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Hot 50 past: where are they now?

30th January 2014 10:34 am GMT
The Gaming Intelligence Hot 50 2014 will be unveiled on the opening day of ICE next week. But how have previous winners fared?One of the beauties of the Hot 50 is that we keep it fresh every year. Nobody gets in twice. Well, we’ve managed to stick to that rule thus far. One of our judges suggested that rule should stay in place for five years. That seemed like asking a lot of the judges and the readership to pick 50 fresh faces a year for five years but given the expansion of the industry into new markets and new technologies, perhaps it is a possibility. With the Hot 50 due to be unveiled at ICE next week, we thought the time was right to have a look at previous winners. Did the judges get it right? Have the Hot 50 winners continued to impress or is it a poisoned chalice? Who has a case for repeat inclusion?The big hitters (the case for repeat entries)The very first name on the very first Hot 50 in 2012 was bet365 founder and CEO Denise Coates. Whether you watch sport on the internet or TV, it is impossible to miss bet365 nowadays. Sometimes it feels like Ray Winstone is stalking you. We have had bet365 employees arguing for Coates’s inclusion every year since. With profits leaping by a third to $148m last year, they have a point. Coates and brother John, who also appeared in the first Hot 50, continue to be hugely influential and successful. Breon Corcoran was on gardening leave when he was named in the first Hot 50. His achievements at Paddy Power were further justification for a nomination that was largely based on the influence he would have as the incoming CEO of Betfair. Corcoran has lived up to his billing at Betfair with a massive £110m cost-cutting drive, the adoption and promotion of a regular sportsbook, a stricter focus on regulated markets and a 46 per cent bump in share price. Now he’ll be keen to give revenue and profits a similar boost. Pokerstars founder Isai Scheinberg also appeared in that initial list. He continues to exert an enduring influence on the industry even if his son Mark, who appeared the following year, now handles day-to-day CEO duties. PokerStars’ battles with the American Gaming Association have ensured the Scheinberg name is never far from the headlines. While that battle looks temporarily lost after New Jersey stayed Stars’ licence application, Isai’s next move will have a huge influence on his company and beyond. “The jury is still out on the merger of bwin and PartyGaming but joint chief executive Jim Ryan remains the man most likely to make a success of it,” we wrote in 2012. Well, we don’t get everything right. Ryan departed bwin.party a year later and left Norbert Teufelberger in a very hot seat indeed. He continues to sit there amidst rising pressure. We got one thing right though: “The MGM/Boyd deal is a real reason for excitement at a company that has had few since its splashy merger.” Ryan has since founded California-based supplier Pala Interactive. Of course, Ryan has not been the only executive to leave bwin.party. Ryan’s trusted business development chief Alen Lang featured in last year’s Hot 50 but left the company before the year was out. However, chief operating officer Joachim Baca appeared in the first Hot 50 and continues to be an influential voice in the company as one of Teufelberger’s most trusted lieutenants. Among that first year’s suppliers were Amaya CEO David Baazov, who had not yet bought Cryptologic but has since gone on to buy the Canadian supplier plus Cadillac Jack, Ongame and Diamond Game. He has also driven his company into the US market via deals with Caesars, Golden Nugget, Betfair and bwin.party. Revenues have leaped around 500 per cent during the period since his Hot 50 win. GameAccount Network CEO Dermot Smurfit has also driven his company into the US market since appearing in the Hot 50 in 2012 and recently listed successfully on the London Stock Exchange. Even more recently, a deal with Konami suggests a fast-growing company becoming the supplier of choice for the second tier of gaming suppliers (ie. not Bally, IGT or SG) in need of online technology. Evolution Gaming CEO and co-founder Jens von Bahr is another 2012 winner, who is intent on attacking the US market. The live casino supplier goes from strength to strength and was crowned one of Gaming Intelligence’s three companies of 2013. Playtech’s continued success makes CEO Mor Weizer a strong candidate for repeat appearances but he has enough colleagues doing good things to ensure a healthy Playtech representation in every Hot 50. Shay Segev continues to be an important figure as COO while Ash Gaming founder Chris Ash has proved a success within Playtech and has added responsibility for GTS. There were five Playtech employees in the first Hot 50, three in 2013, how many will win a place on the 2014 list?Rising stars continue to shineBut the Hot 50 is not just about the giants of the industry. 32Red CEO Ed Ware was praised as a “stormtrooper” for his company back in 2012 and the casino operator continues to post record revenues year in, year out. Operations director Pat Harrison followed Ware into the Hot 50 and continues as his trusty right-hand man. 32Red’s rival casino operator LeoVegas has also continued to impress. Founders Gustaf Hagman and Robin Ramm Ericson are working hard to ensure the mobile specialist remains in the ascendancy. 32Red and LeoVegas share a commitment to customer service, which many fail to match. Other more established Swedish operators such as Mr Green founder Mikael Pawlo, Betsson chair Pontus Lindwall and CEO Magnus Silfverberg, as well as Unibet CEO Henrik Tjärnstrom would also have a case for repeat inclusion. Last year Kenny Alexander of GVC won a place for his bold move to acquire the non-regulated markets of Sportingbet. He could easily have won a place in this year’s list for the remarkable integration of his prize asset. Cherry’s largest shareholder Morten Klein was praised in the first Hot 50 for his vision in founding Eurolotto and the AutomatGruppen. He refuses to rest on his laurels - and sizeable personal fortune. In 2013, he facilitated the sale of Automaten for a second time - this time to Betsson for a stunning amount of money. Klein’s not bad at poker either. A string of titles culminated in second place at the WPT Copenhagen event in 2012. Some people were born to this industry. Back in 2012, not many people had heard of Daniel Lindberg and his company Quickspin. It had not even released a game at that stage. But the Hot 50 judges had heard of him and now a lot more people have as the company has gone on to sell its games to Plumbee, Gala Interactive, 188Bet, Betmotion,  Mr Green and, most recently, bet365. Mobenga founder and chief technology officer Lars Widmark was one of the few techies on the first Hot 50. He has gone on to shape Playtech’s mobile strategy, by bringing all manner of products and platforms together in the Mobile Hub. Most desktop sites cannot do this. This was Widmark’s vision from very early on - before Playtech had even acquired the company. His Mobile Hub could be a game changer. Another technologist, Betfair CTO Tony McAlister is about the only veteran to retain his job following the Corcoran revolution, which has seen so many of the old guard, including another Hot 50ite chief lawyer Martin Cruddace, depart. Cruddace was the last remaining member of the management team involved in the operator’s 2010 initial public offering but McAlister continues to be a key influence, reshaping the Betfair site as it attempts to fuse fixed odds sportsbook and exchange. On last year’s list we had one particular rising star, who has truly risen in the ensuing year. GeoComply CEO Anna Sainsbury is on the verge of taking over the US. As it splits into separate regulated markets, the company’s software is an essential tool for ensuring customers are within state boundaries. In New Jersey, GeoComply partnered with every operator bar Ultimate Gaming. Another Hot 50 alumni Income Access CEO Nicky Senyard performed a similar trick bringing her must-have marketing tools to every NJ operator bar none.Whatever happened to…?Of course we didn’t always get it right. The social stars on last year’s list have had mixed fortunes. Raf Keustermans continues to guide Plumbee upwards and into real money gaming via its Unibet joint venture Bonza Gaming. However, Nordeus CEO Branko Milutinovic has still not managed to launch bwin.party’s much anticipated social sports betting game - although its Top Eleven fantasy football app continues to be a success. Betable CEO Chris Griffin managed to raise $18.5m from US venture capitalists despite some ups and downs with its clients and their attempts to make virtual currencies real. Last year’s group of regulators and lawyers were also a mixed bag. While Matthew Hill at the UK Gambling Commission and David Rebuck of the New Jersey DIvision of Gaming Enforcement continue to be hugely influential, Reuben Portanier of Malta’s Lotteries and Gaming Authority has departed and Paddy Power’s North American chief Eamonn Toland, who gained his nomination for influential lobbying, has so far failed to get Paddy Power into the North American market despite a presumed deal with Atlantic City’s Revel Casino. He’s still there though and will surely guide the Irish bookmaker into the US at some stage. Cantor Gaming CEO Lee Amaitis has had a rollercoaster start to 2014. On the one hand, the Cantor bandwagon rolls on under the new moniker of CG Technology with an IPO imminent. On the other, Amaitis was rapped by the Nevada Gaming Control Board for failing to keep former VP Michael Colbert under control. Cantor settled with Nevada to the costly tune of $5.5m, the largest settlement with the regulator to date. Colbert, incidentally, who was indicted for his role in an illegal betting ring, has been nowhere near the Hot 50. Others to depart include mybet CEO Matthias Dahms, who stepped down after 15 years in the role, followed by several others in the company’s executive team. We can probably be forgiven for failing to predict that but given the political chaos in Germany, the judges might think twice about any German nominees this year. In France, Winamax CEO Canel Frichet stepped down at the end of September 2013 and has yet to return to the fray. Former Openbet CEO David Loveday appeared in the first Hot 50 but left the supplier a year later. He has now re-emerged in partnership with former William Hill executive Paul Leyland. Carlos Salas, the former CEO of ONEworks, also seemed like a sportsbook supplier with an unassailable market position. While it retains that position in Asia, ONEworks’ failure to crack the European market must take some of the blame for Salas’ departure a year after his Hot 50 win. Former Paddy Power head of gaming Isaac Ward grabbed the opportunity to return to his homeland of Australia as commercial director of William Hill-owned Tom Waterhouse. We will, no doubt, be hearing more from him. Ward appeared alongside colleague Nick Abrahams in last year’s Hot 50 and has effectively been replaced by him, as Abrahams adds the role of head of eGaming to the special projects remit that earned him a place last year. Other notable departees include Playtech’s former golden boy Aaron Johnson, who has faded from view since leaving the supplier in 2012. Don’t expect Mobenga founder Christian Rajter to remain anonymous. He has founded consultancy At the Front Line and will no doubt remain influential with his innovative ideas on how to take mobile gaming forward. Another heading into consultancy is 888’s former marketing chief Gareth Edwards. He seems to be making a good job of it and has retained a strong relationship with 888. Edwards aside, 888 has been a picture of stability and success during the Hot 50 years. Other Hot 50 alumni such as head of poker Hili Shakked, COO Itai Frieberger and CEO Brian Mattingley have continued to guide the operator onwards and upwards. How many 888 winners will be unveiled in next week’s Hot 50? Tune in next week, or come visit our stand ND4-C & ND4-D, to find out.sah@gamingintelligence.com
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