Kenny Alexander - CEO, GVC
Kenny Alexander is the prince of grey markets awaiting his coronation. The rise and rise of GVC is due to his aggression and drive. Alexander is a real deal doer. The former European MD of Sportingbet has returned to his old stomping ground to acquire its non-regulated markets while William Hill takes the regulated bits. It is a risky strategy but few doubt that Alexander can pull it off. The success, or otherwise, of GVC could be hugely influential on the strategy of others.
Brian Mattingley - CEO, 888
Itai Frieberger - COO, 888
The Hot 50 paid tribute to 888’s turnaround last year in the shape of poker chief Hili Shakked and director of strategy and marketing Gareth Edwards. Shakked’s revamp of the poker product was the catalyst for 888’s rebirth, but COO Itai Frieberger and CEO Brian Mattingley can take credit for the company’s continued success. Both were instrumental in the change of strategy that saw 888 refocus on doing what it does best and to “stop chasing dreams”, in Mattingley’s words. Despite appearing to dump social gaming arm Mytopia upon taking charge, Mattingley and Frieberger have shown a degree of flexibility in watching the market evolve, and their achievement in becoming the second realmoney operator on Facebook is a real coup. In addition to all this, Mattingley, a major shareholder, will be pleased to note that share price went up almost 200 per cent during 2012.
Canel Frichet - CEO, Winamax
Canel Frichet’s achievement in driving Winamax to the top of the poker pile in France is quite remarkable. Hers is the only company to topple PokerStars from its perch. Frichet has pursued a bold strategy, focusing solely on poker in France and spending millions on television advertising to boost the brand. She has also lessened the traditional reliance on affiliates, changing the revenue-sharing model to one of cost per acquisition. As Winamax looks to take the brand into other territories, this canny operator will be looking to beat PokerStars again. Frichet is ready for the fight. She won’t be the favourite but few will underestimate her after her successes at home.
Matthias Dahms - CEO, Mybet
The company formerly known as Jaxx has been an internet gaming trailblazer in a country that makes it very difficult to be one. Mybet is based in Schleswig-Holstein and the company, driven on by inspirational CEO Matthias Dahms, has been hugely influential in shaping Germany’s first common-sense regulatory regime. Dahms is an impressive figure – relaxed but sharp and very well-connected. He has fought endless legal battles to establish the legitimacy of his company and, indeed, the entire German internet gaming industry.
Gustaf Hagman & Robin Ramm Ericson - founders, LeoVegas
LeoVegas is perhaps the first operator to focus on mobile ahead of traditional online – certainly the first in the Nordics. Robin Ramm Ericson is the visionary behind this strategy, while Gustaf Hagman is more hands on. The two of them go way back, working together on a number of IT projects. LeoVegas has achieved strong growth, with gross gaming revenues in excess of €12m in its first year. With 70 per cent of customers coming via mobile, LeoVegas is leading the way into the mobile future.
Mark Jones - CEO, Rank Interactive
Rank Interactive increased revenues by 21 per cent to £77.7m during its 2011/12 financial year, with MeccaBingo.com driving much of the 24 per cent increase in bingo and games revenue. CEO Mark Jones has overseen a steady rise, which looks set to grow. He has received particular praise for a mobile strategy that has resulted in the mobile channel being the fastest-growing channel of distribution during the year, with revenues soaring 158 per cent to £7.2m. An impressive 30 per cent of UK customers now play the company’s brands on mobile devices. Jones is thought of as a safe pair of hands and a gent, well capable of steering Rank through the choppy waters of the UK recession.
Mark Scheinberg - Chairman, PokerStars
Mark Scheinberg has inherited the hottest seat in internet gaming at a crucial time for his company. Scheinberg has inherited his father Isai’s passion and his knack of making the right decision at the right time. With the hope of federal legislation to govern online poker fading, Scheinberg turned his attention to New Jersey, which looks set to become the first viable internet gaming market in the US. After talks over a partnership with Revel failed and the Atlantic Club Casino become a more likely alternative, it was Scheinberg who said: “Forget partnership. Why don’t we buy it? We won’t have to share revenues and with the hotel comes an operator’s licence.” There were sceptics within PokerStars, who said the company was not in the casino business and that it cost a lot of money. But Scheinberg looked to be seeing it through at the time of going to press. The Scheinbergs are consistently audacious and consistently brilliant. Even if the Atlantic Club deal does not come off, few would bet against PokerStars dominating a regulated US market.
Mikael Pawlo - former CEO, Mr Green
Mikael Pawlo is an inspirational internet entrepreneur, who cofounded Mr Green in 2008 with his two childhood friends, the Betsson founders Henrik Bergquist and Fredrik Sidfalk. They came up with the idea of responsible gaming – an element that would be right there in the branding and registration process, rather than hidden away. The success of the strategy has seen revenues grow more than 400 per cent during the last two years from just €4.4m in 2009 to around €22.4m at the end of 2011. Pawlo was the CEO from the start until recently, when he decided to step down. He is still part of the strategic planning for the company but also focuses on exciting new projects in the online gaming industry. We will not have seen the last of Mr Pawlo.
Magnus Silfverberg - CEO, Betsson
Magnus Silfverberg took over from an industry legend when Pontus Lindwall was made chairman of Betsson. Of course he can still draw on his mentor’s knowledge but Silfverberg has proved extremely capable of piloting the good ship Betsson through the choppy waters of re-regulation. During 2012, Betsson added the €65m Nordic Gaming Group (NGG) and its NordicBet, Tobet and Triobet brands to the 2011 acquisition of Betsafe. Integration of the latter has not been smooth sailing but it’s had little impact on consistently strong figures. A mid-year profit warning was unexpected but reflects more on investors’ high expectations than on any faltering of Betsson’s journey. Silfverberg now supervises the progress of some 26 brands and is involved in lobbying the Swedish government into changes that would provide Betsson with the platform to challenge monopoly Svenska Spel.
Keith O’Loughlin - CEO, Boylesports Online
Keith O’Loughlin describes himself as a “reformed techie” and is intent on building something unique at the previously underperforming Boylesports.
O'Loughlin has issued something approaching a clarion call to innovative software developers by reducing the operator’s integration times to perhaps the fastest in the industry. He is taking a technical approach to shaping the customer experience. He spent €1m on new hardware and managed to save money while speeding up the product. He has doubled revenues during his first year in charge and his energy, passion and vision will surely see him do it again in 2013.
Henrik Tjärnström - CEO, Unibet
Henrik Tjärnström has had an impressive spell in charge of Unibet. He was dealt a tough hand by regulations. France was a massive market and Spain demanded a huge one-off tax payment but he has sent revenues upwards. Tjärnström is now playing an important part in the industry’s inevitable consolidation. Acquisitions in France and Australia have reopened an old market and entered a new one. The acquisition of Bet24 has helped it to a market-leading position in Denmark. In addition to all this, Tjärnström has overseen the formation and separation of the Kambi B2B business, which has enjoyed a wonderful year, with deals all over Europe.
Norbert Teufelberger - Group CEO, bwin.party
With Jim Ryan set to return to Canada, Norbert Teufelberger inherits one of the world’s biggest online gaming companies. Since the merger of bwin and PartyGaming was announced, everybody’s efforts have been focussed on integration and positioning. Teufelberger’s job is to turn potential into achievement. He has foundations in place in social gaming and in the US. Can he turn those foundations into thriving businesses? And can he turn around years of declining poker revenues with the launch of Party’s new product? Teufelberger is certainly sitting in a very hot seat indeed.
Ralph Topping - CEO, William Hill
Ralph Topping has been buoyed by William Hill’s financial performance in recent years to such an extent that he has become something akin to the feudal lord of the manor, sitting atop of the pile and occasionally sharing his wisdom with the common folks below. However, such an image should not distract from his achievements. Topping has surrounded himself with a team of bright young sparks determined to deliver a market-leading product. He has hinted at retirement at the end of 2013, which makes this year a massive one for him personally and professionally, with the Playtech divorce impending, the Sportingbet acquisition and the breakthrough into a regulated US market. If Topping wants to see William Hill as an international force, retirement may yet be a way off.