Vahe Baloulian- EEGaming Interview
EEGReport Magazine: During 2015 and even in these few months of 2016, legislation in some Eastern European countries has been amended with new regulatory acts. For example, software suppliers need to apply for a second class license, etc. How do you feel this has impacted BetConstruct’s operations?
VB: Government regulation is important where the industry can’t, for whatever reason, self-regulate. In those cases we welcome it as it makes things clear and levels the field. Unless regulation deviates from its primary purpose of player protection and turns purely into tax collection, it allows us to better understand the jurisdictions where we are planning to become active. Now that some Eastern European countries are doing what many of their European counterparts have done, we are hoping that they will use the reality of them not being the trailblazers to their advantages and will learn from the sustainable regulating regimes. Although BetConstruct is typically prompted to go into licensing or certification processes by our partners wishing to operate in certain jurisdictions, our legal and compliance specialists are also tasked to keep us ahead of the curve when it comes to the upcoming and changing regulations.
EEGReport Magazine: As we know BetConstruct offers a full range of betting software for physical premises. How big is your impact in the CEE region?
VB: BetConstruct has its roots as a retail sportsbook operator. Therefore, we do have a very strong and ever-evolving sportsbook offering for the land-based operators and are fairly well represented in the region through our partners in the Baltics and Balkans. This does not mean we are completely satisfied with our penetration of the region. For historical reasons, we are very well aware of the diverse mentality and culture of the peoples living in CEE region and this informs our conscientious approach to their demands and requirements. However, it is the constant learning process that drives our efforts to identify and take advantage of the new opportunities there. We recently opened our Kiev office and will continue to insistently seek out new partners in this region.
IEEGReport Magazine: Is the online sphere taking over from gaming in the high street in bookmakers and casinos?
VB: The casinos and bookmakers who have not yet expanded online may harbor an intrinsic fear that online will take over the land-based industry. Still, I don’t think it is happening now and I don’t see it happening in the near future. Players enjoy their freedom of choice. They watch movies online but cinemas are still dotting the landscape, they read digital books though printed ones are still being sold everywhere, they buy digital music yet concert venues are still sold-out. Having said this, the land-based operators, regardless of their participation in the e-gaming space, must evolve to retain their allure. We see, for example, some of our partners moving from the run-of-the-mill shop formats to sports cafés and bars with betting as a major part of the offering. I believe that while it is not a matter of land-based being pushed out by the online, it very well can be a matter of those who cling to conventional, slow progressing modus operandi being pushed out by those who are innovative and swift.
EEGReport Magazine: Since the affiliates of some of these newly regulated countries fall into the same licensing criteria as software suppliers, do you think that this is beneficial to the online gambling affiliate businesses?
VB: By and large no, but it depends on the level of regulations that are applied to the affiliates and how the affiliates are defined. Affiliates are marketers, and as such they have to follow the same conventions that govern marketing trade. Every responsible adult oriented industry, whose products are being advertised to general public, should have a code of conduct. Affiliates should be required to adhere to the same codes of advertising as operators. If their efforts strictly fall within the definition of marketing, I think that regulating them as they do gaming technology providers is excessive. I think that while operators cannot take responsibility for their affiliates’ every action, they should carry out their own due diligence of affiliates before signing them up and continue monitoring affiliate activities during their partnership.
EEGReport Magazine: From the information we have, the Czech Republic is going to open its market to remote operators and it is believed that the first licenses are already going to be available at the beginning of 2017. Has your company received orders or requests from operators that are looking to penetrate the market and use your platform?
VB: Even with expected considerable tax rate increases, the pending adoption of a new gambling regulatory framework in Czechia, which will remove the seat requirement, has wetted appetites of a few operators that have contacted us hoping to upgrade their technology before this market really opens up. Our business development specialists too are actively exploring the new opportunities that 2017 will bring if these changes are enacted as expected. For us, as a technology provider, the constant challenge is to make sure our products comply with the new requirements without making the player’s journey more complicating.
EEGReport Magazine: Recent changes to Bulgaria’s remote gambling laws have made the market increasingly attractive to both foreign and local operators, but how is the competitive landscape shaping up? What is the inside info you have from operators that are using your platform in regards to this market.
VB: Bulgaria showed a more progressive approach to online gaming with sensible fees and taxes and open-minded legislation. Our partners in Bulgaria are EGT and the Bulgarian National Lottery. Both are undisputed leaders in Bulgarian gaming industry. It’s a market with a few big players, many of which are locally owned. These companies have been competing long before the new rules took effect. One of the major differences is that now this competition has moved into a more leveled field and those without licenses are being blocked by the government.
EEGReport Magazine: Do you think that countries such as Romania, Czech Republic, Poland or Hungary are markets for which operators should be queuing up for a license or lobby to be regulated, or does too much uncertainty remain to make it a sustainable investment given the fact that it’s the CEE region?
VB: We are talking about a combined population of about 80 million people. That’s quite a sizable market to be ignored. With Western Europe markets getting saturated and maturing, opening up new markets by having them regulated is very important. For some operators, I would say, it is vital. Removing uncertainty through regulation will help and if we talk about lobbying the efforts should be directed at making these regulations sensible. Regulations are there to first and foremost protect the consumer. If you look at the programs of the most industry conferences, you will notice that we get so overwhelmed with all the rules and requirements that we almost never discuss how we can better serve our players, their issues are never in the center of the agendas.
EEGReport Magazine: What other trends should we look out for? Where do you expect the European market to go?
VB: There is a lot of talk about e-sports, millennials, VR, M&A, etc. Nobody really knows how all these will play out. BetConstruct has been actively covering e-sports before it became a buzzword. With all the talk about them notwithstanding, millennials have still not being figured out. The real utilization and spread of VR in gaming is a few years away and all M&A activity is not really changing the way the industry functions. We can talk about trends, buzzwords and people doing the things media usually gets excited about, while, many companies, often unnoticed and unheralded, will continue running their casinos, sportsbooks, bingos and lotteries, quietly producing compelling results and serious profits.