Our colleague, Szaló Réka interviewed Joseph Borg who is Vice-President of Bitmalta, and also a senior advisor at WH Partners, a law firm specializing in Gaming, Corporate, IT, Telecoms and Intellectual Property Law. He also lectures Gaming Law at the University of Malta and is the Secretary General of the Malta IT Law Association.
Thank you for being available and accepting this interview. First of all will you please introduce yourself and the company you represent?
Borg: Thank you for inviting me to give this interview. It is my pleasure. I am an advocate by profession, and I’m currently a Senior Advisor to WH Partners, practising mainly in the areas of Gaming, Blockchain, Esports, Corporate, IT, Telecoms and Intellectual Property Law. I also lecture Gaming Law at the University of Malta. Currently I’m also the Vice-President of Bitmalta, which is a non-profit organization that I co-founded, with a mission to promoting and stimulating discussion about blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies in Malta. Before joining WH Partners I occupied the post of Chief Regulatory Officer of the Lotteries and Gaming Authority – Malta (now the Malta Gaming Authority), where I worked for almost 7 years. During my tenure at the MGA, I was elected as a Member on the Board of Trustees of the International Association of Gaming Regulators (IAGR).
You have rich experience in providing advice to the Gaming industry. Why did you choose gaming, or may I ask: did the industry choose you?
Borg: I believe the industry chose me when I joined the Lotteries and Gaming Authority in Malta in 2017. The MGA (then known as the LGA), was set up in 2004 and became fully operational by 2006. I was one of its first employees and I witnessed the growth of the industry in Malta first hand. I was coming from a telecoms and IT law background after obtaining a Masters degree in the subject and 3 years experience as Legal Counsel to Vodafone Malta. Coming from a vibrant and dynamic industry like the telecoms industry I thought that this is as interesting and exciting as it can get. But when I got into the gaming industry I felt that this is the industry I want to focus on. If the telecoms industry is vibrant, dynamic and exciting, the gaming industry is all of that ten times over.
What is your personal opinion about the European gambling industry and could you make a comparison with the market that you know better and the European situation in terms of gaming and gambling?
Borg: Unfortunately the fragmentation of the European market is bad news for the industry and players. It is next to impossible for the industry to grow across the European market and we have situations where customers from different European Union member states are not able to obtain their services legally from their preferred provider. It has created first class and 2nd class EU citizens where 1st class citizens where some citizens are spoilt for choice in terms of which operator they want to play with while 2nd class citizens are bound to choose from a few operators that have little or no competition and that can take the attitude of ‘take it or leave it’ or worse still that would like to offer a better product but cannot because they are stifled by outrages taxes and irrational limitations. It is a ridiculous situation, where in a common market that is supposed to present equal opportunities to everyone.
What advice would you give for those investors who are planning to set up a business in the gaming and gambling sector in Europe?
Borg: It is difficult to set up a new gaming business and succeed in Europe at the moment, unless you come up with an innovative business model or innovative products that will give you the edge. Currently I see room for growth in the Esports betting sectors, blockchain technology based products, virtual reality and augmented reality products, as well as niche operators. Most successful startups will be taken over by the big boys in the industry. But that’s a lifecycle we have to adapt to.
According to you which are the values of Bitcoin that can make it very effective and due to which it will enhance the gaming industry?
Borg: The technology behind Bitcoin is the real game changer. Blockchain technology brings with it massive advantages to the gaming offerings especially when it comes to security, trust, player protection and cost efficiency.
With this technology everyone is a winner. Operators benefit from security and cost efficiency, customers befit from added security, trust and player protection while the regulator benefits from all of the above as well as a higher degree of monitoring possibilities.
With blockchain technology, everyone is a winner!
Cryptocurrencies are the blood running to the blockchain veins. Cryptocurrencies bring a number of challenges and opportunities. But all the challenges can be overcome with a little bit of effort and common sense from all parties involved.
You are Co-Founder and Vice-President at Bitmalta, a non-profit organisation. What mission does this organisation undertake? Will you please tell us more about this organisation?
Borg: I set up Bitmalta together with Jonathan Galea, who has been actively involved in blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies for over 5 years, when very few people had any idea of what this technology entails.
It is a non-profit organization that I co-founded, with a mission to promoting and stimulating discussion about blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies in Malta. The aim is to lobby in favour of the adoption of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies with the government as well as with regulatory authorities. It also aims at educating people through seminars and other initiatives about this revolutionary technology.
What is your main hobby?
Borg: My passion is football. I am a big Juventus fan, a season ticket holder at the Allianz Stadium in Turin. I was also the President and Co-Founder of the largest Juventus official fan club outside of Italy. Unfortunately, due to work and family commitments (I’m a father of 2 year old twins) I had to resign from the club and I travel to Turin less frequently. However, I would not miss a Juventus match, irrespectively of where I am in the world and on which time zone I am in.
I also try to go to the gym 3 times a week, when possible.
Where would you travel the most in Central Europe?
Borg: My favourite cities are Turin (for obvious reasons), Stockholm and Edinburgh. However, my most memorable travels have been to the wilderness of the countryside of Sweden, Ireland, Scotland and Alaska.
Interview with Dr. Mag. Klaus Christian Vögl
Dr. Mag. Klaus Christian Vögl, the long-serving Managing Director of the Department of Leisure and Sports Facilities in the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, offers here his lucid opinions on gambling and betting legislation in Austria. He not just talks about the nitty-gritty of legislation, but clearly implies where the new legislation could lead the betting industry to.
He is critical of Austria’s legislators and regulator. He says some of the legislators want “simply to preserve and protect the acquis of monopoly companies (Austrian Lotteries, Casinos Austria)”. He talks positively about the way gambling legislation is changing in Europe, especially Central and Eastern Europe.
There is much more. Read on for an enlightening interview with one of the foremost legal experts in Europe.
I’d first like to ask you to begin with a few words about yourself. It’s always nice to hear top-class professionals say a few words about themselves for our audience.
Klaus: I´m Managing Director of the Department of Leisure and Sports Facilities in the Vienna Chamber of Commerce since 1981. Our specialist group looks after around 40 different branches, from tourist guides to dance schools and sports companies to the gambling and betting sector. The companies in the gambling monopoly sector are members of another division of the Chamber. Here in Austria, we have a statutory compulsory membership of all commercial enterprises in the Chamber of Commerce, which is around 600,000.
Now on to betting laws in Austria. Protective can be a word used for the gambling legislation in the country. It is also somewhat unique in its distinction between betting and gambling. Your thoughts on this?
Klaus: The distinction made by the Austrian Federal Constitution is indeed special. Gambling is a federal matter and essentially regulated in a monopoly, sports betting is a matter of the state and governed by various different state laws. In the betting area, there is (still) a free market regulated under very strict conditions, apart from Vienna. In Vienna the competent authority, due to political decisions, almost does not issue licenses although we have a brand new state law.
The betting law varies from region to region in Austria. For instance, the betting law of Salzburg is different from that of Vienna. What about a uniform betting legislation throughout the country – like the gambling legislation?
Klaus: In fact, the current government program plans to transfer the betting system into federal competence. In principle, nothing would be objectionable. For the providers operating throughout Austria, it could even be a great advantage and a simplification. However, we fear that the legislator and the stakeholders behind it could establish a monopoly or oligopoly, in order to eliminate the free market. As was accomplished concerning slot machines before in 2012.
There have been reports about new amendments in the betting and gambling legislation, ranging from IP blocking for online betting to the operation of biometric recognition in slot apparatus and setting up of a Competence Center. How are these legal amendments going to affect the betting industry in the country? Is it going to be stricter?
Klaus: We fear that the train will roll in the stricter direction. The planned changes in the gambling sector that you address are not yet affecting sports betting. Setting up biometric controls is not a problem for our industry in itself, even welcomed. What worries us most of all at the moment is the demonization of the betting terminals and, in Vienna in special, the legislators fight against betting exchange. Imagine: the whole country, the government and the whole of Europe is talking about digitization, and then we should get back to the bookmakers switch if possible. Whereas it anyway still exists.
Isn’t the conservative approach to betting and gambling legislation a hindrance to the growth of betting and gambling industry in the country?
Klaus: Absolutely, but that’s the political will of all political parties in Austria. The Chamber of Commerce is also in favour of strict framework conditions. The gambling and betting market does not have to grow at all, but it should be regulated in a consolidated way. This applies, for example, to the area of online gambling, which is totally ignored by our gambling law, or even online betting, for example, for which the Viennese authorities declare to be not responsible. Only in Salzburg you can apply for such a license concerning betting.
The gaming world has been witnessing a massive change with the introduction of new software platforms, crypto currencies and generally smarter operators. How is Austria’s law faring against the changes?
Klaus: Not at all, these areas are ignored and declared illegal by our regulator. The aim of the legislator is simply to preserve and protect the acquis of monopoly companies (Austrian Lotteries, Casinos Austria).
What are the major challenges facing the formulation of betting and gambling legislation as a whole? There is a thin line separating the need for protecting the society from gambling addiction and the need for allowing the industry to grow economically. How do the legislators negotiate this inherent conflict of interests?
Klaus: Legislators see, as far as private sector providers are concerned, exclusively the field of protection of players and minors. Economic considerations or argumentation with secure jobs go nowhere, and there is not even a willingness to talk in Vienna. In the federal states, the policy is sometimes more prudent. When, for example, in Vienna in 2014, the “small slot machine game” was turned off by the legislature, this brought many gastronomic businesses and of course also long-established vending machines companies in distress. We argued with a high number of jobs and a tax loss alone from the amusement tax of around 80 million Euros for the city of Vienna, per year. Then a politician in a leading medium said, “these jobs are worth nothing”. In such a view, unfortunately, every factual conversation is unnecessary. On the other hand, the protected monopoly sector is expected to grow, with regular sales and profit figures being published on a regular basis, pointing out the high social importance of gambling. That this is not EU-coherent, is evident.
What are the chances of realizing a unified betting law for Europe, at least for online gambling and betting? A legal equivalent of Euro, that is.
Klaus: The ball is clearly in the hands of the commission, which has been squandering on the “hot mush” for years. Even the Services Directive excluded the gambling sector. The chances are not good in the short term. In the medium term, the need to intervene regulatively cannot be ignored. We can only hope that this does not happen too restrictive, although with full respect for consumer protection, which is one of the declared main aims oft he EU.
On to a more general question now. E-sports are gaining more recognition and exponential popularity. It may soon be drafted into the Olympics too. Do you see any legal hurdles for the further growth of E-sports?
Klaus: As long as E-Sports remains skill-based, I do not see any problems, these are normal events. Should it be possible to make the area Olympic, that would be a milestone, because the sport is regulated more favourably than the game. It could also be legally betted on the outcome of e-sports events, which is currently not possible. It is important to observe whether e-sports is not abused for illegal gambling, there is a certain danger I see, and this would put the entire new business sector in the wrong light.
Now the final question – a bit off-topic. You have had a chance to travel a lot owing to your official position. Could you please share some interesting experience during your travels?
Klaus: It is interesting for me to learn, for example in the Prague meetings, that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are wider than Austria in terms of realistic regulation of gambling. Unthinkable, for example, that official representatives of the Austrian Ministry of Finance would sit down with operators and ask: what can we do better? Our regulator always knows everything better on its own, even a public corporation like the Chamber of Commerce is only partially heard. Fascinating for me is in my travels, in what a short time Europe has grown together. You can really feel European today, and I do it with all my heart. I still experienced customs borders, the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain – an hour’s drive from Vienna. How far away is that today! And that’s good.
Exclusive interview with Saverio Castellano, co-founder, research director and CTO at GameArt
Our latest interviewee is well know in the online gambling industry, especially in the Omni-channel development. Saverio Castellano is the co-founder, research director and CTO at GameArt, a boutique Omni-channel development studio of customised casino applications and slot games to the online, social and land-based casino verticals, with offices in Malta, Slovenia, and Serbia. Saverio holds a Ph.D. in Particle Physics and is an igaming industry veteran with 12 years of software and mathematics slots development.
I would like to thank you for spending time to answer our questions. You have rich experience in gaming and gambling industries as one can read in your biography, you are “an Igaming industry veteran with 12 years of software and mathematics slots development.” Why did you choose gaming, or may I ask: did the industry choose you? What do you think?
Saverio: From an early age, I was always inquisitive to how everything worked. This led me to study, one of my passions, science and in particular the field of Nuclear Physics. Within Physics, applied mathematics is essential for developing abstract concepts, problem-solving and the practical application of those models.
After completing my Ph.D., I started my career in computer science and software development, gaining extensive experience in design architecture, and an enterprise-level backend for mobile applications. I always had an interest in slots and the iGaming sector which was rapidly growing in Italy, and my first adventure into the world of gaming, was as Head Mathematician of Sogei, the Games and RNG regulator for the Italian state monopoly AAMS, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What role do you undertake in the company’s life? What are your tasks and responsibilities?
Saverio: My role within the GameArt business, which I co-founded, is I’m the research director and CTO. Overall I’m responsible for the company’s development studios, the management of our engineers, delivery and support teams in Malta, Slovenia and Serbia. This includes the product roadmap, from conception, to prototype to production of slots, for our clients that have Omni-channel businesses across online, social and land-based.
Since the start of GameArt, I have also been the one that invents the concepts of all our slots designs the mathematics, and I have built the foundation of the technologies that the company has been using so far: namely our game server and the game client technology that we rely on to develop our games.
As a business, we are continually striving to be adaptive to fast-changing technologies and part of my remit is to source, and research how the latest tech can be used within our business and more importantly by applied within the regulated iGaming ecosystem.
Will you please tell us about the difficulties and successes you have experienced during your career?
Saverio: In answering this question I will refer to my experience with GameArt only. Otherwise, there’d be too much to say here. What has enabled GameArt to start and become in such a short time a successful business is entirely the ideas, experience, and expertise of me and the other two partners who founded the company.
When we were still in a start-up phase, there were many potential venture capitalists that would be interested in investing in GameArt. Again, we decided to do everything with our own strength. This definitely made things harder and a lot more challenging especially in the initial phase. I have learned that becoming an essential player in the gambling market it is not only about having great games, but you also need to go through the whole process of acquiring licenses, getting the games certified, establishing your name, and deal with a lot of other things.
Despite the significant challenge, we succeeded and had made all of this without a consistent upfront investment, and this is what I consider our most significant success.
GameArt is a leading-provider of high-quality digital gaming. Please speak about this company, its activity and its goals.
Saverio: Since its inception, GameArt has been focusing on producing slot games only. Slot games are what we like, what our expertise is, what we do well.
Our mission derives from the consideration that there is a gap between the quality of the slot games in the online gaming world and one of the best performing slots that you find in the world’s best casinos and more generally in the class III world. In creating our portfolio of slot games, we have been aiming to fill this gap, producing high-quality slots with outstanding graphics and solid mathematics. Because of this, even focusing mainly on online gaming we have been able to expand our business to the landbased world as well.
Which are the most successful, most popular products you offer to your clients?
Saverio: The success of our product stems from the ability to release game titles that appeal to different markets and different player demographics. If we look at our range of slot games, there are games like Money Farm 2 and Dragon Lady that are among the best performers in Europe, and games like Dragon King and King Of Monkeys that are much appreciated by Chinese players and are doing very well in Asian markets.
Our product offering is completed with a cutting-edge gaming platform that offers our clients powerful features and marketing tools to promote games and maximize revenues, such as multi-level and multi-currency jackpots, free spins, tournaments, and campaigns.
Tell us please about the future plans, projects of GameArt.
Saverio: Our current goals are to maximize revenues and get a bigger slice of the markets in Asia and Italy where we are already doing quite well.
Having completed the certification process for some of the most stringent regulated markets, our next goal is to approach big operators and at the same time extend the certification to other countries where we are still not operating. Completing the process of acquiring the UK license is our most important short-term goal at the moment.
We are also looking at blockchain technologies, and we recently made a prototype which consists in having integrated our game server with the Ethereum blockchain so that people can play our slots directly on the blockchain and have all gameplay provably verifiable. This is an exciting topic which we will continue to explore and pioneer during this year.
I would like to ask you a more personal question. In what ways does work influence your personal life, your personal growth and what does success mean to you?
Saverio: Work and personal life in my case are entirely entwined. I like it to be this way since I chose to be part of this industry because I understood that it enables you to have a very dynamic life and keep yourself busy doing exciting things.
The influence that my work has had on my personal life is enormous, and it is not limited to the economic side as it allowed me to travel the world, to meet great people and to do fantastic, challenging experiences.
The meaning of success is comprehensive, in my case; it has to do with the amount of freedom and control of my own time.
GameArt is a premium developer of slot games to the online and land-based gaming industry, including leading online operators, video-lottery suppliers, and casino game machine manufacturers.
New licensees include established operators looking to expand or diversify their games offering, fast-growing challenger-brands looking to increase market-share, and start-up operators, including those targeting newly-regulated markets.
GameArt’s core technology provides a true multiplatform capability and its game management system provides licensees extensive integration options, high-level bonus, and CRM capabilities, plus predictive business intelligence tools to help maximize game-player retention and improve ROI.
For more details, visit www.gameart.net
Meet Jakob Hagemann, Founder and CEO of Kiggit, social betting company based in Copenhagen
Social betting has always been a key part of the industry and it seems that companies are still fighting for innovation in the vertical. Such the company of Jakob Hagemann, who is the CEO & Founder of the social sports betting platform Kiggit.
With a background in mobile apps product management and experience of working with a mobile operator, Jakob has always been launching and managing apps. This is how he came up with the idea of launching Kiggit, a social betting app for football fans. The description of the game play is simple and yet complex, users get 500 credits when signing up, and can spend it on bets against other users or in private bets with friends. They push out daily and weekly bet slips for specific target users which include prize bets. Examples are gitcards for Amazon, Nike or digital gift card provider. The company’s revenue model is that users spend credits in their bets and can win more. If running out of credits, users top-up via in-app purchase.
The company is headquartered in Copenhagen and it is run by 6 people working on Kiggit. Their investors include Seier Capital and a group of business angels. Next step is to create a mother brand as they are broadening out to include other sports and various products so they can integrate with sports media companies, sports betting operators and even large corporations wishing to run closed office pools.
First of all thank you very much for accepting this interview. As it can be read in your biography you have rich experience in end-to-end product management including team management, prototyping and idea generation, management of design and development phase, go-to-market and commercialization, ASO, product management. I would like to ask you to shortly introduce yourself to our readers and tell us when and why you started working in this industry.
Jakob: I have been working with apps for a lot of years now. Actually, from before the iPhone hit the market, so a lot has happened since then. I am not a developer myself, but have more of a product-oriented role although in a startup you end up doing a lot of stuff.
I had the idea of creating something social around football for years before setting up Kiggit as a company back in 2013. My friends and I have always created a betting pool when watching the Champions League final together. We basically, wrote down our tips with pen and paper. I wanted to take this experience and create a digital platform where friends and colleagues should be able to compete like that – no matter if they are sitting together or are in each their location.
You are the founder and CEO of Kiggit, a social sports betting platform. Tell us please about your role, your tasks and responsibilities at Kiggit.
Jakob: I am very product-focused, so I work a lot on wireframes, roadmaps and specifications for our designer and devleopers. I try not to get too distracted, but there is also a lot of work with investors and potential partners, and at times that really takes up all my time – and thoughts.
Will you please shortly introduce the company you represent for our readers? Please speak about the services it offers and its future goals in Europe and around the world.
Jakob: Kiggit is a social betting platform for football fans. Instead of betting for real money, we are developing a more game-like experience around football tips. Basically, we let you create or join groups and make predictions on football. There are weekly, monthly and season winners. We have tested out different flows and revenue streams, and are soon opening up for companies, so they can offer prizes on our platform. An example is that you will be able to join a Company X competition during the World Cup and win prizes from that company if you are best at predicting winners and goal scorers during the World Cup.
We have recently launched and the plan is now to update with the groups feature before the World Cup. We are looking at different interesting markets. Currently, approximately 60% of our users are from the US. We will be rolling out in LATAM, Asia and more European countries. Let’s see, I hope to be live in 20+ countries by the end of 2018.
Having such a rich professional experience my next question would be: which have been the most difficult periods in your career so far and what do you consider your personal success?
Jakob: To me personally, fundraising can be really tiring and put you under pressure. The most difficult times have definitely been the times where it has been very unsure if we could land an investment. It just brings out a lot of discussions and I had to learn how to better cope with the stress it involves to be under that kind of pressure.
Tell us please about your future plans, projects regarding your professional life.
Jakob: I really focus 100% on the short-term with Kiggit right now. Earlier I have been dreaming about selling the company and become a business angel myself, but I have much more focus on the smaller steps now as I simply need to act on those rather than always thinking years ahead. I am sure that if I work hard on Kiggit, we can make it big in one way or the other.
What does success mean to you and do you consider your career a successful one?
Jakob: Success to me is related to freedom. I really cherish the freedom I have being in a small company where we manage our own time and work when we want. I put in a lot of hours, but it is at my own schedule. I have two sons and a girlfriend, and I consider myself successful when I can spend so much time with them.
My last question is a bit more personal: Do you like travelling and which places would you like to travel not just in Europe but in the whole world?
Sure, I like travelling. I have just been to Madrid with my family to watch Atletico Madrid play. It was a great experience. I would love to take my family to Japan and see the country by train.
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