Dmitry Starostenkov, CEO of EvenBet Gaming, speaks to Gambling Insider about the supplier’s plans to rejuvenate the online poker industry by offering a cryptocurrency platform.
After initially launching as Enterra in 2001, EvenBet, and Starostenkov, feel well positioned to take on issues such as regulatory concerns and the online poker market being less lucrative than it once was, as Starostenkov explains here.
What was your background before you founded Enterra in 2001?
I started as a developer in computer science, but the demand for poker software really started to take off around 2004, as a result of the poker boom. We initially started as a software development house, developing different business applications and software for enterprise needs. We then expanded to gaming with poker, before we developed a casino platform.
Is poker the major vertical in which you operate?
We have poker as a game, and we also have a poker platform and we supply online casino too. Most of our clients need a turnkey solution in one package. They don’t want to buy a separate casino platform. This way, we have both poker as a game and as a platform.
Naturally, many of our partners start with a poker operation, but as their user base grows, they want to extend their offering, so they will add slots and table games.
We also develop sports betting solutions for one client, but this is not key to our operations. We are currently working on refining our daily fantasy sports (DFS) platform, which we plan to push out to the market.
How has the business evolved along with the industry since it was founded?
For the first seven years, we didn’t need to do any marketing or PR, because we were getting one client after another; it was really easy, as a result of the boom. But by 2012, we were finding it more difficult, so we decided we needed to go out to market our solutions. We initially started as Enterra, and then three years ago, I changed the brand to EvenBet Gaming, because I didn’t want to confuse our previous operations in software development with our new activity in gaming. We had about 10 years of being a software house, but now, we need to be a gaming company.
Right now, we also provide consulting services to our customers too, so there are many more business processes related to gaming in our company now. We also help our clients outsource their operations, because sometimes our clients want to run a poker room, but they have very little knowledge of how to do it. We help them create tables, tournaments, marketing activities and so on.
What was the thinking behind specifically using crypto-backed no-rake poker software?
Poker players are some of the most intellectually advanced and skilful gaming consumers. Poker players are always open for fresh technologies and projects. They are always interested in trying something new. I think moving to crypto is a natural progression for them and they are familiar with cryptocurrencies. They know how to use Bitcoin. Poker for crypto is not a new thing for them and they don’t really need to be taught about it.
TonyBet began accepting bitcoin in 2016. There have been some other poker crypto projects as well, and I would say right now, there are five to 10 projects in total in this space.
To be specific, our gaming software has been a poker platform for about 14 years now. We integrated Bitcoin (and started accepting payments) for the first time five years ago, so we are confident when it comes to Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. We have about 50 clients for our program and about 25 of them are active.
Crypto projects started to grow about two years ago, mainly with tokens, so it’s a new trend and new wave in gaming, where you can use alternative coins to play games.
What has your research told you about the potential size of this particular market?
We are not trying to establish our own coin. We are trying to work with existing coins and integrate them into our platform, because clients already have a loyal user base that own their own coins or tokens. Our poker is going to be a traditional proposition for their players. This is a new way for them to spend their money.
Players can use a NoLimitCoin, which is a proof-of-stake coin with instant transfers and low transaction fees. This has been used in the DFS market, and we talked and agreed we would integrate our poker with their no-limit coin offering. They are creating an ecosystem with their cryptocurrency and players want more ways to be able to spend these coins. Players can play DFS and poker with their coin and they want to add more games to the ecosystem.
The interesting thing about this is that they can provide our poker game with no rake, because they don’t need to earn money on the poker game itself. They can earn money by retaining players this way. Our poker attracts poker players and therefore more money will be flowing into the ecosystem.
So are you using it as more of a customer acquisition tool?
It’s about improving the relationship between the operator and the player. Operators will earn money when the rate of the currency improves. The player can buy the currency, go to the poker table and play instantly. They play directly from their wallet and this is good for players.
On the other side, the operator does not earn money from the game itself, but they earn money when people buy the coins from them. Once these coins are in the ecosystem, players are more interested in playing.
How can you overcome the challenge of the poker market not quite being as strong as it was when your company was first founded?
First, it depends on what market you are talking about. In Southeast Asia, it’s still very big, and it’s still popular in South America. People in the US still love to play poker. I think it’s more of a challenge in the European market, and the reason for this is that the market is separated and operators struggle to gain revenue from liquidity. With cryptocurrency, we do not have the challenge of ringfencing. A player in the UK, for example, can play against anyone.
Which markets do you think will be the most lucrative for this product?
Almost any market can work for this, but I think the Scandinavian and Asian markets in particular will be strong. Brazil is another standout market.
Pokercoin and Bet&Bit Poker have already signed up. Can you say how many other partners have signed up to this?
No Limit Poker have signed up and we are currently working with two others, who will be launching the product in the next few months.
How likely is it this product will become more mainstream in the future?
Eventually, I think this will be a mainstream product, because it changes relationships between operators and players. I think this can spread to sports betting and all types of gaming products. Poker is just an early adopter for this concept.
Where would you see crypto’s position in the online gaming market in five years’ time?
As usual, with all new things, there is a lot of hype and strange projects at times, but I think blockchain will help a lot to build better technology and structure for this. It’s not just crypto; it’s things like micro-transactions and IoT devices which will also grow.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in attempting to grow this product?
The biggest challenges will be regulation and the perception of crypto. This product is not in line with online poker regulation and we will have to wait and see if individual markets regulate crypto products separately. Malta has regulated crypto, but it will take time for other markets to look into it. In the US for example, we will wait for crypto regulation before we take the product to this market, but I think other markets will be more tolerant of this product before regulation.
How likely is it you will develop more crypto products in the future?
We are not sure right now, but we will wait and see how the poker product performs before we consider developing more crypto products.