Gaming Intelligence HOT 50 of 2017 - Founders & Pioneers. Celebrating the most talented, innovative and inspiring individuals in the online gaming industry.

Executive chairman and founder

Vigen Badalyan is the man who has grown his company from humble beginnings as a small betting shop in Armenia to the present day, as an innovative supplier with a global footprint. BetConstruct’s chairman will never forget his roots. He founded the company after large suppliers refused him access to technology. He vowed never to turn a client down and this egalitarian attitude has served the company well as it has expanded across the globe. Badalyan has a habit of fulfilling his ambitions. This year BetConstruct won a UK gambling licence. Its presence will be felt. Badalyan will make sure of it.

Chief executive officer, SG Interactive
Scientific Games

Former EA and Zynga executive Barry Cottle is well-placed to lead Scientific Games’ interactive division. Interactive is something of a misnomer really; revenue for the subsidiary is generated almost entirely from free-to-play games. Cottle finds himself in a pretty enviable position; Scientific Games’ subsidiaries provide a wide range of content that can be repurposed for social, and it has an array of land-based clients to leverage deals with. Cottle’s creativity is such that we can expect more groundbreaking deals like the one SG struck with Gamesys and Hasbro. Revenues are soaring at SG Interactive, and with Cottle at the helm that looks set to continue.

Owner and founder
Red Tiger Gaming

Nick Maughan founded Cayetano Gaming, which was acquired by Paddy Power in 2011. He served his time, went away and founded Red Tiger Gaming in 2014. Maughan first turned his attention to Asia with a series of slots focussed on the Asian market. They were a rip-roaring success and Maughan made millions. Software proven, Maughan turned his attentions back to Europe and cut another deal with Paddy Power Betfair to provide the operator with a Macau tab populated entirely by Red Tiger games. That would have been enough to win Maughan a place in the Hot 50 but he followed that with the invention of tapered jackpots. It made Paddy Power Betfair fortunes at the summer’s Euro tournament and now everyone is trying to copy it. Maughan is a slots genius and Red Tiger Gaming is going supernova.

Chief executive officer

Daniel Lindberg’s vision – and that of his fellow founders Joachim Timmermans and Mats Westerlund – was razor sharp from day one. It was so convincing he appeared in the Hot 50 before a single game was launched back in 2012. Lindberg positioned the company beautifully and achieved a superb deal for himself, his co-founders and for the company’s acquirer Playtech, when the latter bought it for €50m in June 2016. Lindberg sent out a prospectus and managed to create a competitive tension that resulted in a multiple far outweighing the company’s €6m revenue. But Playtech got a great deal. It acquired the best Nordic supplier not called NetEnt, expanded its portfolio of games and if it means it retains bet365 for another five years the purchase price will be paid off several times over.

Chairman and chief executive officer

Before it was partially acquired by Alibaba Group last year, Sun Ho helmed a big business with lots of potential. After it was acquired by Alibaba, AGTech became part of a huge business with stratospheric potential. AGTech and Alibaba will be a force in China’s massive lottery market, but Alipay, the payments division of Alibaba, will leverage AGTech’s lottery contacts around the world in a bid to make it the largest payments provider on the planet. Add in a government-approved poker business and Ho holds the keys to a very large kingdom indeed.

William Hill

John O’Reilly cannot be described as a founder but he is certainly a pioneer. If his nomination owes something to his years of service, it is his current role that has put him in the spotlight. After decades at Ladbrokes and a shorter spell at Gala Coral, O’Reilly won a triple of sorts when he was appointed to the William Hill board in 2016. The consensus is that if CEO-less William Hill is going to turn around, then it will rely heavily on the experience of its newly-appointed director. William Hill needs a guiding hand from someone who has been in the trenches. O’Reilly is one of the industry’s most respected and well-liked professionals. Even his old colleagues at Ladbrokes might wish him well.

Chief executive officer
Playtech BGT Sports

A representative from Playtech’s sports division has been granted a place in the Hot 50 almost every year. The theory was that each individual would be given the wherewithal to challenge the established providers – none has really set the world alight. That was then, this is now. In July last year, Playtech acquired Armin Sageder’s Best Gaming Technology for €138m. BGT will provide the foundation of a bricks-to-click strategy that will combine the strength of BGT’s sports betting software for self-service systems with Playtech’s ONE omnichannel platform. Sageder is universally expected to succeed.

SVP and managing director, iGaming
Penn National Gaming

The slow progress of state-by-state iGaming regulation in the US has forced land-based operators looking to move online to shift their focus, with free-to-play gaming now a priority. Despite his real-money background, Chris Sheffield has fully embraced this challenge at Penn National, developing a formidable portfolio. Supply deals with Scientific Games and OpenWager allowed Penn to get a feel for the sector, before its $60m acquisition of Viva Slots Vegas developer Rocket Gaming and investment in fantasy sports operator iPro saw it fully commit. For someone who was dubious about the long-term appeal of social while at Betfred, Sheffield is clearly now a convert.

Managing director
Endemol Shine Gaming

Owain Walbyoff runs Endemol’s gambling-focused games studio. He is busy creating an infrastructure that could make Endemol one of the industry’s most important names. Of course, the company is already known for licensing brands such as its Deal or no Deal slot but Walbyoff’s vision is far greater. He wants to create a safe and secure environment for big brands to enter the regulated gambling space. As such he is in talks with a whole host of household names and is investing in an RGS to enable Endemol to build a distribution business. Watch this space.

Founder and owner

Lottoland’s impact on the online gambling world has been phenomenal. And it’s all down to the vision of this man. David von Rosen-von Hoewel (picured below) has sat in the background while his chief executive Nigel Birrell has delivered that vision to the world. If the concept of betting on lotteries was not entirely new, Lottoland’s execution took it to new heights. The operator generated revenue of €300m last year and now it is looking to take the next step as a fully-fledged lottery operator. It’s a big step but don’t bet against the man with the big name.

Chief executive officer
Hydra Industries

This is a first Hot 50 award for Lorne Weil following his return to the limelight as CEO of Hydra, the special-purpose acquisition company that made virtual sports and gaming supplier Inspired its first purchase in 2016. He has bags of experience, having taken charge of Scientific Games from 1992 to 2008, then again from 2010 to 2013. Inspired hope this experience will take the company to the next level, which means into the lucrative US market. Weil has the contacts and knowledge to make it work. Inspired continues to grow its virtual sports business across Europe, in particular in the UK and Italy, but Stateside is where the real big bucks will be. Weil is banking on it.

SVP and GM, online gaming
Golden Nugget

Winter was overlooked for the Betclic Everest CEO role when Nicolas Beraud stepped down in 2011. Judging by his success leading Golden Nugget Atlantic City’s online efforts the operator lost a major asset. His decision to delay the brand’s launch in New Jersey’s regulated iGaming market, then scrap its platform deal with Bally in favour of NYX, may have suggested teething problems. Instead they were strategic moves that have helped the offering establish itself as a major player in the state. Owned by Landry’s and with properties in a number of states, it is well-placed for further growth when new states regulate. Winter will be at the forefront of these efforts if he is not lured away to a larger role.

Quick Links:

Gaming Intelligence Awards & Hot 50 of 2017
GIA Casino Operator of the Year: Amaya
GIA Bingo Operator of the Year: Jackpotjoy
GIA Poker Operator of the Year: Amaya
GIA Lottery Operator of the Year: British Columbia Lottery Corporation
GIA Social Casino Operator of the Year: Zynga Casino
GIA Sports Betting Operator of the Year: Sky Bet
GIA Socially Responsible Operator of the Year: Unibet
GIA Game of the Year: Cash Out Roulette, Be The House
GIA Marketing Campaign of the Year: 888Sport
GIA Bingo Supplier of the Year: Dragonfish
GIA Casino Supplier of the Year: NETENT
GIA Lottery Supplier of the Year: Scientific Games
GIA Marketing Services Provider of the Year: Optimove
GIA Poker Supplier of the Year: Relax Gaming
GIA Social Casino Supplier of the Year: Greentube
GIA Sports Betting Supplier of the Year: SBTech
GIA Innovation Award: Digital Sports Tech, Player Prop Bets
GI HOT 50 2017 – Founders & Pioneers
GI HOT 50 2017 – Big-Shot CEOs
GI HOT 50 2017 – The Next Generation of CEOs
GI HOT 50 2017 – Backstage Heroes
GI HOT 50 2017 – Superstar Suppliers


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