A celebration of the most innovative and inspiring people in online gaming.

 

RICHARD AKITT
chief executive officer
Betway

It may have only been in existence since 2006 but Betway has seemingly emerged from nowhere to become a major force in the industry. This has become especially apparent since 2012, which coincides with the appointment of Richard Akitt as the operator’s CEO. Coming from a finance background, Akitt could have simply run Betway as a Microgaming subsidiary. Instead he has overseen the development of its brand, with the company launching successful marketing campaigns and agreeing a number of effective sponsorship deals. If he continues to grow the business at its current rate, the sky is the limit.

RAFI ASHKENAZI
chief executive officer
Rational Group

Rational Group’s blow of losing a number of senior executives in order to re-enter the New Jersey gaming market has been softened by the return of Rafi Ashkenazi to the Amaya subsidiary’s management team. Highly respected from his time as Playtech COO, and his first tenure in the same position at Rational, he crucially returns having spent time working as SVP of strategy for Amaya. This gives him a strong working knowledge of the company, effectively allowing Amaya to parachute an executive into the business without disrupting an established team. The Scheinberg era is well and truly over, and there are few better executives to lead Rational into its bold new multi-product era.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH
MD & CEO
Tabcorp

Tabcorp is the biggest betting operator in Australia. With David Attenborough at the helm, the company’s unrivalled retail presence and partnerships with various state governments, give the company a significant advantage as it looks to expand its offering through online and mobile. Attenborough has an extensive background in totalisator and fixed odds betting, having worked for Ladbrokes and Phumelela in South Africa prior to joining Tabcorp in 2010 as MD of wagering. Now, nearly five years later, he is leading Tabcorp’s omnichannel strategy and recently secured the company’s most significant B2B deal so far with an agreement with News UK-owned newspaper The Sun.

BILL CARSTANJEN
chief executive officer
Churchill Downs Incorporated

Having taken over as CEO in August 2014, Bill Carstanjen has spearheaded Churchill Downs’ expansion into the online gaming sector through the acquisition of Big Fish Games, whose popular social casino generates more revenue than both Playtika’s Slotomania and IGT’s DoubleDown. Carstanjen has been with the company for more than 10 years, and his leadership skills helped Churchill Downs’ diversify into online horse race betting via TwinSpires.com, one of the most successful licensed online operators in the US market. 2016 should be a big year for Carstanjen.

ROBBIE COOKE
MD & CEO
Tatts Group

Robbie Cooke’s three years in charge of Tatts has seen the operator finally embrace the online channel for both its lotteries and wagering businesses. His next three years could be even more spectacular, but for now any plans of a Tabcorp/Tatts mega-merger may have to wait. Tatts has revamped its wagering division under the UBET brand, but its speciality lies increasingly in the lottery space. Like Tabcorp, it is well placed to fend off competitors in the Australian market, but Cooke needs to take Tatts further, and this means new frontiers in overseas markets.

BREON CORCORAN
chief executive officer
Betfair

Breon Corcoran is now chief executive of Paddy Power Betfair. He was an impressive COO of Paddy Power. He was even more impressive as CEO of Betfair. Some would argue that Betfair was so mismanaged prior to his arrival that he just needed to do things sensibly in order to be a success. And a success he has been – a rip-roaring success. Now, he takes on his biggest challenge. Integration and synergies will be the watchwords of the first two years. But where will he take Paddy Power Betfair after that?

CAREY DIJULIO
vice president & general manager
Big Fish Casino

Big Fish Casino has gone from strength to strength since it was acquired by Churchill Downs, and it is important to acknowledge just how vital Carey DiJulio has been to that success. Under her leadership the offering has focused on mobile development and asynchronous gameplay, features that have been belatedly adopted by other social operators. Big Fish may have had more resources than rival social start-ups but it has used them to great success. And DiJulio’s place in this list is testament to the role she has played in confronting and overtaking the likes of IGT’s DoubleDown Interactive.

ITAI FRIEBERGER
chief operating officer
888

Considering 2015 was not 888’s best year – first half profits were slashed by higher tax costs; the company lost out to GVC in the bidding war for bwin.party – the operator remains a formidable player due in part to its strong management team. Frieberger is a vital component of this team, and as an operational chief he is second to none. Frieberger is the sort of guy you want to work for. His enthusiasm is boundless. And he makes the right decisions. The board of 888 and the biggest shareholders have complete trust in him. He has earned it and he will pay them back in spades.

JIM MULLEN
chief executive officer
Ladbrokes Coral

Jim Mullen took the helm at Ladbrokes in April 2015 after finalising the Playtech integration and leading the bookmaker’s digital operation. Under his guidance Ladbrokes’s online business has steadily improved throughout 2015, although it still lags behind fierce rival William Hill and others. Mullen faces a huge challenge as CEO of the Ladbrokes Coral conglomerate. His expertise in the online sector and his relationship with executive deputy chairman Carl Leaver could be crucial to its success. He took on the challenge with gusto at Ladbrokes, now he needs to do the same for Ladbrokes Coral.

JIM RYAN
chief executive officer
Pala Interactive

Jim Ryan earns his place in the Hot50 for launching the first licensed US iGaming offering for an Indian tribe in New Jersey. As CEO of the interactive division for California’s Pala Band of Mission Indians, the Palacasino.com launch was a milestone for the nascent US iGaming market. As one of the most experienced executives in the sector and having been in charge of one of the biggest listed operators around in PartyGaming (and subsequently bwin.party), Ryan’s position will help further develop Pala’s aims to be one of the leading operators in New Jersey and beyond.

PATRICK SOUTHON
chief operating officer
Gaming Realms

Everyone is well aware of the stellar success of Foxy Bingo operator Cashcade. The team behind the business, led by CEO Patrick Southon, looks set for another triumph with Gaming Realms. Viewed by many as the strategic mastermind of the team, Southon has been unsentimental in disposing of underperforming brands to focus on the successful elements. The net result is revenue up 48 per cent in Q3. The acquisition of RealNetworks’ Slingo and GameHouse subsidiaries is a particularly impressive move – not only does this bring the business into social casino and give it a route into the US, but it also bolsters real-money income. Southon is as shrewd as they come.

HENRIK TJARNSTROM
chief executive officer
Unibet

Replacing Petter Nylander as Unibet’s chief executive was a tough ask, but Henrik Tjarnstrom has risen to the challenge since taking the helm in July 2010. The operator goes from strength to strength, and is one of the best managed companies in the industry. Unibet rarely makes a mistake, and its recent acquisitive strategy has created a giant of a company. As with his predecessor, Tjarnstrom is keen to keep strengthening the Unibet brand. This is highlighted by recent deals with smaller operators Stan James Online and iGame. As the former CFO, he is also the canny financial brain to exploit the maximum value from these deals.

The Gaming Intelligence Hot 50 of 2016

Hot 50 2016 - Operator Icons
Hot 50 2016 - Backstage Heroes
Hot 50 2016 - Superstar Suppliers
Hot 50 2016 - Explorers
Hot 50 2016 - Sales & Marketing Gurus

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