited in The Atlantic.
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