It’s been a busy few years for Aspire Global, with the company involved in several major mergers in recent times, most notably in June 2022 when the group was acquired by iLottery supplier NeoGames. Describing the deal in detail, along with his personal journey to President and CEO of a major company in the industry, Tsachi Maimon takes Gambling Insider through his fortuitous beginnings in the industry, right up until his current role with continuous headline-makers Aspire Global.
A LUCKY DREAM
“So it is really a funny entry into gaming because I used to work in the telecommunication industry before, and I was managing a call centre,” began Maimon. “And then when I looked for a new job, I found this company that was in the gaming industry, that wanted an operations manager. I entered and I didn’t even know that it was gaming until a few months after. So it’s really by luck that I entered the industry because my profession before was the operation of call centres, this is where I come from.
It's certainly not an ordinary or common route into gaming, but one that has turned out well for both Maimon and Aspire. It’s been quite a rise for Maimon since those humble beginnings, which even included a brief encounter with slot machines on a trip to Vegas, with the executive not knowing exactly how these strange machines operated at the time. “I didn’t know what a slot machine was, I honestly knew nothing about gaming, nothing,” he continued. “It was a little bit before my honeymoon with my wife when we went to Vegas before I entered the industry, and I saw those slot machines and said: ‘What is it? How do you play that?’ And then I find myself with a career of already 14 years, working around those slot machines. It was a nice entry, a very funny entry." Admittedly, even after more than a decade of working with such machines, there are still a few areas of slots which he has yet to fully come to grips with… "I still don’t know all the rules when I play," he adds. "I don’t know when I’m winning and when I’m not until the machine tells me." So, as mentioned, not exactly the most straightforward of beginnings in the gaming industry, but Maimon hasn’t looked back since that moment and is thoroughly enjoying his current role.
“It’s a dream that came true, I didn’t imagine that I would be able to be in this position only a few years ago. Every day, I'm thanking the team that made achieving these goals possible, together with me. I'm very proud and happy about what we succeeded in achieving, as well as about what I personally managed to achieve along the way”
Obviously, the executive is covering many different areas within his important position, and chose to adopt a managerial stance when asked the question what his favourite thing about this exciting, ever-changing, ever-expanding industry is. "Every day is really a new day," answers Maimon. "You know, the industry is so dynamic, especially in the last few years, with many regulations and new requirements and new challenges. You are waking up and every day is not even close to the previous day. So the dynamic of it is something that you probably won’t find in many other sleepy industries, and this is something that keeps us very interested and motivated, facing those challenges.” Such a situation has provided the executive with many different life experiences, with Maimon confident that this industry in particular can be set apart from all others. He adds: “I think this is what I like, that it’s really very dynamic, and everything else seems a little bit slower. It’s given me the comfort that if I am succeeding in gaming, there probably isn’t any other industry in which I will not be able to succeed.”
THE ACQUISITIONS EXECUTIVE
Moving back to the aforementioned acquisition, whereby NeoGames made its initial offer for Aspire in January for SEK 111.00 ($12.29) per share, the move was delayed slightly as the acceptance period was extended from 25 May 2022 to 14 June 2022. But on 17 June, NeoGames completed its tender offer to acquire Aspire Global, with 99.31% of total shares tendered. As the industry has witnessed on occasion – even in a high-profile case very recently – mergers and acquisitions don’t always go to plan, but this has not been the case for Aspire, with its leader explaining the positive atmosphere that has been created since the deal. When asked just how important the acquisition was, Maimon replied: “It’s a good question because NeoGames, when it acquired us, saw value in Aspire with all the companies that we own and the products that we own. It saw us as a value to contribute to it in its lottery path, and its position in the lottery industry.”
But that by no means was the only significant factor of the agreement, with the executive explaining that the deal had a hugely positive effect for both groups. He states: “The interesting aspect of this transaction is that NeoGames is not the only one to benefit from this acquisition. Aspire Global is also greatly benefiting from this acquisition because it already had the vision to become a successful, big player in North America, and NeoGames was in the position to contribute to that. The fact that NeoGames acquired Aspire Global while already holding plenty of licences in the US shortened Aspire's expansion journey in the US and Canada by many years. “It’s something that we probably would have achieved alone in five, six or seven years, but with NeoGames, we can achieve that next year or in the next two years.” The ‘huge contribution’ is ‘going very well’ according to Maimon, with the two companies enjoying a similar culture and getting along smoothly, much to the delight of the man in charge of it all.
While it has understandably been a busy time since the acquisition, Maimon has at least found a moment to reflect on how his role has changed in recent times, one which he admits – perhaps surprisingly – hasn’t been affected all too drastically, much to his gratitude. “Before, when I managed all of Aspire Global with all the companies and the verticals, it was a gaming vertical,” he explains. “And now, with the merger, I'm still the head of gaming. Besides my title, which has gone from CEO to President of all NeoGames, there hasn't been a big change in terms of my day-to-day activities. I'm still managing the iGaming business side of the group, and now, as President of NeoGames, I can also assist with its growth plans both inside and outside of North America. Lottery and gaming are getting closer than ever as verticals. Many national lotteries are getting closer to gaming by adding sports betting and such, so this offers us great momentum.”
He adds that the smooth merger has allowed not only himself but others in the company to continue doing what they do best without any real distractions or disruptions. It is more about adding ‘another layer’ for the executive, rather than things being completely turned upside down. “With my new role in mind, I can now add another layer for the group and take gaming to lottery as well,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of big changes in this merger, everyone can find their spot and their strength, and can contribute. I’m very satisfied with the new arrangement.”
KEEPING HIGH GOALS
Just because his day-to-day hasn’t changed dramatically, it doesn’t mean there are no goals and ambitions to reach. 2022 has passed, with 2023 now upon us, and gaming is certainly an industry that needs to keep up with the ever-changing times. Having been established back in 2005, Aspire Global now has over 170 iGaming brands and is working in over 30 regulated markets. But like all other top executives, Maimon is well aware of the need to grow and adapt, with the President and CEO offering Gambling Insider two group-wide aims for the near future, the first of which involves the rapidly expanding North American market.
“It is clearly our aim to be in the top three suppliers, or even the top supplier, in North America in the coming years,” he says. “We are really advanced in that path. The expansion includes North America and Brazil. I must say, we see Brazil as a huge strategic market for us. So expansion is one aim of the group. “And the second; Aspire was only 30 employees a few years back. Now, with the entire group, including NeoGames, we are over 1,000 employees. It’s a big business, with a big number of employees, big volumes, so we need and want to take advantage of this size and act like a big player in the market, and we want our third-party suppliers to act accordingly. So a lot of cost synergies and commercial adjustment that we will slowly address with our third-party suppliers is in the plan, to take advantage of that. Those are the two things that we will focus on moving forward.”
With the expansion of any global company, both inside and outside of gaming, comes various legal challenges, with each jurisdiction presenting different obstacles and different criteria that must be met for a group to operate legally in that jurisdiction. But Maimon explains the advantageous position that his team finds itself in this regard, saying: “The interesting aspect is that Aspire was pretty much spread all over Europe with licences through Pariplay and Aspire, and also in Africa with BtoBet, so we are already well established and strong, with a reputation of being widely licensed and working in regulated markets across the world. “We have NeoGames with over 20 states live in the US, so it’s not overlapping the other, it’s really about complementing each other. So there isn’t any legal challenge, only to take advantage of the other. It’s a great advantage that we have right now.”
He touched briefly on the future of the ever-expanding region of North America, offering some projections for what the jurisdiction can expect going forward, saying: “Taking into consideration that usually the growing vertical is casino – or gaming as it’s called in North America – it is open only in five or six states right now, and there are many states yet to be open, so yes I believe that North America will be the growing market in the next five to 10 years, for sure.”
It is clearly our aim to be in the top three suppliers, or even the top supplier, in North America in the coming years. We are really advanced in that path. The expansion includes North America and Brazil. I must say, we see Brazil as a huge strategic market for us"
Moving back to the President and CEO himself, who also has some individual goals that he kindly shared with Gambling Insider. He’s been with his current company for quite some time and has played a major role in taking it to where it is now and, importantly, has no plans to slow things down. “I feel very much connected to Aspire, being there for 10 years, really from an early age, with very few employees. I feel that it’s my baby, so I would like to see this group achieve its goals. My personal goal is to continue and lead, together with the management, this group moving forward to be established as a massive company in the market, to have our stamp. This is the aim.”
Maimon has achieved many things in his exciting career in the industry, meaning it may be hard for the executive to pick out the proudest moment within his world of gaming. That isn’t the case, however, as he explains. “For me, as a matter of fact, it’s easy, because we succeeded, and I’m proud of it. We succeeded, and I succeeded in leading this company with around seven different transactions in five years. And this is something that, when you look at other CEOs of companies, usually when they do an IPO, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, when you acquire another company, it’s an event of a lifetime. We did seven such transactions in five years. This involved IPOs, buying three companies, taking a bond from the market, we did many things, so this is a proud journey, rather than a moment.”
Amid the constant mergers and acquisitions of the modern gaming industry, it has certainly been a continuous and distinctive journey for Aspire Global, and its leader is on hand to delve further into the reasons why the group has enjoyed much success on its chosen path. “Many companies today are making decisions on the challenges that they have today or yesterday. We were unique by addressing a north star strategic path, five to seven years in advance. And we said ‘Okay, we will have challenges on the way, but those are the things that we need to do to be where we want to be, and it doesn’t matter because challenges will continue to come. We stuck to the path of the north star that we decided on a few years ago. This is what I like in the new group that we created as well. We addressed where we want to be in five to seven years from now, and we will continue to take well-thought steps which are going to clearly pave our road to success. This is why it's essential to define a north star for yourself and the company. Go towards it step by step and you will achieve what you projected.Don’t be disturbed by different opportunities because they can go as fast as they can come.”
Maimon also provides some useful advice that many can take on board within the gaming industry. He suggests: “Because it’s a growing industry a lot of people want to grow as fast as the industry, and they want to jump from one road to another, or want their company to be in a much better place much faster. And usually, when you do things fast, it’s not sustainable. Think about the long term and walk step by step towards the long term, and the reward will be much bigger later on. So I recommend being a little bit more sustainable in your thinking and not opportunistic.
Reflecting for a minute on his own undoubtedly unique journey in the industry, Maimon is grateful to those around him that have helped him achieve his goals, and helped him reach a position that he couldn’t have possibly imagined even a short time ago. He notes: “It’s a dream that came true, I didn’t imagine that I would be able to be in this position only a few years ago. Every day, I'm thanking the team that made achieving these goals possible, together with me. I'm very proud and happy about what we succeeded in achieving, as well as about what I personally managed to achieve along the way.” As he discussed early on, working in the gaming industry wasn’t exactly on Maimon’s mind when trying to forge a career for himself, never mind succeeding in it. But the executive did manage to squeeze in a brief mention of his old life, in particular his love of tennis.
When asked by Gambling Insider the undoubtedly tricky question of what he would have done if he didn’t work in the gaming industry, Maimon replied: “I probably would have been a tennis coach, I was a player until I was 18 or 19 years old. So I probably would have followed all my friends and been a tennis coach, wearing a big hat to protect myself from the sun and putting a lot of sun cream on. This is probably where I would have been.”
There isn’t much spare time available for sport given his role, but when he does get a second, the executive hits the courts once a week. Unfortunately, however, it isn’t quite the sport of tennis that he gets to play. “I thought that I would play more tennis. But when you live in Spain, you quickly learn that it is the land of the padel, so you can’t do anything besides padel, so that is the hobby that we do over here. I’m playing padel once a week, taking the tennis capabilities that I love and converting them to padel. It’s growing everywhere, it’s very popular, a very social game.”
A WORLD CUP REVIEW
Of course, it would have been remiss to end the conversation without a mention of the recent 2022 World Cup, which produced one of the greatest games of football that the world has ever seen as Argentina edged past France in the final in December. Maimon’s home nation Israel, unfortunately, couldn’t quite make it to the major tournament in Qatar, but the President and CEO has found an adopted home in Spain, a nation with a decorated history in the prestigious tournament. And while the Spaniards couldn’t recreate their magic of old this time around, simply being in the country and being around people with such adoration for the beautiful game was enough.
When questioned if he tuned into the thrilling final in Qatar, he replied: “Oh of course, of course. It was amazing. I enjoyed every minute of it. Everybody says that it was not only the best final ever, but also the best game ever, and to be in a country in Spain that adores the sport was nice. Unfortunately, we didn’t win it here in Spain, but it was a great game.”
The rights to host the 2026 World Cup have gone the way of the US, Canada and Mexico, but he is quick to point out that there is much reason for those living in Spain to be excited about the 2030 event. “I must say that we are looking forward to eight years from now,” begins the executive. “The rumours say that Spain and Portugal will host the World Cup after the US, so I’m looking forward to the World Cup here in Spain in eight years.” Confident indeed, despite FIFA being in charge of it all…
Fortunately, he does have reason to be excited as an Israeli supporter, with Maimon noting that the 2026 World Cup will indeed increase its team count, meaning the likes of smaller nations in football terms may just squeeze their way into the globally-adored competition. He concluded: “For the next World Cup, when FIFA will grow the number of teams, they are aiming to go from 32 to 48 if I am not mistaken, so when it will be half of the countries in the world in the World Cup maybe Israel will be part of it.”
For now, however, the Aspire Global chief is very much focused on Spain and his life in the capital city of Madrid, a place he very much enjoys living in. “We lived in Malta for eight years, and we thought that after so many years on this small, fabulous, magical island, we can explore a different city. We considered Madrid, Lisbon and even Barcelona, and decided on Madrid. And I must say that Madrid is a big success. I didn’t know the city so much before I moved here. It had a lot of surprises, it’s a very good city, very good food, good sport, so I am very happy with the move."