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Daring to be different

21st December 2020 10:18 am GMT
Ohad Narkis
Playtech

PlayOJO chief executive officer Ohad Narkis was way ahead of most of his peers with his vision for a sustainable business. What’s more, he has barely got started.

PlayOJO has grown by over 100 per cent every year since it launched in the UK in February 2017. Now that PlayOJO is established, those figures are harder to match, but chief executive officer Ohad Narkis expects the 2020 revenue increase to be between 30 and 40 per cent by year end.

Put simply, PlayOJO has been the most exciting new operator to hit the market for many years. Perhaps only LeoVegas and before that, 32Red, have enjoyed a similar trajectory in recent memory.

“I wanted to launch a different brand into the UK market,” explains Narkis. “A brand with a very different approach and a different appeal.” He has done that and more. In doing so, he might just have reshaped the entire market.

Building the concept

Narkis has worked in the industry for many years. Before PlayOJO, he was CEO of Playtech-acquired BGO. Before BGO he helmed Williams Interactive. He enjoyed a six-year spell at PokerStars and before that was with early internet gaming (as it was known then) pioneer BettingCorp. During that time he developed his own thoughts on the industry’s strengths and weaknesses. He spied an opportunity to address some of the ‘pain points of players’ and teamed up with his friend, the SkillOnNet co-founder Kfir Chervinski in 2016.

SkillOnNet’s growth since launching in 2007 had been a slow burn. It had a large number of skins but none that were very well known. Narkis and Cherninski wanted to correct this. The pair spent about a year planning.

They knew owning their own technology gave them an opportunity to differentiate. They focussed on the value proposition, the rewards scheme, the brand, and the look and feel of the website. “Players were frustrated with the way online gaming companies bonused them; the fact those bonuses came with terms and conditions attached – some of those terms and conditions you could argue are a bit sneaky. If the players did not read all of them they sometimes found they could not access their funds. Basically, they were not in control of their money.”

This is unlike land-based casinos, where, at the end of the night, you collect your money. Narkis saw no reason why online casinos could not operate in a similarly transparent manner. Transparency would lie at the heart of PlayOJO’s relationship with its players. “It starts with bonuses. It starts with retention programmes that offer cash rewards with no wagering requirements. But it goes beyond that.”

The ethos of the business is to treat the customer fairly. Since then, regulators (particularly the GB Gambling Commission) have forced operators into more responsible operating practices, but when PlayOJO launched in 2017 it was rare. While the regulatory climate has forced the issue with many operators, it is fair to say that PlayOJO has also had an influence.

The fair casino

The company’s marketing emphasised its ethos from day one. PlayOJO was launched with the ‘Not bad for an online casino’ campaign and the message has evolved to become ‘The fair casino’. There is genius in its simplicity.

SkillOnNet has not been slow to invest in its premier brand. Narkis believes PlayOJO is consistently one of the top three TV advertisers among UK online casinos, and probably the number one on radio. The success in the UK has been followed by a launch in Sweden. And in 2020, the company launched in Spain with a localised version of the brand – PlayUZU.

Spain’s Royal Decree restricting advertising came on the eve of the company’s launch but a temporary relaxation of these new rules has given PlayUZU the chance to establish itself. Progress is good. More markets will follow.

PlayOJO has challenged and overturned many of the gaming industry’s established wisdoms. Everyone said they couldn’t launch without bonuses – they did. A more established route to market is launching in grey markets that turn white, or to build up a head of steam in grey markets before cleaning up the image post-flotation. Launching in the UK was brave but necessary for this brand message to work.

“We felt a challenger brand could achieve more in a crowded and sophisticated market. When you come to market with a different proposition you hope players will understand it and receive it with open arms.”

That is not so easy in an immature market, where they have yet to feel the ‘pain points’. Also overturning current conventional wisdom is the company’s bingo launch this autumn. The bingo player resonates more with PlayOJO’s ‘soft mass market brand’ than sports or casino.

“All these directions from regulators point to sustainable businesses that do not count on the VIP players that used to account for a large proportion of businesses. We felt from day one that that is not sustainable.”

Narkis has created a sustainable business and a thriving operation. His vision will ensure it continues that way.

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