Entain, the UK-based sports betting and gambling company, is launching a “global innovation hub” to develop new technologies and products for the sports and entertainment ‘metaverse’, an online virtual reality (VR) environment.

Dubbed ‘Ennovate’, the hub will host accelerator and incubator programs and invest up to £100 million ($134 million) in innovation projects, startups, and collaborations with UK, European, and global partners, £40 million ($54 million) of which is earmarked as UK investment.

Ennovate is aimed at supporting Entain's goal of becoming a “global leader in interactive entertainment” through its brands like Bwin, Ladbrokes, and Partypoker.

Initial technologies to be explored will be non-fungible token (NFT) videos of iconic moments from tournaments run by Partypoker, immersive VR and augmented reality (AR) including a “VR multi-sports club experience”, and VR arcades on the high street.

Among the first technology companies to partner with Ennovate will be Verizon (exploring 5G for immersive experiences), BT (5G connectivity, high-speed fixed networks, and edge computing), and Theta Labs (to develop a white-labeled NFT platform for Partypoker).

Ennovate will also work with not-for-profit organizations to develop innovations for societal and environmental benefit.

Ennovate’s first location will open between March and May in London, UK, and will be home to members of Entain's innovation technology team who will work with its commercial and not-for-profit partners.

Sandeep Tiku, chief operating officer at Entain, said: “Our goal is to bring the most exciting experiences in immersive sport, gaming, and interactive entertainment to life as the metaverse takes shape. Working with partners we believe we can achieve great things faster, both for customers and to apply these technologies and skills to benefit wider society.”

The intention for Ennovate to work with not-for-profit partners and to deliver work that benefits society reflects the changes to Entain’s strategy when it was rebranded from GVC Holdings in 2020.

Its plans for a socially responsible future outlined then included the generation of all its revenue from locally regulated markets by the end of 2023, an increased focus on player safety and protection, and improvements to corporate governance.

Subsequently, Entain was the subject of two takeover bids.

In January 2021, MGM Resorts pulled out of talks after Entain said the $11-billion bid made by the US casino and gaming giant "significantly" undervalued the company.

Then, in October, DraftKings walked away from a potential $20-billion takeover after lengthy discussions with Entain’s leadership.

In response, Entain said it “strongly believes” in its future prospects and remaining as an independent company.