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Exclusive Interview with George Shamugia, Singular’s CEO

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Exclusive Interview with George Shamugia, Singular's CEO
Reading Time: 7 minutes

 

Could you briefly narrate the story of Singular, from its beginning in 2009 in Tbilisi to its present state as a global gaming technology provider?

The story of Singular started back in December 2009 in Tbilisi, Georgia when it was officially formed as a company by two longtime friends (friends, since high school) George Shamugia and Akaki Meladze. Initially, Singular was involved in social gaming and during the course of 2010 – 2011 has produced several popular mass scale social games. During the second half of 2011, Singular did few social games (Dice Poker, Fantasy Football) for the local online gambling operator Adjarabet. During that time Adjarabet had just started their online operations. Soon they became the leading Georgian casino operator, and Singular played a huge role in this.

This was the first exposure to iGaming for Singular. We instantly saw a big opportunity for us in the iGaming field and in 2012 fully pivoted to iGaming. Singular’s experience in Social Gaming field empowered the company to swiftly enter the iGaming field and provide a truly outstanding solution, which was innovative and forward-looking. Since then Singular has developed bespoke iGaming platform, Sports-betting platform, Poker, and some casino and live casino content.

During the next few years (till the end of 2014) Adjarabet fully migrated to Singular’s solutions across all verticals: iGaming platform, SportsBetting, P2P games including poker, casino and live casino content.
In 2013 Singular opened its first office outside Georgia, in Skopje Macedonia. The decision was mostly dictated by the rapidly growing demand for Singular’s products. At the end of 2014 Darko Gacov, who was previously heading Adjarabet’s online operations, from day one, joined Singular as one of the partners. In 2015 Singular moved its HQ to Malta and exhibited for the first time on ICE London. 2015 is the year when Singular started the expansion of its client base and soon it had clients across every single continent covering the regulated markets for online gambling.
Throughout the years, innovation has always been our focus, and at the end of 2018, this was recognized by the Venture capital fund – Vereeni Investments. Singular joined Vereeni Investments’ newly unveiled €100 million tech fund ‘Level Up’ which focuses on innovative companies within the fintech, media, iGaming, business intelligence, software development, crypto and blockchain verticals. This has initiated a number of growth plans which have the potential to further expand Singular’s presence, not only geographically, but also in new industry directions.

Singular provides the full spectrum of iGaming and land-based technology solutions to gaming companies, ranging from the front-end website through the games to CRM and back-end features. Could you share a couple of success stories of gaming companies that use Singular’s platform and services?

There are few examples that can be mentioned here, but one solid example is Adjarabet, the Georgian operator which, having being fueled solely by Singular’s technology, became the fastest growing online gaming company on a global level and dominated the local market. We empowered their transition from retail to online by successful digitalization of their brick and mortar roulettes and streaming them online – a bridge for players trust.
This year, Adjarabet was acquired by Paddy Power Betfair who want to prolong the utilization of Singular’s platform for several coming years thanks to the continuous innovation of the
solutions and our tailored approach for each operator which only confirms our dedication to helping our partners grow.

There is a buzz in the industry about the new sportsbook that Singular is developing. It is tipped to be the most innovative of its kind. Could you tell us more about it? When is the launch scheduled?

In September this year, we are planning to release a completely new sports-book which was engineered from scratch and will set a new standard for sports-betting in the iGaming Industry. The product is the result of long and thorough research of the market with a high focus on changing players’ demands. Also, we believe that these shifts in demand provide lots of opportunities to change their experience as well. This release is our attempt to redefine what Sports-betting platform should look like and offer in terms of functionality.
Our new sports-book will take user experience to the next level with some bold moves, with in-play first approach, a platform that automatically adapts to each player’s needs and gives them personalized game experience, based on their activities and interaction patterns with the platform.

Your development centers are located at Skopje and Tbilisi – not, for instance, London, California or Malta. Was it a deliberate decision to stick with the supposedly offbeat locations? What are its pros and cons, if any?

When we started the Singular Story our goal was not only building a successful business but contributing towards building a more robust software community in our home country. Making a decision to start a company far from the innovation hubs bear its own risks, especially when your goal is to compete on a global scale. But, I think those are the decisions that make the journey worthwhile. You’d be surprised how skillful and ambitious talent pool these “offbeat” locations have. So, everything started in Tbilisi, Georgia where our first development base was opened and where today we have a strong and innovative team of engineers. Also, the development base in Skopje, Macedonia tackles all sports-book related development and innovation processes. Opening office in Macedonia for us was a straightforward decision. First, Macedonia offers a good pool of highly qualified backend java engineers. Second, the
fact that Darko Gacov, one of our partners, is from Macedonia gave Singular easy access to that market. The latest addition to our development bases is Tallinn, Estonia, which is one of the tech hubs of Europe. For this reason, finding top-notch software engineers there is easy.

Malta is the place where Singular is headquartered, and all the Singulars processes and activities are governed. The reason behind the opening HQ in Malta is simple – Malta is almost like the Silicon Valley for iGaming industry. It goes without saying that every single iGaming company must have some sort of presence in Malta.
San Francisco base, which is also a new addition to our team, works solely on a new iGaming product which will primarily target the US market only and initially will be launched as F2P (free to play).
On the cons side, having distributed teams across several locations with time zone differences requires a lot of effort to keep everyone in sync.

Could you tell us more about the regulated markets that have Singular’s footprint? What are your strategies to tackle vastly different and constantly changing legislations even across Europe?

Let me name a few markets: Europe, Nigeria from the African Continent and recently regulated LATAM market. We have quite frequent release cycles for almost every product, which makes it easy for us to adjust to new regulations almost instantly. The strategy we have in place to tackle vastly different and constantly changing legislation lays deep within the architecture of our platforms. Our solutions have modular architecture on the granular level, almost every aspect and functionality of them is fully configurable. In other words, every single module is a standalone service and fully configurable. This allows us to adjust and be compatible with almost every jurisdiction out there. It’s true that this kind of architecture requires more time and resources during the development time, but its flexibility fully pays off during operations. Almost no two deployments of our platform look the same thanks to the highly configurable nature. This does not only allow us to tackle different regulations required by different markets but also enables us to deliver a fully customizable and flexible platform to our clients. Ultimately, this helps our clients to stand out from the competition.

The USA and, to a lesser extent, Japan are the happening places at the moment for the sports betting service providers, especially the US Supreme Court’s verdict on PASPA Act. How do you see these developments and the role of Singular on these markets?

At this moment our primary focus is on the U.S market. It will be quite a challenging market because of its nature and will require a lot of innovation and leading-edge approaches. Good thing is that we, at Singular, love challenges while challenging markets and innovation is in our DNA.
At this moment, every single Sports-betting solution provider out there tries to directly launch their existing solutions in the U.S. In our opinion, this is a huge mistake because all the existing solutions are primarily focused on Europe. The U.S. is a totally different market and requires a tailored approach. The U.S. users’ demands and expectations in terms of the sports-betting experience totally varies from what we have in Europe or even in Africa or Asia. That is why we took a different approach for the U.S market and currently are in the process of developing new product tailored for the U.S. market. The launch is planned at the end of this year or beginning of next year.

Singular has been nominated for two categories in recently held Malta’s iGaming Excellence Awards 2019: Best iGaming Online Product of the Year and Best Gaming Online Betting Platform of the Year. What are awards and recognitions that have come by in your a decade-old journey?

We aim to continuously roll out new engaging features. We are simultaneously addressing our clients’ specific requirements, but we are also proactively innovating the solution. The nominations and awards are the cherry on the top. In addition to the nominations for Malta’s iGaming Excellence Awards 2019, our solutions have been nominated in four categories for the EGR B2B Awards 2019:

  • Sportsbook platform supplier
  • Innovation in sports betting software
  • Live casino supplier
  • Sports betting supplier

In the past 4 years, Singular’s Gaming Platform, Sports-book Solution and the Live Casino have been repeatedly nominated in number of categories by SBC Awards, EGR, G2E Asia and others. We feel extremely proud and grateful to receive recognition from the top authorities from the industry for all the hard work, year after year.

Finally, look at your crystal ball and tell us about the future! What is your take on the direction in which the industry grows, in the light of frequently emerging disruptive technologies? And what are the new products and services that Singular is going to launch?

Big data and Machine Learning is a science by itself and it is no wonder that more and more companies start referring to data as “the new oil”. It simply creates vast opportunities not only for player personalization and targeted marketing but also for discovering trends and patterns that were not visible before. If someone does it right, they will have a significant edge over their competition and it will not take long for this to have an operational effect. If you have a platform that can collect, process and package the data in relevant information and of course personnel that can interpret the data in a strategic and operational capacity for different departments, it has the potential to directly affect the success of the company.

As mentioned before, this September we plan to roll out our new Sports-betting solution. This release will be an inaugural step of an innovation process across the entire product portfolio. Through leveraging big-data and machine learning, we aim to create personalized player journey at a higher level. Also, at the end of this year, we plan to launch out U.S. centric F2P iGaming product.

We started designing the concept back in 2013 with the ultimate goal to empower operators with opportunities to offer each player a unique experience. We have a lot of modules and services that provide tools that enable this, starting with our segmentation engine, and continuing with our CRM. This approach also spreads across the rest of Singular’s products like sports-book and casino integrations, so that personalized experience is also applicable to the content delivery. However, segmentation and personalization are not “one-time – we did it” thing. It is perpetual work in the direction of improving the approach and experimenting with new and better technologies, constantly.

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Interviews

Roundtable – Continent 8’s Leaders and Legends

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Roundtable - Continent 8’s Leaders and Legends
Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

The Continent 8 Leaders and Legends series has been running for several years now, bringing together some of the industry’s biggest names to share their thoughts, insights and experiences on the hottest trends of the moment. The latest Leaders and Legends took place at the KPMG Gibraltar eSummit and saw heavyweights Shay Segev (Chief Executive Officer at DAZN), Joanne Whittaker (Chief Executive Officer at Betfred), Edo Haitin (Chief Executive Officer at Playtech Live) and Vaughan Lewis (Chief Strategy Officer at 888 Holdings) take to the stage to discuss a wide range of topics from the review of the UK Gambling Act to the future of retail in an increasingly digital world.

 

Moderator:

Micky Swindale – Partner, Global Gaming Team – KPMG

 

Panellists:

  • Edo Haitin – Chief Executive Officer – Playtech Live
  • Vaughan Lewis – Chief Strategy Officer – 888 Holdings
  • Shay Segev – Chief Executive Officer – DAZN
  • Joanne Whittaker – Chief Executive Officer – Betfred

 

MS: What changes do you expect to see as a result of the UK government’s review of the Gambling Act? What impact might tighter restrictions have on the market and how are you preparing for them?

JW: We just need to know what is coming. The review is hanging over us and we just need to be able to move on as an industry. We are agile, we evolve. We have heard some of the expected changes around slot stake limits, enhanced affordability checks, the levy and so on but until we know exactly what changes are coming, it is hard to properly prepare. Of course, as a business, we are trying to get ready for what is to come. I think initially there was a bit of panic, but we have got passed that now. We had a significant hit on retail when the FOBT legislation came in a few years ago, but we survived that and when I talk to Fred, he always says these legislative changes come in cycles. So, we are watching, we will respond, and I hope that we are given time to implement the technology changes that will be required. But right now, it’s just a case of wait and see.

VL: I think getting the line right as to where gambling tips over from personalisation, enjoyment and the promotion of great products and offers into something that becomes exploitative is the really challenging area that the review of the Gambling Act is trying to address. For us, we just want clarity about what are the standards that we need to meet. Once operators have that clarity, we then back ourselves to be able to provide a great player experience but with high levels of safety and within the standards set. At the moment, we are not clear on what standards we are trying to meet so our hope is that through the review process we get that clarity. Once any changes from the review have been implemented, we can then refocus on delivering the best player experience.

EH: Coming from the provider side, my perspective is perhaps a bit different. I believe that it is in the product to solve issues around responsible gambling and affordability and to deliver the right player experience. This also needs to be done in a way that the regulator can see that the player is doing so within their affordability. So, it is our responsibility as a provider to give our operators the products to do this. On the flip side, and especially as a big provider, I do feel for smaller businesses as the bar for entry into the market is being set even higher. So, regulators should bear in mind that there are companies making their first move that do need clarity and guidance as to what is expected of them.

 

ML: All jurisdictions, including Gibraltar, are having to quickly adapt to market changes. But what makes Gibraltar such an appealing jurisdiction to companies such as DAZN?

SS: We recently announced that DAZN would be going into betting with the launch of DAZN Bet and that we would be using Gibraltar as the hub for that. Having personally been based in Gibraltar for the last ten years I have found the jurisdiction to be amazing both in terms of the government’s support for the industry and the infrastructure it has provided, as well as the ability to establish a business here. It is also highly respected in terms of its regulatory framework and standards, and the talent that can be accessed here is second to none. This made it a very easy decision for us to set up DAZN Bet in Gibraltar.

 

MS: As the industry continues to grow, we have seen a real wave of M&A activity crash over the sector. With no sign of these mega deals slowing down, is now the right time for smaller businesses to position themselves for a takeover? And what makes for an attractive acquisition target?

VL: We are not seeing any slowdown in the trend of mega transactions. We have been through multiple waves of M&A and deals just keep getting bigger and bigger. We just closed a £2bn transaction but that now seems relatively small. Just before Christmas, Flutter undertook a £2bn acquisition and didn’t even have an investor call to explain it, it’s kind of like a bolt-on for them now. And then a few weeks ago you have the MGM takeover of LeoVegas, which it called “bite-size”. We are definitely in a new phase of the industry where these huge businesses have been created and significant value has been generated, and that is starting to really drive the M&A cycle.

At the medium and smaller end, we are still seeing a lot of activity. These transactions often have one or more characteristics that they share including unique products and content that you just can’t get elsewhere or that you can’t create quickly enough, market access, media convergence and other attributes that drive outsized value. This is where the future focus of M&A will be.

 

MS: The big four operators now account for more than 50% of the UK market share, so these companies can leverage the advantages of scale. But what impact does this have on consumer choice?

EH: We are an entertainment business, and the future of entertainment cannot be controlled by big companies. We see today that the biggest entertainers in the world are individuals that pick up their smartphones and cameras and stream videos on YouTube to tens of millions of followers. That makes them the big force in entertainment. I understand why companies undertake M&A and want to drive scale, but will this stop other businesses from entering the industry, I don’t think so. The nature of entertainment is so fluid that what is popular now will be different in five years’ time and we will most likely consume it differently. Once you work with video and content, you really pay attention to this and when we look at the market and what is in front of us, we see our immediate rivals but also those on the sidelines of the industry. Consolidation might block the immediate entry for some companies, but I do not believe that it will block the variety and versatility of the products that are offered to players.

SS: I think we might also see consolidation between industries with new experiences coming in. Where betting and gaming were perhaps seen as unethical just a few years ago, big businesses from outside of the sector are undoubtedly now looking at it. I think the US opening up has changed perceptions, too. For example, ESPN and Disney have indicated they are considering betting as a potential market for them to explore.

 

MS: The industry is expanding internationally with new jurisdictions embracing licensing and regulation all of the time. But with most taking a state-by-state or province-by-province approach, just how tough is it for operators to be truly global?

VL: If you were to ask all operators and suppliers if you could wave a magic wand and have harmonised rules across the world, I think the vast majority would say that is the dream scenario. It would enable us to really focus on product innovation and development, player protection and ultimately creating a much better consumer experience rather than having to spend time tailoring the platform for each market. We are one of the few operators that have a global, scalable platform that can run in multiple jurisdictions, but we have to tailor that to each market. If you look at the US, the investment we have to put into each state to meet the local tax and disclosure regulations sucks up a lot of time and diverts resources away from other areas that could be much more productive in terms of making great products and really looking after players. The more we can move towards standardised approaches, especially in the area of player protection, the better it will be for all stakeholders.

EH: Any company that wants to enter regulated markets such as the UK really needs to have a strong compliance team in place. This team is not there to scare you but to give you direction when it comes to developing products within the guidelines set. For us, one of the biggest challenges in the US is that we have to create a dedicated studio in each of the states that we enter based on the Wire Act of 1961. At the time I couldn’t understand why we could not just build one studio, but now we are up and running I see it as a good barrier to the competition. Really, you need to embrace regulation and understand the meaning behind it, even if you do not agree with it. For us as a live casino provider business, having to create a studio in each of the states we target is not optimal. But if you can understand the playground you are in and cater to that culture, it is possible to succeed.

 

MS: In all of our talk about online, are we losing sight of the land-based punter? Is it true that once they have gone online, they will never come back to retail betting?

JW: During Covid, it was a real fear for our business. Our retail shops were forced to close which saw our online business grow significantly but now restrictions have been lifted we have seen retail fully bounce back. We are really pleased with how the high street is performing and we can see that our customers are enjoying the betting shop experience and especially the social element. Long may that continue.

SS: You can’t ignore that betting shops are more part of the past than the future of the industry. I do think there is an opportunity to reinvent the betting shop experience, which some operators are doing with things like self-service betting terminals. There is something there but, clearly, it is not on the rise and consumers are transitioning to digital. That said, there is room to create something synergistic between retail and online.

JW: I agree there will not be new betting shops coming but at the turnover level customers are returning and they want to come to the shop. Our digital business has normalised, but we are in a much stronger position than we were pre-Covid. There is a place for the high street; I believe in SSBT and omnichannel but customers still want to come into the retail environment. We are also seeing this in other territories. In our US business, the retail performance is strong in the casinos where we have partnerships and in South Africa, we have a significant retail presence, too, although it is a very different retail offering with a much bigger footprint with 30-40 tills. I understand the importance of digital, but retail will survive.

VL: As an industry, we do not do a great job of standing up and talking about the value of the products we are selling. Retail is back to where it was post-pandemic because people love it, and they go to the shops because it is a fun thing to do. It is similar to the convergence of media and online, so long as we are providing something of value to consumers then that’s great. I think we should be proud of the service and entertainment we provide and for me, retail betting still provides a huge amount of enjoyment for customers. Betting shops never really went away, they just had to close due to the pandemic and they remain a core part of the industry.

EH: I’m going to take the middle ground here. Retail is back and I think part of the reason why players are enjoying going to betting shops is that it was taken away from them for a long time. But I do agree with Shay that reinventing betting shops is an important thing. This includes self-service and other experiences that will drive people to retail as well as online. As a live provider, we are often asked if we are cannibalising land-based by my answer is always no. We are an extension of the business, and I don’t believe we can really replace the experience of going to a casino.

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Interviews

Personalisation in sportsbook roundtable

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Personalisation in sportsbook roundtable
Reading Time: 7 minutes

 

Leonid Pertsovskiy, Chief Executive Officer at Betby

If the pandemic has taught us anything about the current landscape of sportsbetting, it is that immersive experiences that facilitate modern requirements and short attention spans are becoming essential to survival. With the space becoming increasingly saturated with similar offerings and products, creating a more engaging user journey is key to standing out and ultimately retaining business.

 

How have you pivoted your offering to facilitate modern customer preferences? Or is it a case of it if aint broke, dont fix it?

At Betby, we have done a lot over the past couple of years to adjust our sportsbook to the unique preferences of modern users, even though the general needs and requirements have remained consistent over the past five, or even ten years. The end user still wants to see their favourite events on a platform, as well as less distractions, higher limits, and instant bet settlement, and our sportsbook offering has evolved over the years to facilitate these preferences and attract a broader demographic of user.

Nowadays, our platform features high-quality content, including markets on more than 90 traditional sports, major tournament that stretch across the globe, an impressive selection of esports and virtual sports events, and the cherry on the cake: our proprietary Betby.Games range.

The remarkable variety of our offering is what helps us to stand out from the crowd and engage new users. A year ago, nobody could have predicted that we would be able to offer Kabaddi, Golf and Formula 1 live to our audiences, but our sportsbook has really opened up avenues to the rest of the world in a drive to provide followers of all sports with suitable markets, and live odds. It is important to be flexible to satisfy client needs, while offering same level of adaptation when talking about risk-management, localisation strategies, and promotional campaigns. Investing in flexibility means investing in long-term stability and adjusting to the post-pandemic sportsbook landscape.

 

Were seeing plenty of changes in user behaviour and betting patterns, led by a surge in in-playbetting, Prop Bets, and Bet-Builder tools. What are you doing to capitalise on this phenomenon?

We’ve certainly played with the idea of dividing up old-school audiences from the newcomers, due to the differences in their behaviours. We understand experienced punters don’t particularly enjoy new features or innovation within sportsbook, and therefore require a simplified layout and interface that they can relate to, while on the other side of the spectrum, new users enjoy being met with an abundance of new technologies and products thanks to their pursuit of instant gratification.

Our recent focus has been on boosting gamification and the social aspects of our sportsbook, which aligns neatly with modern user requirements, such as needing consistent entertainment and various aspects of interaction in their experiences.

 

Have any innovations in the sportsbetting space have caught your attention?

We see a lot of innovations in the field of data analysis and recommendation systems where reporting and business intelligence (BI) tools have become more integral, and the times of buying market share with traffic investments are over. Our clients see just how easily and effectively they can optimise their marketing budgets using our BI analytics system, and this is exciting for both us and them.

Another innovation that we have started to see more of this past year is contests being created occurring between passionate sport followers. While casino tournaments have existed for the best art of a decade now, sportsbook was always seen as less capable of supporting engaging competitions, especially between punters, which is why we recently introduced a sportsbook tournaments engine, which has shown fantastic results.

 

With the worlds of esports and sports betting blending at an unprecedented rate, is it time that esports merits its own tab in a sportsbook?

Yes, absolutely. Esports has an entirely different audience to regular sports, as well as a distinct streaming-centric user interface, and even a different approach to risk-management in sportsbook and marketing strategy.

Esports as a vertical is very much here to stay, and competitions are extremely popular when it comes to the betting experience that surrounds their unique events, with passionate fans that enjoy placing a wide selection of bets on them. It is a very rare for a user to follow both traditional sports as well as esports, let alone combine the two in one betslip, and for this reason it should have its own tab that is managed differently to the classic sportsbook. Esports is an entirely different space to that of traditional sports, and with interaction between players and esports followers occurring in so many ways, it needs to be respected as a phenomenon.

 

Bobby Longhurst, Managing Director at Sportingtech

If the pandemic has taught us anything about the current landscape of sports betting, it is that immersive experiences that facilitate modern requirements and short attention spans are becoming essential to survival. With the space becoming increasingly saturated with similar offerings and products, creating a more engaging user journey is key to standing out and ultimately retaining business.

 

How have you pivoted your offering to facilitate modern customer preferences? Or is it a case of ‘it if ain’t broke, don’t fix it’?

We’re constantly evolving and catering our offering not only to new customer types but to specific markets. Rather than resting on our laurels, we’re consistently dedicated to incorporating new ideas and solutions into the Sportingtech Quantum platform. Attention to detail is imperative; if the customer believes there has been a lack of effort in the offering put before them, the overall success of the operation will be jeopardised. Localisation, and by extension player profiling, is what sets an offering apart from the competition, and this is something that Sportingtech prioritises – most prominently displayed in our proprietary Popular Bets and Popular Events widgets. In today’s industry, the idea that a one-size-fits-all solution can be offered is one that just doesn’t stand up. Our Quantum platform also has modularity at its core, and this is something that can’t be overlooked – if operators are handed the reins, they can personalise their own offering and subsequently make the experience better for the end user.

 

We’re seeing plenty of changes in user behaviour and betting patterns, led by a surge in ‘in-play’ betting, Prop Bets, and Bet Builder tools. What are you doing to capitalise on this phenomenon?

The rising prominence of these new kinds of betting is clear to see, but this relatively new environment can be a confusing place to navigate for newcomers. Sportingtech’s Bet Assist offering is ideally placed, making traversing platforms more straightforward for players – it generates automated betting tips based on historical data, live-score and AI analysis, covering both pre-match and in-play markets across seven sports and with complete bet slip integration, and has been proven to increase user engagement, retention and turnover rates. In addition, our FastBet solution, which enables users to wager multiple single bets across all sports at the touch of a button without creating a betslip, is the only feature of its kind on the market. Players are likely to place more bets than they usually would with a standard betslip.

 

Have any innovations in the sports betting space caught your attention?

Sports betting is a hub of innovation, and our Popular Bets and Popular Events widgets are testament to this. They allow operators to display a particular market’s current top-10 bets and top-10 events, automatically refreshing every five minutes. Offering our operator customers a localised, intuitive way to immediately boost engagement is extremely gratifying. With minimum effort on the operators’ part, they can be confident that their players are constantly being shown the most popular bets and events at any one time. Our priority is to provide flexibility of use, allowing operators to display the bets and events on different areas of their sites while also being optimised for mobile and desktop. It is important that they auto-populate according to the operators’ markets, which has gone a long way to making this the hassle-free and personalised engagement tool we set out to make.

 

With the worlds of esports and sports betting blending at an unprecedented rate, is it time that esports merited its own tab in a sportsbook?

Sportingtech’s authority in Latin America is well documented, and we are seeing that esports’ popularity in these markets is on a steep upward trajectory. New opportunities frequently arise in emerging markets for the introduction of new verticals, and our platform offers a quick and easy way to market, offering the very best of what esports has to deliver. Bettors in LatAm markets have fallen in love with esports and its popularity looks set to continue to grow – esports will certainly merit its own place in a sportsbook if this trend continues.

 

Suren Khachatryan, founder and CEO of Technamin 

If the pandemic has taught us anything about the current landscape of sports betting, it is that immersive experiences that facilitate modern requirements and short attention spans are becoming essential to survival. With the space becoming increasingly saturated with similar offerings and products, creating a more engaging user journey is key to standing out and ultimately retaining business.

 

How have you pivoted your offering to facilitate modern customer preferences? Or is it a case of ‘it if ain’t broke, don’t fix it’?

Innovation is one of the cornerstones of Technamin. We could have easily stuck with the traditional approach to a sportsbook, but we decided to take things a step further and develop a sportsbook that is ideally suited to the needs of both operators and bettors. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy may apply to all sportsbooks, as their functionalities are by and large the same. However, it’s the approach that differs. Our approach is to create a product that is easily customisable to each partner’s preference and offers each end user a personalised sports betting experience.

 

We’re seeing plenty of changes in user behaviour and betting patterns, led by a surge in ‘in-play’ betting, Prop Bets, and Bet Builder tools. What are you doing to capitalise on this phenomenon?

With the development of technology and innovation, users are displaying a decreased attention span. Therefore, the majority of players prefer matches with rapid changes and easy solutions. Technamin works hard to provide the maximum amount of live matches and in-play betting throughout the year with the most reliable odds. Our professional team of traders and risk managers make sure we provide the most accurate data to our partners. Bet Builder and Prop Bets are the other tools that make the players’ journey more enjoyable and multifunctional. These are the features that our team continually develops.

 

Have any innovations in the sports betting space caught your attention?

I think we are living in the best of times when it comes to innovation in sports betting. We are very keen on how crypto payments are going to evolve in the sector. These currencies are already taking the industry by storm, and things are only going to progress from there. Another feature we are very excited about is the addition of VR and augmented reality technology that is going to create a more immersive experience for the end user. Overall, every technological innovation is exciting because it can be a gateway to something breathtaking.

 

With the worlds of esports and sports betting blending at an unprecedented rate, is it time that esports merited its own tab in a sportsbook?

Certainly so. Regardless of where each of us stands in the “are esports real sports?” debate, the facts clearly show that esports are here to stay and are popular when it comes to the betting experience. The fans are passionate about them and love to bet on the events. It’s just another fresh and innovative side of sports betting that we must embrace and build on. And the growing demand is something that operators must meet if they wish to maintain their popularity in the industry. Of course, we at Technamin are here to help with that!

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Eastern Europe

Roundtable – What is the state of play in the Romanian market?

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Roundtable - What is the state of play in the Romanian market?
Reading Time: 12 minutes

 

Rory Kimber, Account Management and Marketing Director at 1X2 Network

Romania is an evolving market, with a slew of operators making moves and bringing the weight of their expertise to the market. There are also Romania’s established operators who continue to lead there and push the market in the right direction.

Romanian players have strong influence from land-based casino content, but they are clearly moving through the trends we’ve seen time and again at a similar rate to the players of other markets, if not even faster

We can already see a number of iGaming concepts doing well over there, Megaways obviously is popular across any market, and hold and win titles perform as well, so we’re looking forward to getting our own hold and win series live with our Romanian clients!

Andrei Beu, Commercial Director at Gamingtec

Romania is a thriving market based on solid regulations with both operators and affiliates having to secure a licence to get in on the action. In addition, the tax structure is clearly defined both for operators, suppliers and affiliates as well as players. Romania was rather slow to legalise online gambling which was technically neither legal nor illegal because no legislation existed up until 2010. The government then made online gambling legal, but no regulatory body existed to grant online licenses. The National Gambling Office was then created in 2013 to oversee the country’s gambling industry, and it continues to rule over the industry up to this day.

Iulian Bontea, Country Manager at PressEnter Group

The Romanian market is still in its early days with online gambling having only been legalised back in 2015, but it is a market with an incredibly bright future ahead. The market is regulated with both online sports betting and casino available, with oversight provided by the Romanian National Office for Gambling. The country’s online gambling market continues to grow at a steady pace with around 30 licensees including PressEnter Group now active in the market. There is still a lot of untapped potential in Romania, and we have ambitious plans to be a driver of growth over the coming months and years as we continue to deliver a superior player experience via our UltraCasino brand.

David Natroshvili, Managing Partner at Spribe

The market just keeps growing and growing with the new operators joining every month. Spribe is already currently live with Superbet, FEG (eFortuna, Casa Pariurilor), Superbet, Stanleybet, Betano, Princess Casino and Favbet Romania, with Unibet soon to follow. The last operator on that list is currently pending approval from the ONJN, but once they get the green light from the regulator to enter Romania, we’ll be able to go live with our games there too.

 

What are your thoughts on the regulations in place? Has the regulator done a good job of creating a viable market?

Rory Kimber, Account Management and Marketing Director at 1X2 Network

Any and all regulation takes time, its a vital process and one that obligates a degree of rigour. Even by this standard – as I’m sure the other contributors will attest – Romania presented particular challenges and has been in the works for some time. The regulators have done a fine job, their implementations seem highly effective while not being too draconian, and they’ve facilitated a viable market; it’s growing, and we’re excited to play a part in that growth.

Andrei Beu, Commercial Director at Gamingtec

The regulations in place combined with the hard work of the National Gambling Office have led to a market where operators, suppliers and affiliates can enjoy great success. During the nine years it took to bring regulations into force, the average gambling spend per player in the country more than doubled. Each year, it became increasingly clear that players were willing to spend money in land-based casinos and online. Post-Covid, the balance has shifted more towards online operators. The market continues to grow at pace, which indicates the regulations in place are appealing to operators and allow them to generate a sizable ROI for their activity in the region while still ensuring players are properly protected.

Iulian Bontea, Country Manager at PressEnter Group

I would say that the regulations in Romania are up to the same standard as those in other European markets and provide an environment in which players are protected while also enabling operators, such as PressEnter Group, and suppliers to run viable, successful businesses. The regulator has done a fine job of blocking illegal, unlicensed brands so the channelisation rates to licensed brands is high. Good regulations are all about balancing the need to prioritise responsible gambling and safe gaming but within a framework that does not put so many requirements and limits on operators and suppliers that the market becomes unviable – as we have seen in Sweden and most recently Germany.

One area of improvement would be in the regulator’s approach to social casino operators. These brands are not covered by the country’s gambling law but as we all know there is a fine line between real-money online casino and social casino. These brands undoubtedly take market share and player spend away from licenced operators so maybe in the future it is something the regulator can and will take a closer look at.

David Natroshvili, Managing Partner at Spribe

The regulator has done incredibly well in creating a viable market in Romania, with the current monthly growth speaking volumes about the job they’ve done so far. In particular, their efforts to block and blacklist unlicensed casinos targeting players in the country is commendable. In May 2020 the National Gambling Office added a further 16 sites to their blacklist, taking the total number of blocked operators to over 70 and ensuring Romanian players could continue to play safely at licensed operators. The regulator’s commitment to responsible gaming is also impressive, with just 0.5% of players considered “problem gamblers” compared to 0.7% in the UK, which is considered the gold standard for regulation.

 

Is it a market that offers significant potential to operators and suppliers? Why?

Rory Kimber, Account Management and Marketing Director at 1X2 Network.

Absolutely, the Romanian market has some fantastic potential. Simply put, it’s big, and it’s going to get bigger. Romania is a developing country that continues to see powerful economic growth. Their economy has bounced back since 2021 with significant force.

They have a strong affinity with gambling, and with increasing mobile coverage we’re seeing more people shift to online gaming. And with a host of tier one operators at the wheel, the iGaming market segment there has an exciting future.

Andrei Beu, Commercial Director at Gamingtec

Online gambling has been the driving force behind the overall growth that Romania’s gambling industry has enjoyed in recent months and years. Indeed, the online gambling threshold increased by around 90% in 2020. While the pandemic certainly helped push the sector forwards, it is being sustained and this, in turn, is seeing more operators and studios enter the fray. Right now, there are around 30 licensed operators in the market with a growing number of land-based brands on the cusp of launching their own online casinos and sportsbooks.

Iulian Bontea, Country Manager at PressEnter Group

Absolutely. As I mentioned above, it is a new market that is only just six years old. The market is performing well to date with online accounting for a sizable share of total GGR already. There is a history of gambling in the country with an appetite among consumers for online casino and sports betting, and as internet infrastructure continues to improve and smartphone penetration rises the size of the addressable market is only going to grow. That means that Romania could become one of the most significant regulated online gambling markets in Europe over the next three to five years.

David Natroshvili, Managing Partner at Spribe

Yes, we see a big potential in the Romanian market. Between 2017 and 2019, the market more than doubled in size to be worth over 70 million per year – and while recent growth has not been quite so explosive, this figure continues to climb steadily. Of particular importance is the fact that approximately half of Romania’s population is currently between the ages of 18 and 50, which gives operators an audience of around 9 million to target. Not only that, but this young-ish demographic has consistently demonstrated a progressive attitude towards casino gaming, with many players keen to embrace new game formats. This allows us to tap into the psyches of millennial players with innovative new releases such as our Aviator game.

 

What is the competitive landscape like? Is the room for operators to enter and claim solid market share?

Rory Kimber, Account Management and Marketing Director at 1X2 Network

As a supplier in the industry, I can’t speak for the operators themselves. Although it’s clear as always that some of the huge operators already control swathes of the market. Operators of any size who understand the region and its players will be able to share in the market’s success.

Iulian Bontea, Country Manager at PressEnter Group

With around 40 brands active in the market, including PressEnter Group’s NitroCasino, it is already fiercely competitive. That being said, there is always room for operators that strive to bring innovative and new technologies and experiences to the market to succeed. When this is combined with smart and engaging marketing activity and campaigns, operators can quickly build a significant share of the Romanian market, as they can in any regulated jurisdiction.

David Natroshvili, Managing Partner at Spribe

There’s definitely room for new operators to enter Romania and claim a solid share of the market, but in order to do so, they must be prepared to arrive with a packed library of video slots from a wide range of developers as well as innovative titles that offer never-seen-before gameplay. This is exactly what players in the country are looking for, and operators that can provide this will be able to capitalise on the huge potential offered in Romania, particularly while some of their rivals may be distracted by other breakthrough markets such as the U.S.

 

What are some of the challenges being faced? How can they be overcome?

Rory Kimber, Account Management and Marketing Director at 1X2 Network

As with any market Romania certainly presents challenges. We can see some operators for whom the country is a top market, and others where it’s an add-on. At times it’s tricky to manage our resource allocation between operators with different levels of attention focused there.

It’s important to understand that the market is founded on its players, so truly understanding the Romanian iGamers must be a priority for operators and suppliers alike. Players are afforded a wealth of choice, so it’s not merely a case of right place right time, operators need to act smartly and in a targeted manner.

Andrei Beu, Commercial Director at Gamingtec

One of the biggest challenges is taxation. The Romanian Ministry of Finance has published its latest Fiscal Code draft featuring a massive 40% tax on casino withdrawals. According to the new Fiscal Code, withdrawals of up to 3,000 RON ($623) would be taxed at 10% while cashouts going over that amount without going over 10,000 RON ($2,079) would be hit with a 20% tax in addition to a 3,000 RON fee. Withdrawals going over 10,000 RON would be taxed at 40% in addition to a 1,700 RON ($353) fee. This may force many players to shift to unlicensed brands to escape these huge taxes on winnings and withdrawals. This will have a domino effect with licensed brands losing players which in turn will hit their profits and ultimately the tax revenues that are returned to the Romanian government.

This is yet to be approved, giving the opportunity for all participants to discuss this new tax framework and to potentially reach a better outcome that wouldn’t harm the gambling industry, the protections that are afforded to players by licensed brands and ultimately the tax revenues that are generated by the sector.

Iulian Bontea, Country Manager at PressEnter Group

The challenge for new online casino brands is that there are established land-based operators that moved into the digital space as soon as the market opened. They have been able to leverage their heritage, brand equity and trust among players to build substantial player bases that are loyal to them. However, new online casino brands that deliver a superior player experience can encourage players away from these established operators and to their online casinos and sports books. If they not only meet but exceed their expectations, they will likely continue to wager with them and not return to the incumbent brands.

David Natroshvili, Managing Partner at Spribe

The regulator is obviously very diligent when it comes to researching brands and deciding who will be permitted to operate in the country. This is – of course – an important and necessary step for any recently-opened market, but initially we faced some challenges with them being a bit slow with the approval process for some of our games. That said, with the market continuing to grow and the regulator gaining more experience from every approval granted, this process is becoming more streamlined and should provide fewer barriers in the future.

 

Do player preferences differ from other markets? What does localisation look like in Romania?

Rory Kimber, Account Management and Marketing Director at 1X2 Network

As you’d expect, Romanian players do adhere to some of the same trends that we see across other iGaming Markets, however they do have a distinct set of preferences. They have a strong affinity for classic games, low hit rates and a land based feel but at the other end of the spectrum, games with huge potential from low stakes also drive a lot of traffic. There are very few themes that fall completely flat, which means a lot of our content is finding a home and the players are also willing to try out innovative titles. Whilst the pick up for games that are very ‘out there’ is varied, if you find a winner it quite quickly gains market share.

Branded offerings have a growing presence there, we have some fantastic deals lined up to deliver our Branded concepts, which we’re on the cusp of having signed for the market. And we’re seeing newer concepts like crash games and arcade style mine games already resonating with the Romanian player base.

Andrei Beu, Commercial Director at Gamingtec

One important feature of Romanian culture is its collectivism. As such, the group is highly important and protection and loyalty towards the group are greatly appreciated. This trait is mirrored in the business world; strong bonds between different members of a group will play an important role and, consequently, feelings will often go beyond rationality. Like any other business, gambling is not very far from being a victim of this custom. Players will often choose certain games, operators or casino brands based on the preferences of the group they are a part of, without even comparing features, benefits, etc.

With a vast history of wars and various occupations of the country, there are also some important figures that are strongly embedded in our culture, like Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler), Stefan cel Mare (Stefan the Great) and more recently Nicolae Ceausescu (the most famous communist leader of the country). Some operators have had great success by exploiting historical characters, as we can see with Vlad Casino. This can be a difficult thing for operators from outside of the market to understand and leverage, handing a slight edge to those from Romania.

Iulian Bontea, Country Manager at PressEnter Group

Every country has its own DNA and unique player preferences, and Romania is no different. Localisation to PressEnter Group is all about delivering the products and experiences that our players want and that sit perfectly within the country’s culture, language, etc. This covers everything from the games and payment methods available to customer support agents being fluent in Romanian and being available in the local time zone.

David Natroshvili, Managing Partner at Spribe

Unlike in other Eastern European markets where classic slots continue to dominate operator game lobbies, players in Romania tend to favour modern video slots and newer game formats. The average age of the casino demographic plus their willingness to embrace innovation means suppliers have far more freedom to be creative with the titles they’re developing and can use elements from video games and social media in their products. The success of the “increasing curve” format used in Aviator is testament to this fact, with the game frequently seeing 300-350 bets per round during peak periods at many of our casino partners. In terms of localisation, we offer the game rules and our “how to play” video in Romanian, but the straightforward nature of Aviator itself makes it easily accessible to all players in the country.

 

How will the market develop over the next 12 months?

Rory Kimber, Account Management and Marketing Director at 1X2 Network

The beauty of a market like Romania is that we know it’s going to grow, but it’s difficult to predict how, or in what manner. One thing’s for sure, we’ll be seeing some new faces from both the operator and supplier sides who disrupt things, gaining market share quickly. 1X2 Network has started well but we’ll be looking to grow that presence quickly as we continue to build on what we have learnt.

As we see across other European markets we’ll see the same popular mechanics grow, and their associated gaming concepts expand. What will be interesting is seeing how they clash with themes and mechanics already popular over there.

Bonuses present a particularly interesting area, operators who can capitalise on its popularity and work within the regulations have a lot of opportunity.

Andrei Beu, Commercial Director at Gamingtec

Market changes have evolved to include technological advancements. With the rise of cryptocurrencies and their popularity in the online casino space over the past 12 months, many forecast another year of new trends that will redefine and transform complete areas of the industry worldwide, and this includes in the Romanian market.

Cryptocurrencies will keep making their mark, with more and more online gambling brands accepting crypto this year. Many people enjoy and prefer to deposit, withdraw and play with Bitcoin and other digital currencies because of the security and anonymity they provide. Given the new taxation proposed in Romania, it is very likely we’ll see the appetite for crypto rise even higher.

There has also been an increase in F2P (free-to-play) game products worldwide. This shows that people are willing to spend on entertainment, even if something that is free is not free at all. Both online sports and casino operators are hard at work leveraging this data to their advantage because these F2P players are potential paying customers.

Players are showing a preference for online casinos that deliver a realistic live casino experience from their homes. For many, live dealer is what has allowed them to transition from land-based to online play. Land-based casinos are feeling the burn from their online brands and are facing a sizeable decline with the recent popularity of online gambling sites – this is a trend I expect to continue.

Iulian Bontea, Country Manager at PressEnter Group

I believe that momentum will continue to build in Romania and the market will keep growing at pace. New brands will undoubtedly enter, and the competition will increase, but competition breeds innovation and operators like PressEnter Group that can deliver a best-in-class player experience will be able to claim the lion’s share of the market. That is exactly what we plan to do in Romania and remain committed to the market for the long term.

David Natroshvili, Managing Partner at Spribe

It will continue to grow as the regulator grants more Romanian licenses, which will in turn lead to further innovation as suppliers and operators seek to offer games that meet players’ expectations as to what constitutes a fun and thrilling entertainment experience. Given the success of Aviator and other Turbo Games in the country, this could be a key focus area and we may see Romania distinguish itself from neighbouring regulated markets by moving away from the traditional slot-dominated casino model in favour of something a bit more varied

 

Anything else to add?

Rory Kimber, Account Management and Marketing Director at 1X2 Network.

Just that 1X2 Network is raring to go with our Romanian expansion, and excited to make our mark.

 

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