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The Gaming Intelligence HOT 50 winners 2020

12th February 2020 10:25 am GMT

Johnny Aitken, Chief executive officer - PointsBet USA

2019 was a transformative year for the Australian-based sports betting operator, with a successful IPO in Sydney and entrance into the potentially lucrative US betting market. Aitken has been essential to this. He joined PointsBet as chief operating officer and was promoted to CEO of PointsBet USA just five months later.

Under his charge, PointsBet has come out of nowhere to become one of the major operators in the fledgling US market, with market access deals in New Jersey, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan. Aitken will be crucial to PointsBet’s further expansion Stateside.

Robert Andersson, Chief executive officer - Enlabs

After several years in the doldrums, 2019 was a breakthrough year for Enlabs, the fast-growing iGaming operator previously known as Redbet and then Nordic Leisure. Andersson took over as CEO just over a year ago to lead the turnaround.

So far the results have been impressive, with Enlabs enjoying its best ever quarter in Q3 2019 as revenue hit €10m for the first time.

The former Catena Media CEO will be hoping his passion and experience will drive Enlabs to further glory as one of the leading operators in the Nordic and Baltic regions.

Amir Askarov, Co-founder & chief executive officer - BlueRibbon Software

BlueRibbon Software has quickly emerged as the leading jackpot marketing supplier in its short history, thanks to the vision and acumen of its co-founder and CEO Amir Askarov.

Askarov has landed a number of tier-one signings in 2019, including Mr Green, EveryMatrix and Scientific Games. He also oversaw the company securing its UK and Malta licences.

Having spent nine years at Playtech in key management roles, Askarov knows what it takes to drive a business forward and has positioned BlueRibbon for a spectacular 2020.

Neil Banbury, General manager UK - Kindred Group

Neil Banbury is approaching the ten-year mark at Kindred Group and has impressively climbed the ranks to become general manager of one of the operator’s key markets. While the operator has struggled with headwinds in Sweden and the Netherlands, the UK has been a real plus point for Kindred recently.

Banbury has been at the heart of all this, whether through unique sponsorship deals with the likes of record-breaking England soccer star Wayne Rooney or through Kindred’s responsible gambling commitments in the UK. He is the kind of understated superstar the Hot 50 was invented to celebrate.

Bryan Blake, Chief executive officer and Founder - Hexopay

With over 15 years banking and payment industry experience behind him, few doubted that Bryan Blake would make a success of Hexopay, but few could have predicted the meteoric rise of the payments and risk management company.

Already profitable just two years after its inception, Blake has been at the forefront of attracting industry big-hitters like Kindred Group, Lottoland and William Hill.

With plans to double its staff by early 2020 and the feel-good factor Blake has instilled in the company, expect its rise to keep continuing.

Elena Barber, Chief marketing officer - Kindred Group

Elena Barber has risen through the ranks to assume her position on the executive management team at the beginning of last year. Having headed affiliates, digital advertising, performance marketing and central brand marketing, her experience is perfectly formed.

She will now have to navigate a landscape where media and political pressure are forcing operators to rein in their advertising; and where bonusing is becoming more contentious.

Barber has the versatility and nous to ensure Kindred is perfectly equipped to thrive in this changed landscape.

Tim Bucher, Chief product officer - Scientific Games

Tim Bucher is exactly the sort of product genius that Silicon Valley specialises in churning out. After spells at Microsoft, Apple, Dell and a string of successful startups, Bucher has turned his attention to gaming, where he is continuing to display the innovation that has served his career so well.

Insiders say Bucher reimagined innovation at the company. He has launched products such as SG Connect, SG Game Service and, most excitingly, SG Vision. The latter could revolutionise the industry with vision-recognition technology that could not only overhaul the player experience but also introduce a guarantee of responsible gambling that brings a smile to the face of any regulator. Bucher’s impact could be monumental.

Jo Button, Head of digital - Camelot

Digital sales at UK National Lottery operator Camelot soared past the £1bn mark during the first half of its 2019/20 financial year. While Jo Button can’t take all the credit, she has led the team that has delivered growth of 40 per cent to Camelot’s online unit in the past year.

Her phenomenal success rate is driven by a devotion to innovation that could see that figure repeated year after year. Every lottery could use a digital marketing superstar like Jo Button.

Robin Chhabra, Chief executive officer - FOX Bet

Robin Chhabra has appeared in the Gaming Intelligence Hot 50 in both of his previous roles, as business development chief at Stars Group and at William Hill. His M&A feats at both are legendary but he now has his biggest challenge as CEO of newly-launched US sports betting business FOX Bet.

After acquiring Sky Betting & Gaming, Chhabra saw the potential to export the model to the US. In snaring FOX Sports to provide brand and other marketing assets, Chhabra almost guaranteed its success. Now we will see how Chhabra copes as an operator.

As one of the smartest and hardest-working men in the business, you can be sure he will make a success of FOX Bet.

Robert Chvátal, Chief executive officer - SAZKA Group

In his seven years in charge, Robert Chvátal has transformed SAZKA Group into the fastest-growing  lottery operator in Europe, with a wide-ranging portfolio of retail and online operations across Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece and Italy.

Chvátal believes that teamwork, a focus on innovation, and speed are what is needed to succeed in the lottery and gaming sector. Sazka Group’s selection as the GIA Lottery Operator of the Year 2020 proves that he is doing things the right way.

Andrew Clucas, Chief operating officer - Microgaming

Since taking charge of operations in 2018 Andrew Clucas has played a pivotal role in guiding the strategic direction of the innovative gaming supplier. He has overseen the launch of Microgaming’s independent studios strategy and quickly built up a roster of ten unique independent studios, which are creating content exclusively for Microgaming customers. They have delivered more than 40 exclusive games in the last 12 months.

Clucas has also overseen the launch of a new content team to develop and drive content strategy. The team is gathering ideas from across the company to ensure Microgaming remains at the cutting edge of game development.

With so many new ideas and initiatives, it would be easy to lose sight of the operation of the core business but Clucas has steered the casino vertical to double digit growth, through his unerring ability to retain focus and inspire others.

Irina Cornides, Chief commercial officer - Gamesys Group

Irina Cornides has held numerous senior management roles as Intertain has transformed itself into Jackpotjoy Group and now Gamesys, where she has assumed the role of chief commercial officer. She features in the Hot 50 for the second time (after making the list in 2016 when chief revenue officer of Intertain).

Cornides is one of the few remaining survivors from those halcyon days. Amid all the asset yo-yoing between Gamesys and Intertain/Jackpotjoy/JPJ Group, Cornides has been honing her skills as CEO of the company’s largest division, Jackpotjoy, and has now become a formidable component of Gamesys Group’s new management team as the company undergoes a key period of integration and expansion.

James Coxon, Vice president of commercial - SBTech

James Coxon has made a huge impact at SBTech since joining as business development director from Scientific Games in early 2019. He was swiftly promoted to VP of commercial after just six months and given wider responsibility for all of SBTech’s 50-plus global partners and for the company’s main revenue line.

Bringing new ways of working and transforming the sales team, Coxon was instrumental in winning high-value government contracts and secured a historic agreement with BetGenius that gives customers access to UK football rights.

Coxon has led a complete overhaul of the way SBTech executes its commercial strategy, culminating in one of its most successful years to date.

Alberto Eljarrat, Chief executive officer - Sportium

Alberto Eljarrat is one of the most prominent figures in the Spanish industry and his attitude towards innovation, responsibility and transparency has driven Sportium to continually operate as one of the leading sportsbooks in the country.

Eljarrat will need to ensure a smooth transition after GVC Group sold its 50 per cent share in the business to joint venture partner Cirsa. GVC will continue to operate as a B2B supplier but the new relationship will need to be managed delicately. Eljarrat can be relied on to lead the business into a new era.

Eric Foote, US chief commercial officer - PointsBet

Attracting someone of the calibre of Eric Foote was something of a coup for PointsBet. His 20 years’ experience in the US sports media landscape and expertise in building strategic partnerships will prove invaluable as the operator looks to reinforce its presence in the US market.

Having only just begun his new role, 2020 will be a very big year for Foote, and for PointsBet.

Christian Genetski, Chief legal officer and chief commercial officer - FanDuel

Christian Genetski is the exemplar for any aspiring lawyer seeking to double up as a business leader. Genetski is a fantastic lawyer and as chief commercial officer he has overseen the metamorphosis of his company from daily fantasy sports operator into sports betting and DFS market leader.

In New Jersey alone, FanDuel has raced to become market leader – way ahead of its nearest rival, DraftKings. It has also rolled out sports betting operations in Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia. It will not be long before you see it elsewhere, after the company signed a deal with The Cordish Companies group, which has venues in Pennsylvania, Maryland,Washington DC and elsewhere. There could be nobody better to oversee this aggressive rollout than Christian Genetski.

Ravi Haldahalli, Director of architecture and development - Atlantic Lottery Corp

In his eight years with the company, Ravi Haldahalli has led the effort to modernise Atlantic Lottery’s systems technology, with a focus on integrating the consumer’s retail and digital experience. He is the man responsible for architecting a complex, multi-stage evolution of the lottery’s technology systems to a fully-integrated ecosystem.

Introducing new technology such as QR codes and mobile apps to the lottery, he continues to push forward changes in digital customer engagement, in retail, online and via mobile for one of North America’s most proactive lotteries.

Todd Haushalter, Chief product officer - Evolution Gaming

Todd Haushalter has been described as a genius. While Evolution excels in almost everything it does, it would not be an understatement to declare that it would not be where it is without Haushalter’s product brain.

Haushalter brings the innovation and eye for player-friendly solutions that guarantees success. His  brilliance ensures Evolution stays ahead of competitors with deeper pockets. Put simply, Haushalter is the superstar of live casino.

Jon Kaplowitz, Head of Penn Interactive Ventures - Penn National Gaming

In the rush to market in the US, few have approached the terrain with the careful strategic planning applied by Jon Kaplowitz and his colleagues at Penn National.

They have devised a national strategy that takes in all of its 41 properties in 19 states. Furthermore, Kaplowitz has cut deals with a mixture of market leaders and insurgents that balance the present needs with a desire for future innovation.

While Kaplowitz’s strategic planning is second to none, the business has also managed to launch retail sportsbooks in ten locations in partnership with William Hill, while launching under its own name in Iowa. Kaplowitz will ensure Penn continues to make smart decisions.

Carsten Koerl, Chief executive officer - Sportradar

The fact that Carsten Koerl has not featured in the Hot 50 before is remarkable, but it speaks volumes about the understated brilliance of the Sportradar founder.

Since launching the company in 2001, he has driven a growth curve that is almost unrivalled – from tech-focused startup to global leader in sports data and audiovisual content, as well as sports integrity.

Few founder CEOs have remained in their post for so long and overseen such remarkable growth.

Conor Leavey, Head of casino product - The Stars Group

The Stars Group has not been content with building the world’s biggest online casino in terms of revenue, it also wants to build the best. It has been rebuilding its casino platform from the ground up and Conor Leavey has been working at the sharp end, reshaping the product to make it stand out from the crowd.

Leavey is leading the team doing smart work around personalisation and building a differentiated product. It is early days but the intention is to move away from the standard grid of tiles, towards a casino experience that justifies the use of the word ‘experience’. Leavey’s own experience suggests he is exactly the right person to pull it off.

Jason Lisiecki, VP North America - IWG

Jason Lisiecki’s impact on IWG since joining from William Hill in 2018 has been huge. He has brought experience at Michigan Lottery to help clients launch schemes such as the Atlantic Lottery’s (ALC) Cash Buster ticket, which encourages cross-promotion between retail and online; a weekly game launched at Pennsylvania Lottery; and a new Lottery Instants tab at BCLC.

He has launched a Strategic Insights unit, which has helped clients such as ALC expand iLottery sales by 52 per cent. Lisiecki is driving the expansion of iLottery in North America in a manner few can match.

Chris Looney, Commercial director - Red Tiger

After nine years at Microgaming, Chris Looney joined the fastest-growing supplier in online gaming. Red Tiger has continued its extraordinary growth curve with Looney pulling in the deals that culminated in the supplier’s sale to NetEnt.

His commercial nous is second to none. His customer care is legendary. Red Tiger’s commercial fortunes lie in one of the safest hands in the industry.

Laura Nash, Director of performance marketing – The Stars Group

Laura Nash is a ten-year veteran at Stars, where she worked in business intelligence before transitioning to marketing two years ago. She brings strong analytics and expertise in maths and psychology to Stars’ performance marketing efforts across the verticals.

The Flutter takeover of Stars makes any predictions fraught with difficulty, but if she continues her current trajectory, Nash is a CMO in the making.

John O’Reilly, Chief executive officer - Rank Group

John O’Reilly is one of the most experienced men on this list. He has a CV that takes in most of the UK’s leading operators and he continues to make management look like a simple exercise. He has overseen a year that has witnessed the operator boost its share price by almost 90 per cent. This has been on the back of a transformation programme that has been implemented efficiently and has paid off quicker than might have been expected.

While costs have needed to be cut, he has handled that sensitively while implementing new  technology with a focus on customer experience. He has shown a willingness to invest in new machines and property refurbishment. At Rank, O’Reilly has performed a tricky balancing act with some panache.

Stéphane Pallez, Chairwoman and chief executive officer - FDJ

Since taking over as CEO in 2014, Stéphane Pallez has driven FDJ’s digital transformation as part of the company’s FDJ 2020 strategic plan. This culminated in the privatisation of the French lottery and sports betting operator last November, beginning a new page in the history of the company.

Pallez has already proved she can drive change and inspire growth. Her next challenge will be to keep its new shareholders happy, and reinforce FDJ’s position in its home market, while driving its international expansion.

Kevin Reid, Chief commercial officer - 1X2 Network

The past 12 months have seen 1X2 Network become one of the most in-demand game developers in the world, with its content now live across thousands of operator sites. Spearheading that rise is Kevin Reid.

The executive has led 1X2 Network’s entry into core regulated markets and built a hugely talented commercial team during his seven-plus years with the company, fostering partnerships with the likes of bet365 and BetVictor. Taking on more responsibilities than just CCO, Reid has also been responsible for bolstering 1X2Networks own aggregation platform. With Reid’s desire and commitment leading the way, 1X2 Network looks set to continue on its impressive growth trajectory.

Israel Rosenthal, Chief executive officer - MuchBetter

Israel Rosenthal worked his way up from customer support to COO during his long period at former PokerStars owner Rational Group. His time at the helm of MuchBetter is evolving at a much faster rate.

Rosenthal can reasonably claim to have launched the fastest-growing payments company in iGaming. He might have expected to secure a deal with The Stars Group but integrations with 888, Pinnacle, Casumo, Lottoland and Interwetten have shown that was not purely down to old contacts. Rosenthal has developed an innovative solution that operators and customers love.

Alex Sefton, Head of software product development, Gaming & Content - bet365

Alex Sefton is one of bet365’s many unsung heroes. He is regarded by some as the guy who gets things done at bet365. Whether that is launching in new markets such as Estonia, Greece or Mexico, or updating products in Denmark and Spain, it is always accomplished with a skill that continues to drive revenue. On top of all that he has also been responsible for the development and deployment of an entirely new gaming platform. As such, he plays a key part in the strategic development of the world’s leading sportsbook operator.

Furthermore, he is a great advocate of collaboration across the whole industry and was the driving force behind solutions for the updated Apple App Store regulations. Sefton is the kind of dynamic and collaborative force that every team needs.

Oren Cohen Shwartz, Managing director - Skywind Group

In the space of just 18 months, Oren Cohen Shwartz has revolutionised Skywind Group and transformed the company into a supplier of premium content to tier-one operators in regulated markets.

During 2019, Skywind Group secured six licences – in the UK, Malta, Spain, Romania, Alderney and Gibraltar. It had its games certified and launched in Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden and Portugal. It has struck deals with the likes of bwin.party, The Stars Group, Kindred, Snai, Ladbrokes, Coral, Gala, Superbet, Caliente, VideoSlots, Sportingbet, Eurobet, Hero Gaming, The Sun and more.

Shwartz inspired his team to develop 70 games during 2019. He is travelling at a phenomenal pace that few – if any – can match.

Liz Siver, Chief executive officer - NeoPollard Interactive

Liz Siver joined NeoPollard Interactive (NPi) more than two years ago after spending most of her career at Microsoft, leading a team which delivered IT services to state and local government customers across the US.

As general manager of NPi, the iLottery joint venture between NeoGames and Pollard Banknote, she has used that experience to help the company expand its solutions to state lotteries in Michigan, New Hampshire and Virginia, among others. In the process, she has transformed NeoPollard into one of the leading North American iLottery suppliers.

Björn Sjöberg, Head of key accounts - Evolution Gaming

Since being promoted to head of key accounts 18 months ago, Björn Sjöberg has excelled. He handles most of Evolution Gaming’s tier-one customers and is simply amazing at it. He knows the businesses of his customers inside out and is always equipped with new ideas and data to back up his recommendations.

Whether he is adding more tables or changing limits, his advice is invariably spot on. Clients love him and so do his bosses.

Jesper Søgaard, Chief executive officer - Better Collective

Better Collective was founded more than 15 years ago, but its meteoric growth in the last few years has seen the company emerge as the leading publicly-listed iGaming affiliate. Co-founder Jesper Søgaard has been there every step of the way as CEO.

He led the company through the acquisition of seven companies in 2017, managed its Stockholm IPO the following year, and helmed its entrance into the US market in 2019. While other listed affiliates have floundered, Better Collective has thrived and, for that, Søgaard deserves immense credit.

Darren Small, MD Trading Services - Sportradar

Darren Small manages Sportradar’s 400-person team of trading staff across four continents and eight countries. He has been instrumental in establishing and managing Sportradar’s bespoke, market-leading risk management and trading solution, Managed Trading Services (MTS) since it launched in 2014 and in 2019 added 45 new clients to a list that now numbers over 150.

He has managed the product’s growth in tandem with demands from the mushrooming client base, adding pre-match, live and premium cricket during the last year. He is renowned for his commitment to his team across the world and is a key player in Sportradar’s continuing success story.

Drew Svitko, Executive director - Pennsylvania Lottery

Drew Svitko began his career in the lottery industry nearly 20 years ago and is now leading one of the most innovative and top-performing lotteries in the US. He is a visionary leader, launching one of the country’s best performing iLotteries in May 2018. It has since gone on to generate $642m in sales.

Svitko has positioned the Pennsylvania Lottery as an innovation leader. It has launched a series of new products and new categories and pioneered digital technologies, many of which were firsts for the US lottery industry. Pennsylvania can expect to stay ahead of the pack with the inspirational Svitko in charge.

Damian Xuereb, Global sales director - Kambi

Damian Xuereb has ensured that Kambi has had a far bigger impact on the US market than many would have expected. His masterstroke was signing a deal with DraftKings but he has followed that with a potentially huge deal with Penn National and others with the likes of Ohio-based casino operator Jack Entertainment and New York-based Seneca Gaming Corporation.

He will hope the latter deals pay off after DraftKings acquired rival supplier SBTech and promised to unwind the Kambi deal. Xuereb will not let that hitch get in his way. With Xuereb at the helm, you can expect Kambi to be operating in every US jurisdiction that matters.

The Gaming Intelligence HOT 50 2020

The Gaming Intelligence HOT 50 2020 – Acquisition Specialists (read more)

The Gaming Intelligence HOT 50 2020 – Responsible Gambling (read more)

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