NHL signs Liga Stavok as first Russian betting partner

The exclusive three-year agreement, announced just ahead of the 2021-22 NHL season, is the first between the North American ice hockey league and a Russian bookmaker.

Liga Stavok said it plans to implement a series of marketing activities, including offline and digital promotions. The operator’s logo will be placed on virtual boards during the broadcasts of NHL matches in Russia, while it has the rights to use club emblems and official NHL symbols in its creatives and advertising activations.

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Flutter acquires gaming platform provider Singular

The deal sees Flutter purchase 100% of shares in Singular, according to an announcement by Crowe UK and Partis Capital, who acted as advisors to the Malta-headquartered business’ shareholders.

The acquisition comes soon after Flutter subsidiary Adjarabet, a leading operator in Georgia, signed a five-year extension of its existing software agreement with Singular.

“This deal is a huge recognition of Singular and what we managed to build and it furthermore sets the foundation for an exciting next chapter,” said Darko Gacov, co-founder and chief business development officer of Singular.

“We look forward to exploring new challenges and opportunities, now being a part of the largest online betting and gaming company in the world.”

Flutter said the addition of Singular’s products “provid[es] us with greater optionality as we enter new markets.”

Under the terms of its extension with Adjarabet signed earlier this year, Singular continues to serve as the lead iGaming and sports betting platforms supplier for the operator in Georgia and support its expansion in newly regulated markets. Singular has supported Adjarabet since it launched its digital service in 2011.

Venture capital fund Vereeni Investments acquired a 20% stake in Singular in December 2018.

Red Knot names ex-FoxBet CEO Robin Chhabra as chairman

Chhabra previously held several roles in the gambling industry, including the position of CEO at Fox Bet. He also worked in marketing and business development roles for William Hill and The Stars Group.

“I am delighted to join Red Knot as Chairman, especially at such an exciting time for the agency as we grow in the U.S. and worldwide,” said Chhabra.

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Entain Foundation pledges UNLV support for research initiative

The not-for-profit foundation will supply UNLV with a founding grant to carry out the project, which aims to combine scientific research with operational expertise in order to apply best practice in responsible gambling, policy and health.

UNLV vice president Bo Bernhard said: “For the first time in this field, this initiative brings vital academic research in the U.S. to the public domain in dozens of applied settings.

“We are actively moving beyond the traditional ‘research center,’ since this project will translate scientific research into actionable, operational programs that can be implemented in real venues by operators, regulators, legislators, clinicians, and other stakeholders.”

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Pari-mutuel urges DoI to block Florida sports betting in new lawsuit

The case has been filed on the grounds that the tribal compact permitting statewide betting violates federal law and the state constitution.

The compact in question was approved by the state legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis in May, before receiving approval from the Department of the Interior last month. It would allow online sports bets to be placed from anywhere in the state with servers located on the Seminole Tribe’s lands in a so-called “wheel-and-spoke” model.

The suit – filed by West Flagler Associates in the US District Court of Columbia – alleges that offering statewide online sports betting through servers on tribal lands cannot be considered as betting on tribal lands.

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Betsson chairman Svensk resigns following shareholder revolt

Svensk will leave with immediate effect after being told he no longer has the full confidence of the group’s major shareholders due to the handling of Lindwall’s departure, which was communicated by press release last Friday (17 September).

Svensk, who had been a member of Betsson’s board of directors since 2005 and chairman since 2017, will be replaced by Johan Lundberg.

“It is very sad, and I am sorry that I have disappointed our major owners, but I have done what I thought was best for the company. I am proud of what we have achieved during these years and wish everyone at Betsson great luck in the future,” said Svensk.

Lundberg, who has been a member of Betsson’s board since 2018, is the founder of NFT Ventures and a board member of Loomis, Svolder and Ölands Bank.

“I would like to extend a warm thank you to Patrick Svensk for his valuable contributions to the board for almost 17 years,” Lundberg said.

“I look forward to continuing the work with the rest of the board to recruit the next generation of international leader to Betsson and at the same time complete the strategic work that is going on with renewal and growth.”

In a statement, Betsson added that Michael Knutsson, the chairman of the nomination committee, “has expressed full confidence and support” for the remaining board members.

The group last week announced that Lindwall is to step down after it said he had “completed” his goals as chief executive, and said it had begun the search for his replacement.

Lindwall was first appointed Betsson CEO in 1998, and would hold the position until 2011. He started his second term as CEO in 2017.

Lindwall’s departure comes off the back of a record quarter for Betsson in terms of earnings before interest. Lindwall will remain as CEO until a replacement is found. The operator said that given these results, Lindwall has completed the operator’s “Back on Track” recovery program, which he was hired to implement.

Commenting on Lindwall’s departure at the time, Svensk said: “Pontus Lindwall has played an invaluable role in Betsson’s successful development. When he took over as CEO in 2017, his mission was to strengthen the company’s position and create a solid platform for continued growth.

“That task has now been completed. We are grateful for all the good work Pontus Lindwall has done during these years and the strong foundation he has created for the future.”

Image: BetssonAB.com

Playtech boosted by online B2B and US gains in H1

The gambling software development company announced revenue of €457.4m for the six months to 30 June, which was down 4% compared to the €476.7m accrued in the same period in 2020.

The B2B gambling segment grew by 19% to €267.2, driven by revenue growth from Caliente in Mexico, as well as strong growth in other regulated markets such as Colombia, Poland, Italy, and Greece. There was expansion in the US, with Parx Casino launching online casino in Michigan on Playtech’s IMS Platform and Player Account Management software in April. Revenue from the Americas increased to €46.4m, which was up 106% at constant currency.

UK revenues saw a decline of 10% to €59.6m, which was largely driven by retail closures as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Retail closures, which were in place for the majority of the period, significantly impacted Playtech’s B2B sports business which is heavily weighted towards retail via its self-service betting terminals (SSBTs).

In Europe, B2B gambling revenue growth was driven by several licensees including Totalizator Sportowy in Poland, Sisal in Italy as well as various customers in Greece. Revenue for that segment was at €66.5m.

Playtech’s B2B growth in revenues from unregulated markets excluding Asia came from Canada and Brazil, with Asian revenue increasing by 6%.

The B2C gambling segment fell by 22% to €196.6m, due mainly to retail closures in Italy impacting its Snaitech subsidiary.

Snaitech revenues decreased by 27% to €157.9m, owing to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which resulted in the closure of retail betting shops in Italy for almost the entire duration of H1 2021 versus last year when closures only affected half of the period. However, Snaitech’s revenue was supported by a 95% increase in online revenues. This increase was also due to the fact that major sporting events were cancelled for part of H1 2020, as opposed to H1 2021 where these were taking place as normal, including the UEFA EURO 2020 football tournament.

Playtech had an outlay of €333.3m in operational costs during the period, which was down by 9% on the €367.2m declared in the same period last year. Adjusted EBITDA was at €124.1m for the period, which was up 13% and 14% on a constant currency basis.

The group said adjusted EBITDA increasing, in contrast to the decrease seen in revenue, was due to the strong performance of the higher margin online business both under B2B and B2C, which also resulted in the period-on-period increase in the adjusted EBITDA margin from 23% in 2020 to 27% in 2021.

B2B underlying gambling costs, excluding costs passed directly to licensees, increased by 14% to €154.2m, driven by the increase in both Asia-related and strategic expenditure costs. B2B costs of €195.1m were up 17% year-on-year, meaning B2B adjusted EBITDA of €72.1m, up 14%.

While administrative and sales and marketing costs were similar to H1 2020, Asia costs increased by 127% to €25.2m largely due to the restructuring of the relationship with its largest regional distributor.

Strategic expenditure, including revenue driven costs relating to structured agreements, US expansion costs, and all costs relating to live operations, were up 51% to €28.3m. This was in line with the increase in revenue under structured agreements and in particular Caliente, as well as the increase in employee costs within the live division.

B2C gambling costs were down 30% to €144.6m, meaning B2C adjusted EBITDA of €52.0m, up 12% on H1 2020.

Snaitech operating costs decreased by 37% to €106.3m, in the main driven by the decrease in franchise commission, gaming concession fees, platform charges, maintenance of the retail network and costs relating to data feeds. Snaitech’s adjusted EBITDA increased by 10% due, it said, to its low fixed cost base and effective cost reduction.

Mor Weizer, Playtech’s chief executive, said: “I am delighted by our strong strategic and operational progress to date in 2021, despite the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. These results demonstrate the quality of our technology and products, the significant progress made against our strategic priorities, and wider momentum across Playtech’s operations.

“Looking forward, given the strong H1 performance, the momentum in the business and the easing of lockdown restrictions, we are confident of Playtech’s prospects for the remainder of 2021 and beyond.”

Looking ahead, Playtech has started the licensing process in additional US states and said it will continue to increase its investment in the US market. The group also said it is progressing on plans to develop a new Live Casino facility in Peru as it continues to expand its presence across Latin America.

Better together: how data drives deeper relationships

Jirka Konietzny is the head of the CRM team within GiG’s managed services department. Besides several years of experience working with different brands in different markets, he’s also got a PhD in marketing and is lecturing at the University of Malta.

It is safe to assume that operators do not automatically welcome the news of new restrictions on gambling promotions in any market.

However, measures that have been introduced by Swedish regulator Spelinspektionen may ultimately prove to be beneficial for customer retention, according to Jirka Konietzny, Head of CRM (Managed Services) at GiG.

By being forced to phase out the scattergun approaches of yesteryear, when companies merely hurled bonus codes at players, richer strategies have been cultivated to enhance the relationship between customers and betting platforms.

Good practice
Konietzny believes operators committed to making the most of the customer data at their disposal have every opportunity to serve their members better, hitting that sweet spot of driving new player acquisition while also increasing retention and player lifetime value.

“In the past, ‘good practice’ – or just the best practice as applied in this industry – consisted of customers demanding incentives and our giving out goodwill bonuses left, right and centre,” Konietzny says.

“Obviously regulators woke up to the realities of this happening in different markets and they said: ‘No, this can’t continue.’ Then all of a sudden everyone got a shock when Sweden, for example, regulated with operators restricted to providing one introductory bonus, and the response was: ‘Oh, what are we going to do now?’ But bonusing players over and over is a very short-sighted and unsustainable approach which fails to create any loyalty.

“Loyalty is what in the end creates value; lifetime value. Studies have shown that customers identify the casino where they want to spend their time and money based on the qualities of fairness and enjoyment.

“Enjoyment and fairness are perhaps very broad concepts, but fairness concerns how you interact with other people, and why would you want to interact with your customers differently than you do with your friends and your colleagues, with relationships based on mutual trust and understanding?”

Meeting the challenge
CRM is a growing area of interest for many operators, but many are deterred by the cost and resources required to create the systems needed to collect and analyse customer data.

Any business operating in a reputable jurisdiction already needs to collect a certain amount of customer data to comply with AML (anti-money laundering) and KYC (know your customer) directives. However, making the most of the data that can be retrieved from a retention and growth perspective is another matter.

Operators may choose to go it alone and develop their own systems, but they can also turn to suppliers such as GiG with the expertise and infrastructure to provide a ready-to-go service.

“A lot of the data we gather is generated by customers simply engaging with the platform, from the games they play to how much they wager and so forth,” Konietzny says.

“What many operators have done for too long is just put a finger in the air and try to see where the wind blows, meaning they haven’t really made enough use of all the data they have.

“For several years now, we’ve had a data science team that has met this challenge head-on, and it is now providing us with different prediction models for CRM and other ways of using data to provide a better customer experience without being too intrusive. I think that’s one of the challenges that we as an industry have – to move forward and be more data-driven in that respect.”

Unique resource
GiG’s CRM Managed Services team expects to add to its existing client list in the coming year as it continues to build its team and expertise in a growing number of regulated markets.

Konietzny says the division’s reach and exposure to different markets gives it a “unique resource” that clients can tap into. With an extensive data range, the team can crunch the numbers and bring value to clients by showing exactly what can drive a successful campaign.

“If we know that a promotion works well in one specific case, what we’re doing at the moment is developing more scientific ways in which we can analyse and act on this data,” Konietzny adds. “That’s what we really want to get to, to escape the stereotype of: ‘We just send out emails and SMS’.

“It’s bringing back the relationship management and fuelling it with this buzzword of customer experience, because that’s one of the other things that is so important. You have to know your customers, and data gathered from the players is one source.

“If you really want to know your customers, you are going to have to speak to them – and I don’t mean only by analysing forum topics and posts, but actually conducting surveys and interviews. This is where we want to go, to build our expertise and be able to deliver that intelligence to our clients.”

Swedish regulator supports treating gambling advertising like alcohol

The consultation was announced in June by Sweden’s Ministry of Finance and would amend the country’s 2018 Gambling Act.

In initial consultation announcement, the Ministry of Finance suggested that gambling should be marketed similarly to alcohol, in that people should not be encouraged or urged to play.

In its response, Spelinspektionen agreed with the proposal. It outlined that such limitations on gambling advertising could lead to better consumer protection and a better adherence to guidance outlined in the Gambling Act.

The regulator also said that the industry may be able to prevent “serious consequences” in terms of gambling harm if products are marketed with further moderation, and emphasised that all forms of gambling should be included in the restrictions.

Responses to the consultation must be submitted by October 14.

Sweden has launched a number of consultations on gambling recently. The Gambling Market Inquiry, which launched in November 2020, drew criticism from some bodies such as the Branscheforenigen för Onlienspel (BOS), due to its call for high-risk gambling games to be subject to new advertising restrictions.

Yesterday, Spelinspektionen released two guideline warnings to licensees, focusing on responsible gambling and gambling on credit.

Opportunity knocks: Could Twitch’s casino ban open up the streaming market?

It may be cliché to say that when one door closes, another one opens. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a more apt description in this scenario.  

After Amazon-owned streaming giant Twitch announced it was banning links to casino sites on streams, it seemed like a blow for an affiliate streaming market that was starting to gain some traction and popularity. But it could have presented an opportunity for other streaming platforms to get in on the action, ranging from big names like Youtube, Facebook and Steam to more specialist sites like CasinoGrounds.  

One such platform is Time2play.com, which was quick to offer streamers a Twitch alternative

Its chairman Tim Tepass is keenly aware of how streaming has become such a fertile ground for affiliates, believing that there’s much content to be made around casino products – be it written or oral reviews or streaming.  

For us, it’s an opportunity” 
The vacuum left by Twitch’s ban is one that Time2play.com, which currently specialises in casino and product reviews, plans to take advantage of. “For us it’s an opportunity,” Tepass says.  

“We have not been doing any streaming and we don’t really see ourselves as streamers.”

Tepass believes that this change in the landscape is the perfect time for streamers to take advantage of the large followings they’ve built up on Twitch and launch their own brands.  

“I would encourage streamers to see that there’s a chance to create a loyal follower base, rather than trying to get underage viewers from existing traffic sources,” he adds. 

“Right now they have a lot of momentum and traffic from within the ecosystem of twitch and this is how they grow their channel. I believe that they now have the chance to go and build their own brands and not just take advantage of the current environment.” 

The smaller scale streamers are the ones more likely to be affected by these developments. Bigger streamers have the option of making deals with operators allowing them to just monitor the number of clicks they’re getting and attribute them to a marketing budget.  

Smaller streamers won’t have such luxuries.  

“This leaves them with two choices,” Tepass says. 

“They could either go with the bigger streamer companies or they try to team up with companies like ours, stay independent and don’t have to follow what bigger corporations tell them to do. For the bigger ones it’s also an opportunity to team up with us but that takes a bit more convincing. There are some we’re having intense conversations with but it’s still early.” 

Underage issues 
The potential exposure of gambling content to minors was the final nail in the coffin of casino streamers on Twitch, and the affiliate link ban came as no surprise to Tepass – “Why would Jeff Bezos risk that?” he asks. 

With the anticipation that other streaming services will follow Twitch’s lead, Tepass is confident that Time2play.com will stand out from the crowd because its igaming audience means it can focus only on adult viewers.  

“In our case it’s for igaming and igaming only,” says Tepass. 

“We’ll make sure that nobody underage will be able to watch the streamers – that itself is a huge difference. Underage people can’t just pop into a stream and get educated on how to gamble. It’s a silly system in the at the moment in my opinion.”  

Though he says that it’s impossible to completely police who watches what on streaming services, Tepass believes that platforms – Time2play.com included – should be doing everything they can to mitigate the damages.  

He says: “Right now when it comes to the UK for example its very similar to how you can access slots and demos where you have an age blocker in front, but at the end of the day where there’s a will there’s a way – that’s what the internet is all about.  

“At least we know we aren’t targeting them, whereas Twitch clearly targets gamers around the world who are also primarily underage. If we aren’t careful enough it can just cause so much more harm than we could think of right now.” 

Tepass adds that Time2play.com will also establish a code of conduct for its streamers in order to limit the amount of questionable content on streams. The aim is to be as firm as is necessary without limiting the creativity of potential streamers.  

“We don’t want to be the police and want them to have total flexibility but there are certain things we believe don’t belong on a stream.” 

Is innovation a threat? 
The danger to minors isn’t just a cause for concern for the streaming platforms themselves.  

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm has been particularly vocal when it comes to slot streaming, believing it to be a “deeply concerning”, new form of gambling which should be included in the Gambling Act Review.  

In a statement APPG chair Carolyn Harris MP and Peers for Gambling Reform chair Lord Foster of Bath said: “The review must establish mechanisms to research, review and, where relevant, re-classify these activities without primary legislation, to provide appropriate safeguards. 

“Failing to include these new forms of gambling in the review will mean that legislation will very rapidly not be fit for the digital era and effectively be out of date on publication.” 

“I think whenever there’s an innovation in the beginning it’s also seen as a threat,” Tepass responded. 

“If we think back to the first live casinos, dealers were out so we had a similar momentum around that topic and now it’s totally mainstream and nobody sees it as harmful that there’s a live dealer dealing you blackjack cards.” 

Tepass maintains that he’s all for regulation, provided it doesn’t completely diminish the experience for the user. As soon as regulators start to interfere too much, it can force people to turn to less than legal methods to enjoy their product.  

Tepass adds: “We see this unfortunately in some countries like Germany where the regulators think they can control what the users want, while that is never the case as users are smart enough to find their way to whatever they want to do.  

“And there’s a clear need for this as millions of users actually watch those streams over a long period – this isn’t a one hit wonder. It’s on the regulators to understand what’s happening and then put a good regulatory framework around it.” 

It doesn’t matter where they stream” 
Moving forward, Time2play.com has a very clear audience it’s looking to target.  

Tepas says: “We’re really focusing on igaming streamers, sports betting eventually and maybe poker, but its very much focused on the gambling image, rather than branching out into something like world of Warcraft for example. That’s not who we’re targeting.  

“In terms of the regular gambling audience, I think this is quite beneficial. If you look at the product offering from Time2play.com holistically, it’s that you have the regular reviews, user reviews, playscore, and then at the same time you have the streamers talking about the products but independently from our opinions and the user opinions.  

“The type of transparency hasn’t been abundant in our niche. If you look into another niches this is such a standard thing and we are the only ones in our industry that have been fully open and transparent with our users.” 

Ultimately, whether its Time2play.com or another streaming platform, there’s confidence that – in the long run – the market won’t suffer significantly after the immediate shock of Twitch’s ban.  

“If we look at the amount of streamers and the total views, it doesn’t matter where they stream,” Tepass says.  

“They have huge followings who will follow along. Of course it will be harder to attract people from the existing ecosystem but we have other marketing channels if needed. I think it will fill the gap and I don’t think this will decrease things, it might even make monetisation fairer for everybody.”