Tombola sold for £400m! What happens next?

November 18, 2021

In case you missed it, there was a massive news story this morning which announced that the UK's biggest online bingo site, tombola, had been sold to Flutter Plc for a whopping £400m!

Flutter Plc are a FTSE 100 registered company who also happen to own a number of online gambling brands, including Sky Bet, Paddy Power and Betfair - all of whom have rival online bingo products powered by Playtech's Virtue Fusion platform.

The deal is expected to go through some time in early 2022 once the competitions watchdog has given it the go-ahead, but that's usually a formality once these kind of announcements are made.

What does this mean for tombola players?

It's unlikely the acquisition will mean anything at all for tombola players in the short term. The new owners are unlikely to implement any major changes for the first year or so, especially as tombola has been so ridiculously successful thanks to it's unique approach of creating unique in-house games with responsible gambling baked in to every facet of the business.

I fully expect their to be a very long period of time whereby they allow the existing tombola management team to run things while they learn how everything works and what it is that makes the site so successful. If they go in and start changing things, players will soon vote with their feet and walk away.

One of the reasons why tombola has remained popular is the fact that it has rarely changed over the years. Just look at these two screenshots of their website. The first is from 2008 when they first broke away from Sun Bingo to go it alone, and the second is from today.

Tombola 2008
Tombola's homepage back in 2008 when it first launched
tombola 2021
Tombola's website today. It's incredible how little it's changed

The other thing that makes tombola so unique, besides their actual games, is their policy of safe play, low stakes (max £2 on any game) and more-generous-than-most RTP (return to player) on all their games. These kind of things could easily be eroded over time without the strong leadership of Phil Cronin, but doing so would be changing the DNA of tombola dramatically that players would likely revolt.

So what could change long term?

The possibilities are endless as to what could happen a few years down the road.

I know many of the big slot developers will be keeping a close eye on whether or not Flutter would allow them to place their slot titles within tombola or tombola arcade. For example, I could see something like Fluffy Favourites doing really well on tombola, so long as they changed their settings to match the £2 maximum stakes. I don't think it's likely to happen, but it's something I wouldn't rule out a few years down the line.

I think what is more likely to be considered is whether or not Flutter could take the unique bingo platform that tombola have built and bring their other bingo brands onto the same platform. Essentially creating a Flutter bingo network, powered by tombola, that pools players together from Sky Bingo, Paddy Power and Betfair.

If they did that, and did it in the right way, it could be a game-changer for the UK market as we know it.

Tombola in the US?

Another thing that could happen is that Flutter help push tombola into the USA. States are already opening up to online betting and gaming, one by one, and if somehow they could position tombola in the mix and establish it as the home for online bingo in America, they could soon see a return on that £400m outlay.

Tombola have already branched overseas with tombola in Italy and Spain, so they've proven already they can become market leaders in other territories.

What this means for other bingo sites

As someone who is now involved with Buzz Bingo, the thought of seeing the likes of Paddy Power, Sky and Betfair some day plugging into tombola's platform and therefore leaving the Playtech network, actually fills me with dread and a fair bit of jealousy.

It would be something really difficult for them to do, but if done in the right way, it could be absolutely transformative for those brands. Paddy Power Bingo, for example, could theoretically use all tombola's bingo games but then you also have all the sports betting and the third party slot games, casino, poker, etc. It would be mental.

I think other brands would be lying if they weren't concerned that could happen, but equally we all know that it would not happen overnight and it would bring with it considerable risks.

If anything, I think the good thing that will come from all this will be a renewed determination from the likes of Playtech, Gamesys, Dragonfish and Pragmatic Play to improve their competing bingo products, which in the long term will mean better bingo all round for all players wherever you play.

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