Hot 50 2015 – Backstage Heroes5th February 2015 7:38 am GMT
YUVAL BENYAMINI - HEAD OF REGULATED MARKETS & SPORT 888 Holdings
888 has not been short of success stories in recent years, and Yuval Benyamini has played a massive role in continuing that run. Benyamini helmed 888’s entry into Italy and Spain. The latter has been particularly successful, with the operator grabbing a 20 per cent market share in casino and poker. Benyamini has also had responsibility for the relaunch of 888sport, which is now going great guns after years of underachievement.
MARCELO BLANCO – CTO Leander Games
Many were surprised when Rational Group selected Leander Games as its first third-party partner. Yet it is testament to the quality of the LeGa remote gaming server, created by Marcelo Blanco, that the supplier was chosen to help Full Tilt enter the online casino market. Described as one of the few genuinely open platforms available, deals have since been struck with operators such as Betfair, Paddy Power and Vera&John. Blanco also manages operator integrations, making him a major reason for Leander’s stellar year.
JOE CUSCHIERI - EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN Malta Gaming Authority
Joe Cuschieri has had a huge impact since being appointed in October 2013. He has impressed employees and licensees in equal measure. Key achievements have included cutting licensing time and player support time by 50 per cent. He has instituted a responsible gaming foundation and is set to follow that with a new gaming academy. He is hell-bent on making the regulator the very best it can be on every single level.
JOE ELDRIDGE - CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER OpenBet
The narrative around OpenBet is starting to change. Now its customers are starting to talk about it in a different manner. Joe Eldridge arrived from Amazon and has been given credit for injecting something akin to the can-do attitude of a Silicon Valley start-up. OpenBet is still waiting for the all-out attack from Playtech, but if Eldridge’s reforms are long-lasting then the company might still prosper.
ROBERT FELL - MOBILE PRODUCT MANAGER Gala Coral Group
Robert Fell heads mobile product management, application development and delivery for bingo, casino, poker and sport across Gala Coral’s multiple brands, across the world. His team has delivered numerous new apps, features and functionality that have allowed the group to grow at a faster rate than much of the competition in the UK market. The mobile channel now accounts for more than a half of customers on numerous products and in numerous jurisdictions. Gala Coral has overhauled its interactive operations during the last two years and Fell has been a key part of that effort.
STEPHEN FISK - DIRECTOR OF SPORTSBOOK Amaya
Stephen Fisk has worked at Rational Group for more than seven years in various roles, overseeing security, payments, customer support and operations. He has been given credit for whipping the customer support team into world-class shape, but now faces his biggest challenge yet – launching a PokerStars sportsbook. A failure is unimaginable. No pressure there then.
DANIEL FREIREICH - VP OF PRODUCT MANAGEMENT Aristocrat/Product Madness
As VP of product management, Daniel Freireich has been responsible for leading the development of Product Madness’ flagship product, Heart of Vegas. The product attracts more than two million monthly active users on Facebook, and was cited as a key factor in Aristocrat’s digital revenue almost quadrupling in the 2013-14 financial year.
MARLON GOLDSTEIN - GENERAL COUNSEL Amaya
Former Greenberg Traurig partner Marlon Goldstein played a crucial role in Amaya’s acquisition of Rational Group by introducing chief executive Baazov to GSO Capital Partners. The addition of Blackstone’s credit division was vital in establishing both the funding and credibility of Amaya in the eyes of the sellers. Goldstein now has responsibility for navigating the return of PokerStars and Full Tilt to the US while continuing to oversee the legal structures of Baazov’s deals. He is a crucial member of the central management team.
TONY JOHANSSON - SALES DIRECTOR Kambi Sports Solutions
Tony Johansson’s crowning glory in 2014 was cutting the deal with 888, which relaunched 888sport. He is well-liked and universally respected after spending more than five years in senior management positions at Unibet before Kambi was spun out. His challenge is to take Kambi into the lottery space. It is a hard sell into a tough market but if anybody can do it, it is Johansson.
JOE KAMINKOW - CHIEF DESIGNER Aristocrat/Zynga
Joe Kaminkow is something of a legend among US games designers. It says a lot that Zynga is prepared to allow Kaminkow to hold a secondary role with Aristocrat, considering how key its casino franchise is to CEO Don Mattrick’s plans to revitalise the social gaming giant. With Zynga Poker seeing user numbers drop recently, apps created by Kaminkow’s Spooky Cool Labs studio such as Hit it Rich! and Wizard of Oz Slots are key to proving that Zynga is more than a one-trick pony in the social casino market. Add in his work with Aristocrat and it is difficult to comprehend when this man finds time to sleep.
NICK NALLY - CHIEF DEVELOPMENT OFFICER Continent 8 Technologies
Many of you would not have a business without Continent 8. Nick Nally is one of the company’s unsung heroes. While Nally might be unsung externally, he is a key member of the team’s senior management. He is the chief strategist of the infrastructure that keeps the gaming world online. With hubs in Gibraltar, Isle of Man, Malta and now New Jersey (to name a handful) Continent 8’s success is vital to the industry’s success. Nally will ensure Continent 8 stays ahead of the competition.
LEIGH NISSIM - COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR OF INTERACTIVE IGT
As IGT is subsumed into his former employer GTECH it is unclear what the next year will hold for Leigh Nissim, but the progress he has masterminded over the past 12 months should hold him in good stead. He has driven IGT Interactive’s transaction and player volumes to record levels. He has also helmed growth in the US and Canada, making IGT a key player in the emerging online market for both countries. Nissim should be given credit for making IGT the online force it has often threatened to be. If he can have the same impact at an enlarged GTECH, it could yet emerge as a serious player in the online market.
RICH ROBERTS - PRESIDENT OF DIGITAL Sportech
Rich Roberts is sitting on one of the biggest potential success stories in the US gaming business. His premier responsibility will be the launch of the fledgling SNG Interactive partnership with Resorts in New Jersey. That will be a big enough challenge but Roberts’ ultimate aim will be to take Sportech’s presence in horse racing across the US and into other online gaming verticals. As the only regulated online operator in many states, Sportech has a head start on its rivals.
YANIV SCHWARTZ - HEAD OF DRAGONFISH 888 Holdings
Yaniv Schwartz is an 888 veteran, who has held several roles in the company. He is now a senior vice president with responsibility for the company’s B2B activities, but crucially he is also the man COO Itai Frieberger turns to when he has a special project that needs executing. In many ways that might make him the second most important person in the company. Schwarz handled 888’s transition to the UK’s point of consumption regime. He is vital to the company’s continued prosperity.
WILL SLATER – CEO Playtech Geneity
Big things are expected of Playtech’s sportsbook this year. Deals have supposedly been done and will go live in 2015. Geneity founder Will Slater will once again try and prove that his former colleagues at OpenBet do not have a monopoly on internet sportsbooks. The company has already won business with Ladbrokes in Spain and one can expect more movement with Playtech’s established clients as well as in the lottery sector. It has been a long time coming, but Slater’s moment could finally be upon us.
JENNY WILLIAMS – CEO Gambling Commission
Jenny Williams continues to show good sense and calm while all around her there appears to be chaos and mayhem. Many in the industry blame Williams for the 15 per cent tax they will have to endure under the new UK regime and the accompanying regulations, which are viewed as somewhat intrusive. Williams will retire this year, having negotiated the Commission’s own transition. She should be remembered with fondness as a graceful and approachable regulator, who had the humour and adaptability to guide the UK through two regulatory overhauls with minimal fuss.
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