When you think of gambling, smoky casinos populated by tough guys chewing cigars and nursing their whiskey probably come to mind.
UK online gamblers might not quite fit this image but they can increasingly get into the spirit of their Vegas counterparts through technology that allows them a way to banter across the baize with their opponents.
bwin (BWIN.DE), one of the largest listed online gaming companies in the world with around 20 million users in 22 countries, is currently testing tech that enables players in the virtual casinos to interact in exactly the same way as if they would in a real-world venue.
The tool, called Shoutbox, also allows users to comment on their bets and challenge friends on their buddy lists to bets via Facebook and Twitter.
According to bwin CTO Thomas Kiessling, the development of tech—and the social side of online gambling in particular—will be a key way of building the business in the future.
Shoutbox is one plank in bwin's strategy. The company is also looking to address user-generated content and is developing a social software platform featuring tools to help gamblers interact with each other, such as instant messaging, buddy lists, presence services and alerts.
Kiessling's team has just completed a three-year project to build a new poker platform (P5) at a cost of between €20m and €25m which took 250 man years to create. To put this into context, the company's annual IT budget is €80m.
The revamped platform—along with a new 24-hour live betting service—went live in June and can be plugged into third party websites to provide them with the same gaming functionality which they can then tailor for their own sites.
Kiessling feels developing new products and embracing web 2.0 phenomenon such as social networking will be key to attracting more of these gamblers who are making to switch to online.
"It's really the customer experience that's key. The customer churn is very important—anything around customer relationship management, customer intelligence, usability studies. That is a major priority for me," he told silicon.com.
Accordingly, bwin's priorities are on the development of new products—around 320 of the company's 650 IT staff are application developers—rather than the maintenance of infrastructure.
"My challenge is not a couple of million [euros] I spend on datacentres and server farms, not at all—that's number 60 of my priorities. My core challenge is time to market, output, development, productivity [and to] crank out new products," he told silicon.com.
It's a change of strategy for the gambling company: two years ago most of Kiessling's time was spent dealing with infrastructure issues. He now estimates he spends around 80 per cent of his time managing the development of new products, improving enterprise architecture and finding the best talent in order to bolster the company's tech development.
Kiessling isn't the only gambling CTO focusing on getting new products to market quicker. In an interview with silicon.com earlier this year, Betfair's CTO Tony McAlister said the gambling giant is undergoing a radical overhaul of its development processes to allow the company to take advantage of international business opportunities much quicker.
Instead of focusing all its energies on its core exchange gambling platform, Betfair is moving towards a more modular approach, with the aim of entering new markets faster.
"We are moving to a more agile methodology because we are looking at building smaller components and integrating them," McAlister said at the time.