Amaya has more entries than any other company in the Hot 50 this year. An industry elite has emerged, but there are plenty of challengers knocking at the door.
Amaya’s $4.9bn acquisition of Rational Group dominated the past year in online gaming and, with its plans to move into sports betting, casino games and the US, it will probably continue to generate headlines in 2015.
The Hot 50 is all about who performed last year, and who we expect (or hope for) great things of this coming year. Amaya’s ascent to the summit of the represented companies list reflects this, with four executives making it into the Hot 50.
Chief executive David Baazov has been elevated to a small club, which we have dubbed the Industry Elite. The other members of this band are: Denise Coates of bet365, Breon Corcoran of Betfair, Mitch Garber of Caesars, Gavin Isaacs of Scientific Games and Mor Weizer of Playtech.
There is an argument that these superstars of the industry should be placed in that group in perpetuity – as long as they are doing their job well enough. Indeed, all have appeared in the Hot 50 before, except Garber (whose omission in previous years might be seen as an oversight). However, the Hot 50 is not a summit to scale, it is a reflection of achievement and buzz. It is almost impossible to repeat those levels of achievement and buzz year after year. And, besides, there is always a newcomer barging his way into the elite, as Baazov has done.
In other years and under different circumstances, the executives at bwin.party, GTECH or William Hill might make it in.
The Next Generation
Sixteen people make up the group we call the Next Generation. Members of this high achieving crowd include chief executives at major operators who have recently assumed their roles, like Andy McCue at Paddy Power. Indeed, Paddy Power has another senior manager in this group in the shape of managing director Johnny Hartnett.
The coincidental changeover of leadership at Paddy Power, Ladbrokes and William Hill means there is some degree of uncertainty about these organisations, but also a certain level of excitement about what direction new leaders will take them in. Paddy and William Hill have both asked for continuity by promoting from within. The successes of Patrick Kennedy and Ralph Topping made continuity the preferred option. Both transformed their companies by bringing them into the digital age.
Ladbrokes’ future is more uncertain. It has a departing chief executive in the shape of Richard Glynn, who is leaving an uncertain legacy. Ladbrokes has no entries in the Hot 50. Indeed, given the political climate, there are some who argue that all of the UK bookmakers face an uncertain future.
There are others among the Next Generation who might transform their businesses from would-be player into major player. Kenny Alexander of GVC could fulfil this criteria. Some would argue he already has. Perhaps John FitzGerald of Intertain will be the next Baazov – he certainly seems to be following a similar strategy to that of his former boss. Or maybe Andreas Meinrad at BetVictor can push the operator up the food chain. The Hot 50 is as much about potential as it is about achievement.
There are other senior executives who seem destined for greatness with their current companies (think Andy Hornby at Gala Coral) or others who would be first on a headhunter’s speed dial if an elite job came up. There are some hugely impressive characters in this list. The likes of Luke Alvarez at Inspired Gaming, Ulrik Bengtsson at Betsson and Lee Fenton of Gamesys are intelligent, tough and inspiring. These are people you want to work for. This is an upwardly mobile group, as are all the Hot 50 entrants.
In some ways, the Backstage Heroes category is the most exciting of the Hot 50. The lawyers, product managers, sales managers, regulators and techies who make up this diverse bunch rarely receive public praise. However, their organisations rely on them in order to function successfully.
This is the category where the judges really earn their corn. And where readership nominations are vital. Regulators and sales chiefs aside, you will rarely see these people on conference stages or being interviewed in magazines, but this is where the Hot 50 recognises achievement in a manner that no other industry award really does.
Indeed, the same could be said for the entrepreneurs who make up our Upstarts & Explorers category. While an entrepreneur has to be more visible than your typical backstage hero, this is one class where potential alone matters. We could be getting it horribly wrong. Some of these companies might not make it. But consider this. Three years ago, Amaya’s Baazov appeared in the Hot 50 for the first time. Back then he would have been in this category.
So watch the likes of GoCoin, DraftKings, FanDuel and Odobo. It is doubtful that all will be on the fast track to greatness, but they just might be.
The selection process for the 2015 Gaming Intelligence Hot 50 was presided over by:
Joe Brennan – executive director Industrial Insight
Andrew Bulloss – head of betting and gaming Odgers Berndtson
Daniel Burns – chief executive officer Carbon Group
Itai Frieberger – chief operating officer 888 Holdings
Steve Hoare – editor GIQ
Paul Leyland – principal consultant Regulus Partners
Dawid Myslinski – analyst Redeye
Chris Sheffield – former managing director Betfred.com
David Sargeant – founder iGaming Ideas
Hot 50 2015 - The Industry Elite
Hot 50 2015 -The Next Generation
Hot 50 2015 - Backstage Heroes
Hot 50 2015 - Upstarts & Explorers