While the big guns dominate this year’s awards, the shortlists and Hot 50 highlight the next generation breaking through.
This year’s Gaming Intelligence Awards sees Amaya take home two GIAs (despite a turbulent year), with 888 also scooping two and NetEnt winning its third Casino Supplier award in a row. Respect to them all but scrape beneath the surface and you will find a surprisingly diverse industry while the big guns whisper sweet M&A nothings in each other’s ears.
Nothing illustrates this better than the fact that Playtech won nothing for the first time. It still managed three Hot 50 entrants, mind – the most of any company bar Kindred Group (previously Unibet). There is certainly hard work being done there, great innovation and superb numbers, but look at its competitors in the categories it might have won.
NetEnt’s slots are sweeping all before them but Evolution Gaming continues to go from strength to strength and its live casino is second to none. Blueprint Gaming’s slots perform better than most and it was unlucky to miss out on the Casino Supplier shortlist but Red Tiger Gaming did make the shortlist after having an astonishing impact this year.
Founder Nick Maughan and commercial director Giles Potter also won Hot 50 awards for their roles in taking Red Tiger from success in Asia and into Europe’s mainstream. Innovative deals and innovative slots made this a breakthrough year for Maughan’s second successful slots provider (he also founded Cayetano, which he sold to Paddy Power in 2011).
SBTech emerged as Sports Betting Supplier of the Year, winning a race that included Amelco, which won a hugely significant deal with Intralot; and Digital Sports Tech, which won the Innovation Award for its hugely original Player Prop Bets. (Red Tiger also featured in that category with its Deadline Slots.) The huge valuations SBTech is attracting suggest it is no longer a minnow, but the fact that these suppliers are making such progress against the likes of OpenBet and Playtech must be hugely encouraging for others.
Little Relax Gaming triumphed over Playtech and Microgaming in the Poker Supplier category. The company might be backed by Kindred but its relative success in a tough vertical shows the benefit of doing things differently.
This is something that Kindred should be applauded for. Along with Playtech, Kindred was the only other company to win three Hot 50 Awards. Chief executive Henrik Tjärnström did not feature after appearing last year but senior members of his management team did in the shape of Rhodri Darch and Ebba Ljungerud – as did poker chief Andrew West. If there was an award for management team of the year, you can be sure Kindred’s tight-knit team would have won it.
They would, however, have had competition from 888, which won Bingo Supplier of the Year and Marketing Campaign of the Year, plus two Hot 50 entrants with CEO Itai Frieberger and Hila Klein. Its M&A attempts might have come to nothing but it continues to be one of the best managed companies in the industry.
Look through the Hot 50 and you will see smaller companies making big waves. None made more of a racket than Lottoland this year. While founder David von Rosen-von Hoewel sits quietly behind the scenes, chief commercial officer Matt Robinson is out there making sure everybody knows about Lottoland. The move into lottery operations is a huge one for the bet-on-lotteries innovator. It could give the moribund lottery industry an almighty scare.
Evolution Gaming is no longer a small company but it was not so long ago. New CEO Martin Carlesund takes charge of a near billion-dollar business and the appearance of security chief Tania Johannisson in the Hot 50 illustrates why. Evolution does the nuts and bolts well. It has a clear vision and delivers a quality product without fuss or failure. There are a few sluggish suppliers who could take note.
There are more founders and pioneers in the Hot 50 and more backstage heroes than ever before. The Hot 50 was launched five years ago with these people in mind. Collective awards are nice but the individual honours allow us to look into the future. The Hot 50 is not just about celebrating those that have achieved great things but to applaud others for reaching out for greatness.
We have a whole category reserved for the next generation of CEOs, who might be sitting on billion-dollar valuations. We’re looking at Alexander Stevendahl of Videoslots, who shook things up with Battle of Slots. There’s also Casino Room’s Johan Bergenudd going great guns and Tabcorp’s Jamie Hart, who is further down the trail. New or old. Big or small. We salute you all.
Gaming Intelligence Awards & Hot 50 of 2017
GIA Casino Operator of the Year: Amaya
GIA Bingo Operator of the Year: Jackpotjoy
GIA Poker Operator of the Year: Amaya
GIA Lottery Operator of the Year: British Columbia Lottery Corporation
GIA Social Casino Operator of the Year: Zynga Casino
GIA Sports Betting Operator of the Year: Sky Bet
GIA Socially Responsible Operator of the Year: Unibet
GIA Game of the Year: Cash Out Roulette, Be The House
GIA Marketing Campaign of the Year: 888Sport
GIA Bingo Supplier of the Year: Dragonfish
GIA Casino Supplier of the Year: NETENT
GIA Lottery Supplier of the Year: Scientific Games
GIA Marketing Services Provider of the Year: Optimove
GIA Poker Supplier of the Year: Relax Gaming
GIA Social Casino Supplier of the Year: Greentube
GIA Sports Betting Supplier of the Year: SBTech
GIA Innovation Award: Digital Sports Tech, Player Prop Bets
GI HOT 50 2017 – Founders & Pioneers
GI HOT 50 2017 – Big-Shot CEOs
GI HOT 50 2017 – The Next Generation of CEOs
GI HOT 50 2017 – Backstage Heroes
GI HOT 50 2017 – Superstar Suppliers