GIG: Stoiximan has dramatically increased its overseas presence in a number of markets across Europe and is the GameTech leader in Greece. Will this pace of expansion continue? And what is the ideal geographical presence and business mix you are striving for? What proportion of the group’s operations will be outside Greece?
Daskalakis: In 2015, we set a strategic plan to expand our operations outside of Greece. At that time, we felt confident that we had reached a level of competitiveness which would allow us to successfully penetrate selected international markets. In our sector there are many companies who can claim the ‘local champion’ title but few that have managed to replicate their success abroad, and this was a challenge that we welcomed. Since making this decision, and launching our international brand Betano, we have been growing steadily, but also selectively, expanding to Cyprus, Romania, Germany-Austria and – most recently – Portugal. We are currently among the market leaders in Cyprus and Romania, have entered Portugal very strongly, and are steadily growing in Germany. Right now, more than 30% of our business comes from abroad, and we are aiming to grow this to more than 50% within the next two years. As you can tell, we have so far been focusing in European regulated markets, but our product’s nature is global, and, though specific adjustments are required depending on each market, there is no reason why we would not consider a move outside Europe in the near future.
GIG: What are the group’s strategic plans for the mix of games that you offer players? What markets and areas are you looking at?
Daskalakis: Both our brands (Stoiximan and Betano) are clearly betting orientated. It is fair to say that our company has strong sports betting roots, as most of us who were among the founding team are sports betting enthusiasts. We still feel like customers at heart and continuously work hard in order to improve our products and services so as to offer our players the best possible experience throughout the customer journey. At the same time, our players have different preferences and in that sense we continuously try to enrich our product in order to meet their expectations. We currently also offer live casino tables with real dealers via live streaming, a rich random number generator (RNG) electronic casino offering, virtual sports, plus our most recent product addition, fantasy sports. We put a lot of effort in producing our applications in-house and in adopting new technologies early on in order to be ready for when they mature. For example, we are the first operator in Europe that produced a virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) sports betting solution. Every market has its own characteristics, and we adjust our strategy and product mix according to the local needs. Actually, this is one of the reasons behind our success. We don’t just translate and replicate a central product to all markets. We also have strong local teams on the ground that help us to continuously differentiate our products, services, and communication in order to offer a truly local feel to the players.
GIG: Are there more acquisitions on the horizon? How will you fund further expansion?
Daskalakis: We are currently focused on further establishing Stoiximan and Betano in existing markets. At the same time, we always keep an eye for new opportunities. And if the right opportunity comes up, it could be that we add one more market to our portfolio in 2020. We have so far been growing purely organically, but the company is financially efficient and able to back expansion plans via acquisition if required. OPAP’s strategic investment in Stoiximan has made our position even stronger, so even though our focus is still on organic growth, other ways of accelerating our growth in international markets should not be ruled out. At the moment though, our focus remains on organic growth.
GIG: How will the government’s plans to liberalise the online gaming market, allowing the entry of new players, affect you? Given the size of the European online gaming market, what opportunities for growth do you see in this space for Greece, and what would this require from a regulatory perspective?
Daskalakis: Entering the stage of the permanent regulation of the online gaming market in Greece is a very positive development that we wholeheartedly welcome. We were advocates of permanent and open legislation for many years. I think it would be fair to say that we actually contributed to this development ourselves, thanks to the way in which we changed the perception of the online betting industry in Greece as a brand. A stable, regulated environment will allow the market to operate in a more efficient way and opens the door for improvement. The regulation of the Greek market will definitely increase competition, but this is something we have been expecting and preparing for. It will only force us to work harder and become better, not just in Greece but also in our other markets. Compliance and sustainability of the sector is a shared responsibility, and so it should be enhanced for the benefit of our customers and society.
GIG: OPAP acquired a significant stake in Stoiximan earlier in 2019. What is your relationship with OPAP, and how do you see it evolving?
Daskalakis: OPAP made a strategic investment in Stoiximan. Our relationship has been very good so far but does not include any interaction on an operational level. The same management is continuing to run our company, and, in that sense, it has been business as usual for our team. OPAP are also proceeding with their strategy for online from what I know, so I guess the same goes for them. In other words, OPAP made an investment, and they seem to be very happy with it so far since we have continued to exhibit significant growth. But nothing has changed on the operational level for both sides.
GIG: Stoiximan has made optimal use of technological advances. How have these changes affected the group’s core business and how do you see this evolving?
Daskalakis: We are a GameTech company. That means that technology is at the core of our operations. We are proud that we collaborate with Greek universities in developing AI applications for both Stoiximan and Betano. We heavily invest in our own technology. This is a crucial step forward for our company. In recent years we adopted the agile methodology, significantly increased our population with more than a third of our employees being members of the Technology Division, and radically upgraded our infrastructure. We recently also received two major international recognitions for the hard work we’ve been doing, as we were awarded Mobile Operator of the Year at the EGR Awards, and Rising Star at the SBC Awards, the most prestigious events in our sector.
We have dedicated teams working on both short-term and long-term projects. We recently also received the first recognition for the hard work we’ve been doing by the sector as we were awarded the European Mobile Operator of the Year award at the 2019 EGR Awards – the most prestigious awards in our sector. It is a real challenge for a Greek company to be competing among international powerhouses of the gaming world, so being shortlisted for the first time was an honour on its own – let alone actually winning the award itself! This is further proof that Greek tech companies can be competitive at a European level.
GIG: Can you tell us more about your Brain Gain initiative to help reverse the brain drain Greece has recently witnessed? How does it work? What are the initial results of this campaign, and what targets do you have?
Daskalakis: The Greek crisis has led to a massive loss of human capital; a lot of great Greek talent got scattered abroad, and we are determined to bring that talent back home as our society needs all these young, gifted people to get itself back on track. I am a firm believer that investing in talent is the key way to success, no matter the challenges. We believe that we achieved a level that can offer people who chose to work abroad the right platform to help them unfold their full potential in Greece. We did that through a competitive relocation package and our Relocation Buddy, who helps with the bureaucratic repatriation processes and logistics. We have already welcomed more than 30 employees who had left Greece back into our country, and we are hopeful to have many more joining us in the future.
GIG: What else, in your opinion, will be needed to help reverse the brain drain?
Daskalakis: Real development, actual competitiveness. The companies should reverse the crisis story, in theory, communication, and practice. Psychology matters. In Greece we have witnessed a first reverse in psychology coupled with a healthier fiscal environment. But we must not forget that we still have a long way to go. We need to encourage investments, and most of all we need to create more jobs. We need to create successful stories of relocation and via word-of-mouth convince the courageous Greek talents scattered around the globe that there is a way back home worth considering. To move towards this direction, we need both policymakers and the private sector to engage in a constructive dialogue and work together in order to tackle the biggest problem that the financial crisis created in a more efficient way.
GIG: Stoiximan actively supports sports activities in Greece. Can you tell us about your latest initiatives aimed at helping sport become a way of life in Greece?
Daskalakis: Sports are in our DNA. We also have an obligation to give back to society. This is why we have been implementing a solid Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) plan focused on actual needs, with a problem-solving mentality for many years now. Our Young Heroes awarded programme has helped over 26,000 students so far and is a testament to that commitment. Our support to athletes on their way to Rio 2016 and now to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games has led to many achievements for Greece. We believe in sportsmanship, and we aim to continue to offer support to sporting communities in all our markets in the future as well. Even our sponsorships of popular teams are always linked to actions that return a tangible benefit to society. This is one of the many reasons I am proud of what we have achieved so far.
GIG: As part of growth plans, you have expanded your online presence. However, easier access to games can also increase the chances of problem gambling, which often affects society’s poorest and most vulnerable. What are you doing to combat problem gambling?
Daskalakis: Responsible gaming is a core value for us. We are proud that we are at the forefront of the industry’s companies in their efforts to minimise the negative effects of problem gambling and to promote responsible gaming practices. We consider it as our obligation to our customers to ensure that they will keep on enjoying their wagering experience on our platform while remaining at the same time fully aware of the social and financial harms associated with problem gambling. In order to help our customers in playing responsibly, we ensure that all our staff receive responsible gaming awareness training, while we also provide plenty of information on our platform that varies from customer-driven loss limits and self-exclusion options via contacting our customer service team to self-protection and awareness information. We are also currently investing in predictive tools which will help us identify problem gamblers early using AI. We are in the entertainment business, and this is what we want to offer to our players. Entertainment in the most responsible way possible.