Mark Woollard, Business Development Director at Pragmatic Solutions, speaks exclusively to Gambling Insider about the importance behind platform selection and new trends in this section of the market.
You’re relatively new to Pragmatic Solutions; how has the settling down period been?
It’s been great so far. One of the key drivers in my decision to come over to Pragmatic Solutions was, obviously, the association with Pragmatic Play and the group of businesses that own Pragmatic Solutions. Leaving a business like Endemol Shine, which has been around more than 25 years and is a very safe business to be with, and coming into Pragmatic Solutions in its start-up phase, it gave me great comfort to know the group have proven themselves in other areas of online gaming.
The start has been fantastic. I met with them at ICE, where Pragmatic Solutions had its first showing with a stand. That went really well and off the back of that I got to speak with key talent, with some really good people from the industry. Namely Valli Fragoso, former Bet365, our Chief Product Officer who has been here about six months.
With Pragmatic Solutions hiring people like her, I knew it would be a good place to join. Additionally, Deep Bhartari, who originally built the PartyGaming platform many years ago, is the guy behind Pragmatic Solutions. With him on board alongside the other team members, it has a recipe for success.
What have been the company’s highlights so far this year?
ICE was a highlight. For a start-up business to have a presence at a conference like ICE is big. It shows the level we’re getting to and we’re trying to follow that through to the rest of the year. We’ll have a good presence at the G2E Las Vegas show and we’ll be at all of the key conferences this year.
People have a real understanding of casino products but not many have the same level of understanding of platform solutions, even though in my opinion it’s the biggest decision you’re going to make as an operator.
You have hundreds of casino vendors, it doesn’t really matter if one fails, you can just integrate another. Whereas you have one shot at a platform supplier. People don’t yet see it as the biggest decision, but it definitely is. The start of the year has been about trying to get that message out. You can’t afford to make that mistake with your platform solution.
What are the key attributes suppliers need to have to succeed in the modern market?
Speed: customers want progression faster than most platforms can deliver. If you’re an operator on a current platform and want to migrate onto a new platform, it can cause you downtime. Even an hour is revenue you are losing. I think the speed at which a platform solution can deliver on either a migration or integration is important. We can do new product integrations in three weeks if the other side is playing ball.
Market conditions change all the time so adaptability is important. You need to be able to quickly adapt to avoid downtime, any losses in player revenue and not lose confidence from the operator.
How important is trust and how do you demonstrate it to operators?
One of our key points is we were founded by the same person who built the PartyGaming platform and our platform is built by the same team. Even though we have not got 20 years of background at Pragmatic Solutions, trust comes from deals like that. We are currently doing €500m ($556m) in gross gaming revenue per year, through the platform.
We’re onboarding new clients from other platforms that have given a sense of what they can do for a business but not delivered on it. What we will do in contracts is make very specific structures from the outset. Things like how much it will cost to do an integration, that’s a set cost, it won’t go up or down for the entire contract duration. The onboarding set-up fees are fixed, even if we take more time to do it. We don't just say we can do something, we back it up.
With legislation becoming increasingly tight around operators and suppliers, how do you ensure staying ahead of the curve and anticipating any upcoming changes to law?
We work with GLI to ensure we are up to date in all of the markets we are currently compliant in. Valli, our CPO, and her management team work with our compliance team to do the standard checks across all markets. Obviously operators lead quite a bit of that because they are the first point of call to all of these changes.
Things like attending the right seminars and talking to the right legal entities across Malta, Gibraltar and the UK are important too.
With affiliates, the onus remains on the operator to ensure all laws are followed. Is that the same with suppliers?
We try and work more with the operator. We have to implement certain changes like age verification, address or general data checks to make sure one person isn’t using various accounts. That sits with us as a platform. Even though an operator will be leading it somewhat because its license is on the line, we definitely have to be ahead of the curve to make sure we can react quickly with something that arises. But 99% of the time we will have dealt with it before it comes to that.
This is an area everyone is pretty hot on at the minute, especially the compliance side of things. Get that wrong and it will shut down your business. Online gambling is a mature business; it’s not like 10 years ago when companies may have got away with things or if you’re not compliant you can just re-start. If you have a successful bingo brand and that goes under due to compliance issues, you can’t just start another brand with a similar name and expect to perform as successfully. The market is so saturated that if you have any downtime or loss you are losing out.
How have requests from your clients changed in recent times?
What we’re seeing is a demand from companies for more control of their business. They don’t want to be stuck in a 10-year agreement where in two years they won’t be able to integrate a specific product, because their platform won’t do that for them.
Operators want more control becaus, in this crowded, hectic environment if you’re just the same as everyone else, how will you attract new players? Even the best marketing in the world won’t help if you have the same product.
Earlier this month, Pragmatic Solutions received GLI 19 Certification. Can you describe the importance of this and how it’s achieved?
GLI is the gold standard for regulated markets. The certification process is extremely thorough. When you go to get certified in a new territory, you get a list of demands of what your platform needs to do. What you usually do is get your current platform, compare it against the demands and tick off the requirements as you go through.
What GLI 19 does is cover the majority of checks for territories like the US, Canada and a range of European countries including UK, Malta and Gibraltar. By having the certification, your gap analysis against those countries should be smaller when looking for local certification.
We always hear about new trends, like AI and crypto-currency, but are they just hot topics for the moment or are they here to stay?
AI is definitely here to stay. Across any industry, big data is king and if you can rule that big data quickly using AI, why wouldn’t you? You can’t go beyond any podcast or news program across the world without any AI popping up.
Crypto-currency is already here and operators are using it as a payment method; it will just take longer to be adopted by tier-one operators.
As a platform business, it’s not something we worry about either way. If you want to use crypto, that’s down to your crypto-service payment provider. We have one integrated at the moment; we just have to make sure operators who use it are compliant and use it in the right way.
What other challenges do you expect to face this year?
One of the challenges for us is to onboard bigger clients, those that have been on legacy platforms for a while, and selling Pragmatic’s business model based on full control. A lot of people are taken aback when they realise there's a platform giving them control over their destiny. There’s no catch to that, no hidden clauses within contract terms.
What are your plans for the rest of 2019?
In Q2 we will have UK certification. We’re also looking to get certified in Denmark, Spain and Italy this year. That shows our ambition and also the territories where we see our business model can benefit operators. Everything we do is based on a client response; we are trying to push that message to operators.