And the operator awards go to...
Socially Responsible Operator of the Year
It could be argued that this is our most important award, and Kindred is an extremely worthy winner. It continues to push the boundaries of excellence when it comes to corporate and social responsibility in the iGaming sector.
Kindred has been a key driver and educator on the topic of adopting best practices in responsible gambling across the industry. As Sweden prepared to open to regulation this January, Kindred held its third Sustainable Gambling Conference in Stockholm.
Kindred also sponsored the development and translation of a free Gambling Therapy app for the Nordic Region and collaborated with Betfilter to develop AdBlocker, a new online social responsibility tool to stop under-aged people from being exposed to gambling ads.
However, the real reason it is a winner is because its actions reveal a philosophy that runs to the core of the business. Kindred has led the way for years and others should follow.
Runners up: Betsson / GVC Holdings / Mr Green
Management Team of the Year
At the top of the tree, GVC has an inspirational chief executive in the shape of Kenneth Alexander. But that would not be enough alone to secure this prize. Alexander has surrounded himself with key lieutenants such as Andy Hornby and Shay Segev, who get things done.
The motto of the GVC management team could be “nothing is impossible”. Nowhere is this more evident than in its approach to M&A, where it has refused to let competitors, market conditions or regulators get in its way. There is always a solution for this incredibly focussed team. Furthermore, the management’s no-nonsense style is reflected throughout the organisation.
Any one of the operators on the shortlist for this award would have made a worthy winner, but GVC has managed to grow at an incredible speed. It has pulled off the tricky task of integrating huge businesses, while continuing to pay attention to the bottom line and, crucially, continuing to improve its products. That is some feat. Now it looks set to conquer the US. This is a juggernaut that will take some stopping.
Runners up: Bet365 / Kindred Group / The Stars Group
Poker Operator of the Year
“With such dominance, there can be no other winner,” said one of our judges. But PokerStars wins this award for more than the weight of its numbers. The world’s leading poker site continues to innovate and push the boundaries of online poker.
This sustained focus on product improvement drove revenue up 19 per cent in the first half of 2018 and despite a blip in Q3, it continues to power on. Products such as Spin & Go, The Deal and its virtual-reality PokerStars VR offering continue a drive to bring casino-style mechanics to the poker table.
Its Stars Rewards programme has played a major role and significantly contributed to this growth, while the shared player liquidity arrangement between the markets of Italy, France and Spain, has re-energised the sector and been maximised by the company.
“You can’t beat Stars when it comes to poker,” said one judge. Amen to that.
Runners up: PartyPoker / Winamax
Sports Betting Operator of the Year
bet365 continues to deliver the most astonishing figures. It was an excellent year for its challengers, too. GVC, Kindred and the Stars-Sky axis pushed hard but it was impossible to argue with bet365’s weight of numbers.
Total revenue for the Stoke-based giant were up 25 per cent to £2.8bn to the end of March 2018 while operating profits rose 33 per cent to £660m. Continuing to deliver this level of growth year after year, despite the operator’s size is simply phenomenal.
Its continuing dominance as the world’s most popular sports betting website owes everything to an attention to detail. It owed its growth to product improvement. For example, live content was increased to 160,000 events, streaming everything from football to tennis matches to darts and racing events around the world.
“The growth bet365 is able to deliver from its already market-leading position is nothing short of astounding,” said one judge. “bet365 is the clear winner when it comes to sports betting.”
Runners up: GVC Holdings / Kindred Group / The Stars Group
Casino Operator of the Year
Global Gaming – Ninja Casino
Global Gaming Ninja Casino has transformed the online casino world with its innovative use of technology and trailblazing approach to marketing and product development.
Ninja Casino offers super-fast access to an outstanding gaming experience, with no registration, and a streamlined cashout process that is easy and painless.
This high-level onboarding enabled Global Gaming to grow 2018 revenues 181 per cent to €40m on the previous 12 months, with Q1 net gaming revenues up 64 per cent to €19.6m.
Although Ninja is not a global player it impressed the judges with its ability to enter a competitive market with a limited product offering and grab a large market share within a very short space of time. And it did it so purely through innovation.
Runners up: Golden Nugget / Betsson / The Stars Group
Social Casino Operator of the Year
You could not look past Aristocrat in this category. While others have shunned or sold their social casinos, Aristocrat has continued to invest.
It has made social casino the cornerstone of its digital strategy since acquiring Product Madness in 2012, but it was in 2018 that it really began to motor. The acquisitions of Big Fish Games and Plarium Global towards the end of 2017 have strapped on the rocket boosters, with digital revenue growing 220 per cent to nearly AUD$553m and digital profits shooting up to AUD$84m.
Aristocrat launched the hugely popular Cashman Casino and Asian-themed FaFa Gold, and its online daily active users have increased almost sixfold to 8.3 million, compared with 1.4 million last year. The worrying thing for its competitors is that it plans to keep on buying. 2018 was an incredible year. 2019 might be even better.
Runner up: Scientific Games
Bingo Operator of the Year
The bingo group headed by Phil Cronin continues its growth in the highly competitive online bingo field, building on its market leadership in the UK to assume similar leadership in Italy and Spain.
It achieved this growth thanks to an original games portfolio and sponsorship campaigns of high-profile UK TV shows such as I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.
Tombola puts the emphasis on fun, community and friendliness, with many of its users playing as much for the social features it offers as for the prospect of any financial gain.
The group’s focus on technical expertise, recruitment and excellence in customer service is all part of its 2020 strategy, which aims to establish it as the leading tech hub in the north east of England. Its investment in a new £7m state-of-the-art office complex suggests a winner that is building foundations for a fantastic future.
Runners up: Gala Leisure / GVC Holdings / JackpotJoy Group
Lottery Operator of the Year
The Michigan Lottery has been one of the pioneering state lottery operators in the US. It has reaped the rewards of launching new, tech-led online products that combine the instant win gratification elements beloved of players with technically strong solutions and platforms.
In doing so, it recorded the sort of figures rarely seen in the lottery world, with online revenue shooting up 66 per cent to US$80m.
The operator has continually improved its product. It was the first US state lottery to launch an online affiliate programme in the country, thus being an early adopter of online marketing and onboarding techniques that provide it with efficient and stat-rich customer insights to drive home its lead in the online space.
Its adoption of virtual sports also means an expanded retail-online integration that can drive traffic from physical to online channels and back. The group’s target of US$826m in online wagers for 2018 is proof of its ambition and drive.
Runners up: Loto Quebec / Ontario Lottery & Gaming Corporation / Sazka Group
One to Watch Operator Award
Of the many new entrants to the US sports betting market, FanDuel is the one that our judges are most excited about.
Its entry as a US sportsbook happened almost by stealth – and not without bumps – but amid all the fanfare of the PASPA repeal and the legislation landslide, FanDuel has been going about its business at some speed.
It is the second largest sportsbook in New Jersey, with digital revenues of US$4.4m during November and the brand has been able to leverage the marketing and financial firepower of its parent company Paddy Power Betfair, which acquired it during the summer of 2018.
FanDuel has a canny management team that has agreed tech partnerships with GAN and IGT, while cutting a strategic partnership with US gambling heavyweight Boyd Gaming and a string of agreements with sports leagues and teams. FanDuel means business.
Runners up: DraftKings / Global Gaming (Ninja) / Omnia
Gaming Intelligence Awards 2019 - Operators
Our thanks to our panel of judges and supporting sponsors