Colossus Bets’ new CEO David O’Reilly speaks exclusively to Gambling Insider following his appointment to succeed Bernard Marantelli. Former CCO Eva Karagianni-Goel will become the company’s new COO.
Congratulations on your appointment – can you tell us a bit about how the move materialised for you?
Bernard has been the CEO and founder from day one, but he effectively emigrated with his family to Madrid over the summer and we had been discussing the impact that might have on the day-to-day running of the business. It looks like in the current climate his ability to travel at all is increasingly uncertain. He’s also somebody who’s a better hands-on manager than remote manager. So we thought now’s the time to recognise that I am probably doing more of the day-to-day running of the business and have been for the last 3-6 months anyway, so on that basis we agreed it was the right time to transition.
How involved will Bernard remain in the business, or is that yet to be seen?
The areas where he’s particularly strong are his network of business development relationships, in particular in pari-mutuel, tote businesses globally. He understands that product really well as a player and he’s very attuned to the personalities in the tote betting space. So he will definitely continue to help us on a biz dev footing. And, generally, the product – he is the originator of cash out and our syndicates features. They are probably our two biggest innovations and they’re his ideas, his brain child, so he will still feed us ideas with product advice and recommendations. It’s really playing to his strengths giving him these two headline areas. With me in the UK and Bernard increasingly remote, this is a natural transition.
What are your immediate priorities and objectives as the new Colossus Bets CEO?
There’s an element of business as usual without sounding clichéd. Because I’ve been part of the day-to-day running for some time; I’ve been here since day one – it was the two of us at the very outset effectively. I’m not planning to radically change anything because, if I thought we were fundamentally on the wrong path, I would have made my views clear long before now. I think we can be a little bit more focused in certain areas. Bernard is an ideas man and a creative guy. I’m going to try and be more selective about the projects we take on.
How much of a goal and a focus is the US market for the company still?
I think every single gambling operator will have some angle on the US, because of all the valuations and excitement. We’ve got a few potential leads in the US and whilst we’re not actively investing time and resource in the US we’ve got a fairly extensive portfolio of US cash out patents. We have got an esports deal coming up that I can’t say too much about yet – but we’ll be doing something with an esports-focused operator: I expect to announce something before Christmas. Bernard has had historical conversations with a lot of the pari-mutuel operators in the US, to potentially help modernise what they’re offering. Pool betting is really the same as it was 30-40 years ago; it’s a very straightforward model. What we’ve tried to do is modernise that to make it more relevant for the modern punter. People want these features and certainly operators want them.
There’s a much bigger play as well: can you offer a life-changing NHL, NFL, NBA type-jackpot across several states? There are a few regulatory issues there, of course, mainly around sharing liquidity across state lines. The biggest potential barrier in the US context is restrictions on the ability to share the pool multi-state. I wouldn’t rule that out – that’s the Holy Grail of what we could do in the States. But I’m trying to be a bit realistic and say there are things that are actually more realistic and imminent, with that big prize certainly not being ignored or discounted.
How has the pandemic affected Colossus Bets specifically?
We’re sports betting only, so if you look at the big guys, lots of them are saying broadly they did fine, as they have casino, poker etc. We’re sports only, which meant the pandemic was probably more impactful for us than it would have been for multi-channel, multi-vertical-type operators. So with no top-tier sport in April and May, we were left with some C and D-list content. We offered Swedish trotting, esports and Belarus football: they were basically our main products. However you dress those up, they can’t compete with Champions League and Premier League football, and top-tier sport. So the pandemic was challenging for us and if there’s another lockdown, we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.
Our revenue dropped quite significantly during that period and you’ve got to re-engage the customers when major sport comes back; that’s been quite big for us compared to the likes of 888, Gamesys, PokerStars and those kind of guys, who are really gaming-led anyway. They’ve had a phenomenal year because, suddenly, they’re the only game in town from a gambling perspective and people are going online generally. I think it’s been a mixed bag, the pandemic; for sport it’s been really bad and horse racing is really struggling at the moment.
Did the Premier League return and Champions League bubble provide enough of a lift?
Yes, there was an immediate uplift once June came round. The actives and the volumes were broadly pretty close to what they would have been pre-pandemic, so that was encouraging.
My final question is a word on Eva: do you have any advice for her in your former role?
The first thing is she’s off on maternity leave in a couple of weeks. But, generally, she’s a really strong, professional, disciplined person – one of the most impressive people I’ve ever worked with. She really will be missed during the next few months, though she’s so diligent she’ll ensure everything’s covered. She’s very strong as a manager and the idea of me giving her advice almost feels like it should be the other way around! But if I was to give her some advice, I’m quite a hands-on COO, I’m a punter myself so I know what’s happening day-to-day in the sports context. One of her objectives will be that the COO role is more operational in nature, so she will have to look a little more broadly across the business.
She is a good all-rounder so I’m almost talking myself out of this as a recommendation – but I think a really broad focus on the business from the top to the bottom, as the COO role is a jack-of-all-trades role. You know a fair amount about everything and often you’re not absolutely all over anything in particular. I generally know everything that’s going to about a 60% level. Certain things I have to be more on top of, regulation and compliance most obviously. Maybe she will need to be 60% on everything, rather than 100% on 80% of the business.