Exclusive Interview with NetShop ISP’s CEO ahead of the Upcoming Betting on Sports Europe – Digital Exhibition – European Gaming Industry News
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Exclusive Interview with NetShop ISP’s CEO ahead of the Upcoming Betting on Sports Europe – Digital Exhibition

George Miller

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Exclusive Interview with NetShop ISP’s CEO ahead of the Upcoming Betting on Sports Europe – Digital Exhibition
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

NetShop ISP, the leading Data Center Provider is exhibiting in the SBC Betting on Sports Europe – Digital event which will take place online on the 21st and 22nd of October 2020.
Stefano Sordini, CEO at NetShop Internet Services Ltd, spoke to SBC Media in an exclusive interview about the company’s participation and his expectations from the event.

SBC Reporter: What are you looking forward to at Betting on Sports Europe – Digital 2020?

Stefano Sordini: The Betting on Sports Europe – Digital 2020 will be NetShop ISP’s first ever fully virtual conference is exhibiting in. The SBC team has brought into the iGaming industry a fantastic platform for virtual events where in these “special” times the World is going through, our industry is stepping above and finds a way to connect businesses with young entrepreneurs, operators and suppliers.

We, at NetShop ISP, are interested to attend and listen to some great Discussion Panels and catch up with industry peers. Through our virtual booth we will be happy to greet existing clients and demonstrate our portfolio of infrastructure solutions to visitors.

Nothing can compare to physical events, one might say, however it is thrilling what technology can do to help people connect with each other. Kudos to the SBC team for what they have achieved so far!

SBC: What would be your biggest bit of advice for betting and gaming businesses trying to mitigate the impact of COVID-19?

SS: The key to survive whatever impact COVID-19 has had in your business, are the Partnerships and especially the deals you make with your business’ most crucial Suppliers. It is of vital importance to have honest and transparent Partners & Suppliers with whom you can negotiate flexible terms until your business can be fully restored.
If its payment providers with whom you have target goals in Volume you have to meet each month, make sure that there will be no penalties or consequences for not meeting the agreement’s goals due to your business impact from COVID-19.

Technology suppliers can also play a very important role in helping clients and affected businesses like yours. Having acquired a large capacity of bandwidth during the pre-COVID months, means that your monthly bill may not be sustainable after the COVID-19 impact. A good partnership should be both ends. Not only when you pay your bills upfront, but in case of Crisis you should make sure that your Hosting Provider will stand next to you and provide whatever flexibility is possible until your business overcomes this situation.

SBC: What are you promoting at Betting on Sports Europe – Digital 2020?

SS: During the event we will be announcing the launch of 3 new Data Centers which, alongside our existing locations of Cyprus, Malta, United Kingdom and Los Angeles, will help NetShop ISP to reach regions across the globe. Moreover, we will be showcasing our [email protected] Bundle to the attendees of the event. It’s our most recent product launch to relief businesses that had been impacted by COVID-19 and are in the process of shifting to Home working.

SBC: Which operator has impressed you the most in 2020?

SS: Which operator has shone a positive light on the industry? This might be through a product launch, commitment to responsible gambling, innovative marketing campaign, or for taking a certain stance in debates concerning the industry. As a Technology/Hosting Supplier of many iGaming Operators i wouldn’t like to naming any specific ones. I admire though all Operators who managed to diversify their portfolio of products and enhance their Customer Service given the impact of COVID-19 in our industry.

SBC: What partnership has stood out in the past 12 months?

SS: I was amazed when i heard about the acquisition deal between BtoBet and Aspire Global. The guys at BtoBet are in business for quite some time and, in my humble opinion, they grew to be among the top suppliers of the industry in Europe. This acquisition as said will help them to reach new markets which i am sure they will succeed.

SBC: What industry innovation will capture the most attention in 2020?

SS: I believe that 2020 and, going forward in 2020, there will be more focus and research on player-oriented products and features. Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are already being studied, developed and tested by Software Vendors and Development companies. The competition is so much bigger noawadays, with startups and new businesses entering the igaming market, that the traditional products will not be able to generate those profits to sustain every business in the pie. Therefore, innovation is what will keep this industry moving and allow existing businesses to profit and new ones to enter.

Interviews

Q&A with Michael Maokhmphiou, Operations Manager at Lightning Box

George Miller

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Q&A with Michael Maokhmphiou, Operations Manager at Lightning Box
Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

Tell us about the CEE region for you in 2020 – what’s been your major highlights?

We’ve watched with interest as iGaming within the CEE region has developed in recent years, with a number of different countries choosing to regulate. Our games have now been certified in Croatia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. We’ve seen player engagement rise as a result. Numbers have been steady, in spite of the pandemic, which is encouraging, and it is definitely an area with potential growth, particularly as we look to replicate our larger presence in neighbouring western Europe and the Nordics.

To give readers a view of how you see the market – where’s been key for you and what regions are you keeping a close eye on?

The key for Lightning Box has been to build up a catalogue with a wide range of innovative and entertaining slots that have broad appeal. We’ve found recently that players are enjoying a new spin on some of our classic games, particularly when we add new features. A case in point is our recent release Chicken Fox5x Skillstar, which now has an added skill feature and a leader board. This has made it more engaging for players as they look to compete against one another. It is also a popular element of social gaming and can be a good way of introducing new customers to real money gaming as countries regulate. Slovenia may be one of the next in the CEE region and we are monitoring it alongside a few others at the moment.

How have events in since last March changed your approach to the region? Would you say it’s changed the landscape and demographics?

Our approach remains the same for all regions and hasn’t been guided by the pandemic, to be honest. We want to build entertaining slot games that appeal to all demographics. That will continue in spite of external factors which are beyond our control. As statistics have shown, there has been an overall increase in iGaming activities since the pandemic began in March last year. Due to restrictions and betting venues remaining shut, players who like to play in land-based venues have transitioned online. The trick for suppliers like us is to keep them engaged and to make sure they enjoy the experience whilst they’re here in order that they stay.

Looking to the future – what should our readers be watching out for in the next 12 months?

Hopefully will see more entertaining and innovative slots coming out from our studio and others around the world. Popularity in iGaming during the pandemic has increased worldwide due to the ease of access to online casino entertainment and retail businesses being shuttered. We feel as more regions open, there will be more and more players coming online. That’s an opportunity that we need to manage responsibly by working within each jurisdiction’s regulations to ensure player protection.

And last but not least, looking outside of the gaming industry, can you name an industry figure or company that we’d do well to learn from in the year ahead?

I’ve been impressed with the progress of a number of fintech companies recently and the Dutch ecommerce payments specialists Adyen have really caught the eye. Not only were they able to sustain traffic during the global pandemic they also increased it, as well as tailoring their services to businesses so they were still able to operate effectively and efficiently online. To adapt so quickly and with a minimum of fuss is no mean feat. There is a lot that gaming companies can learn from some of these more dexterous fintech giants.

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OKTO: As cashless becomes king, land-based gaming requires an industry-specific solution

George Miller

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OKTO: As cashless becomes king, land-based gaming requires an industry-specific solution
Reading Time: 5 minutes

As a provider of digital payments for the entire high street, fintech firm OKTO stands out as having a unique cashless solution that caters to the nuanced needs of the UK’s highly regulated land-based gaming sector. As demand for such solutions accelerates due to the global pandemic, Dimitar Shopov, OKTO Wallet Commercial Owner, explains how crucial it is that operators pick a partner that understands the specifics of their industry, whilst also evolving its technology to keep up to date with global fintech trends.

On a global basis, how busy has OKTO been since the start of the pandemic? Has there been a notable increase in interest and urgency for the installation of cashless systems?

It is a question we are increasingly asking ourselves as a society: “Do we still need cash?” The decline in the use of cash and the concurrent rise in digital and card payments has been charted for years, but the pandemic definitely marks the real beginning of the end of cash in many mature markets like the UK who is a fast adopter, ushering the interest and urgency toward cashless systems.

A combination of contributing factors play a role here; tech advances, measures from authorities, and actions from big retailers across the world that have already adopted the use of digital payments as a safer method to maintain social distance and contain the spread of the COVID-19. Cashless systems have increasingly become the new norm, simply due to the fact that society demands it.

Now, all our partners are asking us how we can help them transition to cashless operations and the driver is always the same; the ability to respond to their users’ demands, leverage user services and experience and reduce cost and risk of cash. And that is what we deliver with our OKTO.WALLET solution.

Is the UK a market you are monitoring in respect to its uptake of cashless payments?

The use of cash has been falling around the world and the pandemic along with the fear of infection from bank notes are accelerating the trend away from cash towards digital payments. The UK ranks higher than all other countries in the EU when it comes to cashless payments for a few years now.

Naturally, not everybody is ready for a digital switchover, but it’s apparent that more and more people turn to digital payment options. Cash’s share of in-store transactions in the UK plummeted from 45 percent in January to 23 percent in July, per a report from Square that analyzed data from hundreds of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) across the UK while the digital will likely retain greater popularity. Therefore, as a fast adopter, the UK was a natural fit for us to invest in this market, creating a powerful solution, designed to address the needs of the Pub & AGC sector with the main mission to be the enhanced user experience.

And here comes the question: Will we ever have a digital alternative that offers the same mix of convenience and freedom as cash? For me the answer is yes. Contactless forms of payment have created a new level of convenience for people around the world, and this has provided a real boost for certain industries, from gaming and betting to hospitality sectors. OKTO.WALLET solution is not only the safe and fast transactional tool that both users and merchants demand but it also offers users the freedom to move and use their funds as they wish instantly.

How do you think Covid-19 has accelerated this increasing disdain for products and services that require cash payment? Does another round of government restrictions in the UK spell further worry for cash-only businesses?

A few years ago, while I was walking through London, I noted some signs dotted around a pub that announced the complete move from cash to customers: “Apologies, but it is the digital age.” Don’t forget that there are benefits in digital payments that make life easier not only for the pubs but for all retail businesses. Think about it, at the end of the night whatever the retail business is, the people there need to count up endless piles of coins, managers need to transfer bags of cash to be lodged at the bank, also there are the additional charges to processing cash transactions versus digital ones and so on. All these can be eliminated with the digital cashless payments.

The trend was there and Covid-19 came and sped up that trend. All the cashless benefits along with the fact that banknotes and coins have been identified as a medium for transmitting the pandemic is clearing the way for another stellar rise in digital payments.

I cannot see the crystal ball and make the prediction for further pandemic-related worries for cash-only businesses, but when you hear announcements from World Health Organization back in March, recommending people to turn to cashless transactions to fight the spread of Covid-19, and rapidly a number of governments and retailers across the world took action, you can realize the evident concern. This shift should not be underestimated, as cashless transactions become the norm and rapidly impact niche industries like hospitality and gaming.

A cash-free future is getting closer, and the new lockdown is further accelerating that shift, but this change won’t be a 100 percent switch over night, there will be a prolonged period cash and digital payment options living side by side. After all, consumer payment choice is one of the most essential ways to maximise a merchants revenue potential, and operators should ensure that they will offer their customers the same level of choice in payment options as other sectors of the leisure industry, offering cashless facilities and we are here to assist operations in this transition.

Despite being a fintech provider to many markets across the world, OKTO clearly sees gaming as a particularly important one. How does this focus on gaming, whilst also offering all the benefits of neo-banks such as Monzo and Revolut, put OKTO in a better position to serve the market than competing cashless solutions in this space?

There are plenty of cashless solutions available and it can be confusing at times, what and why different digital solutions are better suited to certain sectors, and this is especially true in gaming.

But, it’s crucial for any operation to back the right horse. It’s imperative to choose a reliable solutions partner and few providers are focusing on the nuanced needs of gaming operators, especially for land-based, which make us unique in what we do. At OKTO, we want to assist our partners to make informed decisions for both their businesses and customers. Now with the industry to face more challenges than ever gaming operators need a payment service to ease the burden rather than add to it. Industry-specific, mobile-first and open-loop are the keys here.

A payment provider with a mobile payment platform, tailored for the gaming industry that aims to reduce payment friction, enhance the user experience, allowing real-time e-money fund transfer in a simple, secure and fast way is the answer to their quest. When this comes with a universality, then this is a sure bet, as consumers can use, move and collect their funds anywhere, not just for gaming.

Having a dedicated team on gaming, are you confident OKTO is well-equipped to cater to the needs of such a heavily regulated industry, where the expectations for compliance, data protection, and social responsibility are higher than any normal consumer market?

It’s vital to choose the right partner as I previously said; one that utilises field-proven technologies and has the extensive know-how of key integrations across all physical touchpoints of a gaming venue ranging from gaming machines to Self-Service Betting Terminals and Cash Redemption Terminals as well as a strong understanding and proven ability to integrate the wallet with digital touchpoints. We have exactly this 360 approach through our OKTO.WALLET solution, that the operators need to get ahead.

Heavily regulated industries are not unknown to us. We have an extensive understanding of the current climate; and we have developed solutions that ease compliance issues. Utilising the highest level of data encryption, we ensure all users data are fully encrypted while also all fund transfers are audited using market-proven algorithms to detect fraudulent activity including not only Money Laundering but also game manipulation and cash peripheral attacks.

Social responsibility is also at the top of our minds. With tools available through the OKTO app, we cover the social responsibility quota, incorporating a strict age verification process, time-out periods, betting limits, and profit and loss calculator tools that further enhance consumer protection as well as a dedicated section embedded in the app with national problem gambling helplines.

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Q&A: Sportingwin and the Bulgaria opportunity

George Miller

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Q&A: Sportingwin and the Bulgaria opportunity
Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

Mark Chakravarti, Head of Investment at Sportingwin, talks about why the operator sees such potential in the market and how it has found the licensing process to date

Bulgaria has had a major shake-up when it comes to how gambling operators are licensed and regulated in the country with the National Revenue Agency recently taking on the responsibility.

Amid allegations of corruption among its predecessor, the State Gambling Commission, the new regulator is moving forwards with plans to issue additional licences over the coming months.

The first in line to receive such a licence is Sportingwin, which has ambitious plans for Bulgaria once it has been given the green light to launch.

To learn more about Bulgaria and the operator’s plans for the market, we sat down with Mark Chakravarti, Head of Investment at Sportingwin.

Why do you see so much potential in Bulgaria?

You just have to look at the numbers to see the potential. We estimate the Bulgaria market to be worth around £300m right now but as new operators enter the fray it could grow at a rate of 20% per year to hit £500m over the course of the next five years.

Coupled with this is the low level of competition. Only five betting licences have been issued to date and mostly to local retail bookmakers with a limited online offering. These sites simply don’t offer the depth of markets, odds and products available in other European jurisdictions.

This presents a tremendous opportunity for experienced online sportsbooks to make their mark, so long as they enter Bulgaria with a localised product that delivers a superior player experience. Those that do are very much in the driving seat to capitalise on the tremendous potential on the table.

What do Bulgarian players look for in an online sportsbook?

There is a long tradition of retail and online sports betting in Bulgaria, so players are seeking a comprehensive, quality, cutting-edge product and experience similar to that offered and found in mature markets such as the UK.

In particular, they are seeking a high volume of events, a range of bet types as well as modern features such cash out. We also believe that exchange betting, while not currently available, will be hugely popular once we secure our licence and launch the Sportingwin exchange in the market.

How will you meet those needs and localise your offering?

There are two key ways we are doing this – product and our approach to CRM. When it comes to product, we are developing a proprietary platform that is fully customisable for each market we enter, including Bulgaria. This includes localised payment options, currencies, sports, etc.

In terms of CRM, we are investing in a local customer support centre so that we can comfortably meet the staff-intensive local language CRM and marketing operations and activities we believe will enable us to communicate to and engage with Bulgarian players.

How have you found the licencing process to date?

The Bulgarian regulator has incredibly high standards and expectations when it comes to due diligence. As such, the licensing process has been a little slower than in other jurisdictions, but we are okay with this as we want to make sure we not only meet but exceed their standards.

This means taking additional steps such as appointing a dedicated Bulgarian CEO. He has a proven background in gaming and the regulator can quickly carry out the necessary checks that it needs to in order to ascertain his credibility and suitability for the role.

Owning our own technology has also allowed us to synchronise our platform with the NRA already, which in turn means we are among those on the regulator’s list of approved technologies ready for when our licence is granted.

In addition, we are a Maltese company so have requested that the Maltese consulate in Bulgaria monitor the licensing process from start to finish as our application is the first to be considered since the Nation Revenue Agency took over regulatory responsibility earlier in the year.

By having the right people on a local level, and by taking considered steps towards ensuring we meet the standards set by regulator, we expect to receive our licence in the first quarter of next year.

What has been the toughest challenge to overcome?

The toughest challenge is in respect to the due diligence and in particular the requirement of having an €800,000 investment from a local, proven source of funds. To do this, we have had to find a local banking partner which was easier said than done.

That being said, the team pulled together and we were able to find a local banking partner happy to facilitate the investment allowing us to progress through the licensing process.

What are your long-term plans for the Bulgarian market?

We want to claim 9% of the local market within the first three years. We then plan to build on this rapidly by securing further venture capital that will enable us to consolidate the market through mergers and acquisitions with local operators.

Once we have achieved the scale we are seeking, we can then effectively pursue market leader bet365. It is a tough task, but one that we are more than capable of completing thanks to the incredible team we have built out in recent years.

We also believe our cutting-edge proprietary technology and platform gives us a huge edge over the incumbent operators and brands and will allow us to compete with and defeat any other overseas operators that enter the market.

What is your long-term plan for Sportingwin?

We are currently undertaking a fundraising campaign to help accelerate our global expansion efforts, selling off more than €1m in equity.

These investments are in line with our long-term strategy for the brand which is to achieve a valuation of €50m in three years and, once achieved, would deliver a x13 increase on the current investment opportunity.

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