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Shay Segev on GVC’s past and Entain’s future

18th December 2020 10:13 am GMT
Shay Segev
Playtech

Entain CEO Shay Segev has appeared more times in the Gaming Intelligence Hot 50 than anyone - even his old boss Kenny Alexander. Here he talks about Alexander’s enduring influence and the new team leading Entain into the future

It is the beginning of a new era for the company formerly known as GVC Holdings - or Gaming VC for those with a longer memory. Last week GVC started life as Entain.

It represents chief executive officer Shay Segev’s bold new beginning. It is a break from the past. This is no longer Kenny Alexander’s company. Segev has a new executive team around him and they mean business. 

“I have been very lucky to work with some extremely strong people,” says Segev. “Entain would not be able to be what it is today without the quality of the people we employ - and particularly the management team.”

That team includes the likes of chief of staff Marc Lange (Hot 50 2019) and digital MD Adam Lewis (Hot 50 2018). In total, 28 employees from Entain and its acquired companies have featured in the Hot 50 during the past decade. Two more of Segev’s management team feature this year. Group corporate affairs director Grainne Hurst and chief operating officer Sandeep Tiku are as good a personification of Entain’s new direction as Segev himself.

Tiku joined the company as part of the acquisition of bwin.party, where he was IT director. He became chief technology officer of GVC and is now chief operating officer of Entain. The road from CTO to COO is one that is rarely travelled.

“It is also unusual for someone with a technology background to become CEO of a FTSE 100 company,” says Segev. “Usually you find finance or compliance guys or accountants running the business. I think this shows exactly the direction we are going as a business. We put technology in front of everything we do.”

“I believe we are more of a tech business than a gambling business. We are a technology business driving entertainment in the space of gambling. This is how I want to think about Entain,” he continues. “For me today, technology is everything. Marketing is technology. Customer service is technology. Product is technology. Player protection is technology. Trading is technology. Everything is technology.”

Segev attributes GVC’s remarkably consistent growth curve to its use of technology and its ownership of the entire technology stack. He believes it helps the company to better understand its customers and then to point them in the right direction.

“Therefore we are more efficient with marketing, we make sure the customer stays longer with us, and we drive better growth than our competitors,” says Segev. “It is what we have been doing for some time. We buy businesses and improve their growth.”

This is why Tiku, who understands the DNA of the business, has been handed responsibility for all of Entain’s operations. He adds products, customer service and trading to his technology portfolio for all of the company’s brands - be that Ladbrokes, Coral, BetMGM, bwin, Gala Bingo or anything else.

“We continue our journey acquiring businesses and plugging them into the platform. Sandeep provides this platform that enables all of these businesses to continue and grow and be efficient.”

It has been GVC’s USP. No company has acquired and integrated new businesses so seamlessly. As COO following the bwin.party acquisition, Segev was in charge of this process and worked closely with Tiku on the integration that would provide a template for the similarly smooth assimilation of Ladbrokes Coral.

It is easy to forget now but 888 was the clear favourite ahead of GVC during the long summer bidding war the two fought over bwin.party. The price GVC eventually paid for a failing bwin.party was too much for 888 and few would have predicted it to be such a success for GVC.

Things come full circle

While Segev’s predecessor Kenny Alexander was bidding for bwin.party, Segev was working for Gala Coral as chief strategy officer.

He had already appeared in the Gaming Intelligence Hot 50 twice by this stage. He had just left Playtech where he was chief operating officer. While he was working at Playtech he met Gala Coral CEO Carl Leaver (Hot 50 2016). Together they masterminded a game-changing omnichannel overhaul of Gala Coral’s gaming operations, which showcased the next stage in Playtech’s development.

The pair worked so well together that Leaver recruited Segev to run the new omnichannel operation and to work on the early stages of the integration between Ladbrokes and Coral following their merger.

When Segev left Gala Coral for GVC in March 2016, he couldn’t have predicted he would be reunited with Leaver just two years later when his new company acquired Ladbrokes Coral.

Playtech CEO Mor Weizer (Hot 50 2012 and 2015), Leaver and Alexander all played big roles in the development of Segev’s career. Weizer recruited him to Playtech when Segev did not even know what Playtech was. He was convinced his 30-minute interview with the CEO had gone badly but the pair became a match-winning team.

Alexander played an equally important role in Segev’s career. When the former CEO recruited his eventual successor he highlighted how important GVC’s investment in talent was to its growth and this is the first thing that comes out of Segev’s mouth when he is asked about Alexander’s influence.

“He would always find the best people to do each role. He was obsessed with getting the right people,” says Segev before adding with a smile. “This is why I believe he got me. It wasn’t cheap but he managed to get me.”

“The other thing I learned from Kenny,” adds Segev, “is to always have a Plan B.”

Entertainment and America

Entain’s other Hot 50 honouree this year is group corporate affairs director Grainne Hurst and her role will be crucial to the success of Segev’s Plan A of sustainable growth. Hurst joined GVC with Ladbrokes Coral and has revolutionised the company’s approach to safer gambling with a series of industry-leading firsts.

The company was the first to up its contribution to research, education and treatment of problem gamblers; first to call for and implement the whistle-to-whistle ban on TV advertising in the UK; and first to recruit a leading academic to audit all of the company’s operations with the aim of backing safer gambling practices with hard science. It is continuing that work in the United States, where it will be the first company to launch GeoComply’s new PlayPause technology.

Entain’s US joint venture with MGM Resorts International, BetMGM, is the other area that Segev is keen to highlight as a ray of light in this darkest of years. He credits another Ladbrokes Coral veteran Adam Greenblatt (Hot 50 2019) for putting the foundations in place that have allowed the US operation to flourish.

“The team is new. We have 300 people in New Jersey. Eighteen months ago this team did not exist,” says Segev. “To bring 300 people into one place and to implement the technology and train them in the technology takes time.”

Segev claims BetMGM has leapt into third place in the US with 17 per cent market share across iGaming and sports betting, behind only FanDuel and DraftKings. He has set the team the ambitious target of overtaking at least one of those during the next year. The company’s progress Stateside during the past year suggests such an aim might not be fanciful.

Greenblatt highlighted the New Jersey operation as an area in much need of improvement when he flew in to helm BetMGM two years ago. The operation had fallen between two stools - neither GVC nor MGM were as committed to its success as they would be after the BetMGM joint venture was agreed in mid-2018.

During the past year its share of the New Jersey iGaming market has risen from around 12 per cent to 23 per cent, trailing only Golden Nugget’s 30 per cent share.

Segev is confident that BetMGM will be live in 20 states by the end of 2021 (it is in 11 at present) and with a fair wind he thinks it might even enter 25 states.

The reason for his confidence is twofold: the ownership of its own technology and the 33 million engaged customers that MGM has on its M life loyalty programme.

“Twice a year these people are visiting Nevada and staying at the Bellagio or the MGM Grand and they have a relationship with MGM. When they fly back to Pennsylvania or New Jersey we want them to continue being loyal to MGM and continue this journey with BetMGM,” explains Segev. “What we are doing now is integrating the experience between M life and BetMGM.”

The conversation comes back round to Entain’s future as an entertainment company first and foremost.

“Gambling is leisure. It is entertainment,” states Segev. “Ninety-nine percent of the people using it, use it for entertainment. What we need to do is to make sure we are becoming more entertaining, more fun, more recreational but also safer. This is the Entain journey with two main pillars - sustainability and growth.”

“For me it is a no brainer to say that even if we need to lose £100m EBITDA to make sure we are more strict on our protective measures, I’m doing it without hesitation. The reason for that is that I know there is another billion EBITDA that we are going to get anyway in the next four or five years.”

That will come from new audiences and new markets. He is hugely excited about how technology is driving the convergence of gaming, social media, sports and gambling.

“I want to lead this,” he concludes. “I want to make sure we are part of the next revolution.”

Watch the entire interview, taking in Segev’s career from Playtech to Entain and his thoughts on colleagues past and present

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