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IN-DEPTH 1 February 2019
Wazdan Head of Sales: Our plans for ICE and 2019
Ahead of the gambling industry event everyone is eagerly awaiting, Andrzej Hyla, Wazdan Head of Sales, speaks to Gambling Insider about his company’s plans for ICE London 2019 and beyond.
By Tim Poole

How have you found your time so far at Wazdan and being based in Malta?

Being a part of Wazdan is not only a great challenge but an adventure. I have been at Wazdan since the beginning and I enjoy working with the team at Wazdan; observing their passion and commitment every day and the joy that comes as their hard work contributes to company development. It’s been great to watch the growth of our games and the popularity of our products among players, and I hope to see further progress in 2019! Malta is a great location for the growth of Wazdan; we’re located right in the middle of everything and close to our clients which is great for business development.

What kind of innovation do you see in the slots market over the next few years?

I see gamification not only offered to casino players (e.g. in the form of loyalty programs), but available in each game separately, and an advanced personalisation of games for individual players. For example, players will be able to choose symbols and place them in their favourite games.

I also think our Unique Wazdan Features – and especially Volatility LevelsTM, which enable players to independently choose the level of volatility in their game – will be an innovation that leads the way in the future. At ICE London 2019, we will be presenting our brand new seventh Unique Wazdan Feature – Big Screen Mode. This new feature provides a unique visual experience while playing our games on large screens, and enables players to fully embrace the atmosphere of their favourite game.

How important is ICE for Wazdan and the rest of the industry as a whole?

As the company grows, we want to continue to showcase our products and the passion we put into them on the global stage. ICE is, as every year, a major industry event in Europe, so Wazdan places great importance on it.

Alongside the presentation of our games on giant 65-inch screens at our stand, we are inviting our customers to a unique evening boat cruise on the Thames, with great cuisine and beverages on the house, accompanied by live music and special magic shows. We want our business partners to know they are as important to us as the players playing our games.

What products will Wazdan be showcasing at ICE this year?

As in previous years, Wazdan will present our latest games to visitors at ICE. This year, we can’t wait for the reaction to our latest titles – which we hope will become hits in 2019. These will be the next two editions of the Magic Stars 3 game, enthusiastically endorsed by the market in 2018, and this year we are launching Magic Stars 5 (5 reels) and Magic Stars 6 (6 reels). Another game we are launching is Larry the Leprechaun, a cheerful story about a tiny creature well known for storing gold coins in a pot of gold hidden at the end of a rainbow.

We will present our seven Unique Wazdan Features: Volatility Levels™, Ultra Lite Mode, Energy Saving Mode, Double Screen Mode, Unique Gamble Feature, Ultra Fast Mode and Big Screen Mode, as well as a few other titles appearing on the market in 2019. You’ll have to visit our stand S8 202 to find out more on those. Wazdan are also offering all our visitors great coffee and delicious Japanese whiskey, so we can enjoy a drink while talking business!

You recently signed a deal with TGP Asia; what are your ambitions for the Asian market?

We are working to increase the number of our games available in the Asian market. The contract with TGP Asia is a great step forward. Our game portfolio of nearly 110 titles offers something for everyone – and we are keen to offer our games to more Asian players. Following our game "9 Lions" receiving a prestigious Hot Hit Products 2018 award at G2E Asia in Macau 2018, we are excited to work towards becoming the games provider of choice for all players. We’re aiming for similar success among all operators running their business in Asia.

Are you targeting any new emerging markets?

We are looking at emerging markets such as Africa and LATAM. With these markets in mind – where the availability and speed of the internet can be limited – Wazdan has designed the Unique Wazdan Feature, Ultra Lite Mode. It shortens the loading time of the games by five times, without reducing the player's playing comfort. So, it is perfectly suited to the needs of such markets.

What are the major challenges you face in 2019?

The main challenge for Wazdan this year, and every year, is to continue to develop games that become player favourites. This year, we will continue to create products in which every detail reflects our commitment to delivering innovative casino games which deliver original and fun player experiences. Another challenge we face is to meet (and beat) the competition, which is evolving day by day. We are constantly looking at new games appearing on the market with respect.

Our goal for 2019 is to enter new markets, i.e. Italy, Spain and Portugal, and increase our share in the European and Asian markets.

Where does Wazdan aim to be this time next year?

We aim to continue to launch games that are eagerly anticipated by players and operators alike. We have lots planned for 2019 and, in 2020, we’d like to be one of the leaders among online slots suppliers. We would also like our team to grow, employing even more people with a passion for games. The end result will be each of our clients can be sure that, in offering their players Wazdan games, they offer them the highest quality product.
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IN-DEPTH 11 October 2019
Landing on a monopoly

Matthew Enderby asks who benefits from a monopoly-driven gambling market and if there is any point in maintaining one.

It can appear anti-capitalist, like the government wants total control. Players are ushered to a single, often state-run operator, and only one supplier is contracted to provide the platform, making the gambling market seemingly easier to manage. But does that hold true? When monopolistic gambling markets are enforced, who is the winner? Do the players benefit from what is meant to be a safer environment? Will the public perception of gambling be more positive than in an open market?

To answer these results-based questions, the motivations behind a monopoly-driven market need to be looked at first. The initial question is always: Why? A few quick answers spring to mind. It might be testing out gambling and observing how its country responds once the option to have a bet is made legal and available. With only one operator in place, player protection seems like a reasonable motivator.

It would be easier to keep track of addiction and factors leading to problem gambling as all the data, theoretically, could be accessed in one location. The main motivator however, is revenue. With the market dominated by a single legal operator, all of the country’s gambling revenue will flow through it and to the government. But for this to be effective, there cannot be any offshore operators present.

The Swedish gambling market was opened up at the start of the year, and private companies were free to apply for a license. The reasoning for this, according to state-run operator Svenska Spel, was to achieve fair market conditions and bring order. Life before the update in legislation was not entirely different to what it is today. Despite being closed to private companies, Patrik Hofbauer, CEO of Svenksa Spel, says the previous market was only a monopoly on paper.

He tells Gambling Insider: “Around 90% to 95% of the companies now operating with licenses in the Swedish market have been here for more than 10 years, so we are already used to competition.”

Offshore operators were present in Sweden for more than 10 years. They did not pay tax and found ways to navigate around the law. Up until the start of the year, there were three legal operators. Svenksa Spel handled betting, ATG specified in horseracing, and Postkodlotteriet managed the lotteries.

A MediaVision study from October showed 60% of Swedes aged between 18 and 74 had a registered account at the end of June 2018; a 12% rise year-on-year. Roughly 58% of these accounts were with one of the three state-run operators.

On the surface, this seems like a success story for the monopolistic market, but where are the rest of them registered? Nearly half of Sweden’s gamblers, 42%, were registered with international operators. These companies held no Swedish license or authority to offer a service in the country.

What’s worse, where the monopoly is concerned, is 60% of all new accounts registered within the 12 months leading up to 30 June were with these businesses. With so many players setting up with unregistered companies, the idea of a monopoly making gambling safer, with upheld regulation, is incorrect.

Now the market has gone through its changes and levelled out, Hofbauer finds order is in place and player protection has improved. He says: “We now have a level playing field for gambling operators, increased revenues for the state, and clear rules to protect customers against excessive gambling thanks to stronger and better consumer protection. It has ultimately benefitted the Swedish customers, which is the biggest win.”

The move away from a monopolistic approach has not exactly produced a goldmine for other operators, and certainly not for Svenksa Spel. A look at its first quarter results shows a 6% year-on-year decline in revenue to SEK 2.05bn ($197.4m). Its land-based operations, Casino Cosmopol & Vegas, fell 17% to SEK416m, while lottery dropped 6% to SEK 1.1bn. It reported SEK 544m in revenue from sport and casino, a 4% increase. Operating profit for the quarter decreased 55% to SEK 519m. Svenska Spel paid SEK 401m in gaming taxes for the quarter.

While it won’t be impressed with revenue for Q1, the operator stressed one of the biggest challenges in the transition was launching three new products. Hofbauer says: “Business wise, it is positive that we now can offer our customers products like online casino and horseracing, and also offer more competitive pricing."

Improved pricing is another reason Swedish customers will be happy with the change in legislation. So who exactly has been benefitting in the monopolistic structure besides state operators making easy tax revenue? Suppliers might have the most to gain from a monopolistic market. Being selected by the government to provide technology solutions for its online or land-based operations signifies trust. Suppliers will have to earn that trust by proving their platforms can generate the most revenue for the government’s operator.

The appeal behind branding in this case is also undeniable and the opportunity for a supplier to be the leading face is not one to be missed. Building brand recognition in a country where you are the only brand is obviously much easier. The competition exists, but only through unlicensed companies that will not want to attract further attention to their operations in that specific location.

In April, Kambi extended its contract with Bulgaria’s National Lottery JSC, parent company of the Moldovan National Lottery, to supply online and retail sportsbook. The operator is expected to enter Moldova in the summer, where a monopoly is in place.

Kambi CCO Max Meltzer spoke exclusively to Gambling Insider after the deal and said: “From a technological standpoint and user experience, it will be like going into an ATG shop in Sweden right now. We are really excited to say this is not a monopolistic situation where players will get a bad experience from a bad solution."

The sports betting supplier was keen to emphasise that players in this monopoly would not be neglected as a result of the structure set out by the government and it would supply the same level of technology as it would to any market across the world. Only time will tell if Moldova’s bettors do receive this standard of solutions. But what we do know is, with a lack of legal competition for market share, the Moldovan National Lottery will not be pushing its supplier as much as it would have in an open market, to develop niche solutions.

The evidence is stacked against monopolies and it is clear governments still using them are doing so in a misguided attempt to stay in total control and generate state revenue. The irony is the complete opposite is true. More state tax is made in the open market and players are being protected better when operators are acting under approved licenses. Drop the monopoly, it’s good for nobody.