SBC News One year on: Ukraine’s igaming sector in the face of conflict

One year on: Ukraine’s igaming sector in the face of conflict

It’s been one year since the war in Ukraine broke out. And as we’ve all seen the images and heard the stories from the conflict, our thoughts have been with those that we know are still based in the country.

There are a number of igaming companies located in Ukraine, or employ a large number of Ukrainians. In a five-part roundtable series in collaboration with Bet On Good Foundation, we wanted to speak with such companies to discuss how the conflict has impacted them and how the betting and gaming industry can best support those still based there.

The war in Ukraine has dominated headlines in recent months, but we understand little about how it has impacted indigenous gaming suppliers. What’s your understanding of the situation? 

Vlad Slyusarenko, CEO of Bet on Good Foundation: In my opinion, first and foremost, this is a cruel and completely unfair extermination of Ukrainians, which affects not only Ukraine but also the entire world. Furthermore, this war has become a test of strength for democracy, for countries striving for freedom and development, and for countries prioritising individuals as subjects who influence processes.

Currently, we can see how inflation is increasing, food shortages are affecting Ukraine, food prices are rising, and cities are periodically experiencing blackouts due to regular massive rocket attacks from the territories of Russia and Belarus. 

All of these issues are interconnected, and it is also affecting the gambling industry. The solvency of players is decreasing, and they have less access to electricity, which reduces their involvement in the products and offers of the industry.

Despite this, it is strange that due to fatigue, Ukrainians have begun to allow themselves more expenses aimed at pleasure and relaxation, including viewing sports events and placing minimum bets on the results to warm up the emotional component of watching the match.

We were pleased with some important sporting events, such as the rematch of the great Ukrainian, the current world champion in professional boxing according to WBA, WBO, IBF, and IBO, Oleksandr Usyk, with Anthony Joshua. This event not only strengthened our spirit but also reignited our excitement, which brought us back to the interfaces of betting sites and gave a significant influx of attention from the mass audience to the industry as a whole.

Ivan Kravchuk, CEO of Evoplay: The effect of the war on the Ukrainian economy cannot be understated, and the igaming industry is no different, particularly for Ukraine-based companies. Currently, it is more complicated for businesses to operate as they face many challenges connected with military activities – especially when it comes to daily operations. 

At the same time, what we’re seeing is an indisputable resilience of Ukrainian igaming suppliers, which has ensured we’ve still been able to serve the industry as we always have, which shows how resilient we have been in the face of such adversity. 

Some companies even had to make a full-scale relocation as their headquarters were located in areas of combat operations. However, they are now back to operating at full capacity, ensuring they can be a truly reliable partner. 

Looking at Evoplay this year and last has demonstrated how flexible we are and are able to quickly adapt to any conditions. Since the war commenced, not only could we stay afloat, but were able to move forward and make this a successful growth period for our business. 

Since then, we have reached new heights, released more products, and received some of the industry’s most prestigious awards. I cannot put into words how proud I am of our team. They are phenomenal. 

Igor Terebinov, Deputy CEO at PokerMatch: February 24, 2022. The beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Every Ukrainian woke up to explosions and dropped out of normal everyday life for a while. Each of us needed time to understand how this was possible in the 21st century and what to do next, how to protect ourselves, our families, our country, and, add to that, how to keep our business and support our employees. 

We needed time to mobilise ourselves and comprehend “what happens next?” However, the shock passed, and we realised that every Ukrainian can help their country by being where they are and helping in the areas that are most familiar to them.

From the very first days of the full-scale invasion, the PokerMatch team refused to work with Russian players and terminated all advertising contracts with partners from Russia.

Then we joined the initiative of the Ukrainian poker community, which appealed to the global poker community. In their statement, the players called for a boycott of games in Russian poker rooms and the destruction of all ties with the Russian poker world. After all, Russia’s aggression concerns not only Ukraine but the whole world. As the largest platform of the Ukrainian poker community, we fully share the thesis that “poker is a sport” and support the initiative to isolate Russian sports until the military aggression stops. 

Speaking of PokerMatch, the company has been built and continues to be built as a sustainable business that must be prepared for turbulence. And while no one, of course, was preparing for a full-scale war, the company had the necessary reserves to maintain its operations in the foreseeable times of crisis. And we used them. In the first months, we temporarily froze hiring new employees, revising salaries, paying bonuses, and purchasing equipment. 

However, as soon as April, players naturally began to return to the game more and more often, and by the end of April, PokerMatch has almost completely restored the pre-war volume of play. PokerMatch has now approved a large strategic development plan for the next few years. Two important foreign markets have been distinguished, where the brand intends to mark its presence. 

Evgen Belousov, GR8 Tech CEO: The war in Ukraine affected absolutely everyone and everything turned around 180 degrees.

Speaking of employees, the workload has been diversified so that blackouts, rocket attacks and other similar circumstances have as little impact on the work process and the well-being of employees as possible. In Ukraine, we provided offices with uninterrupted electricity and internet; there are also reliable bomb shelters with basic amenities – everything so that people can work in comfortable and safe conditions. We opened several offices in Kyiv and in various cities of Ukraine to provide access to electricity, internet, and heat for as many employees as possible. In the most difficult times, when living at home was extremely difficult, employees were welcome to stay in the offices together with their families.

At the same time, we continued to work in a hybrid remote format, encouraging everyone to choose what works best for them. In addition, in May 2022 we opened an office in Prague, which became a hub for all employees who were forced to temporarily leave their home country. Everyone who had the opportunity and desire to leave Ukraine due to hostilities received our full support in temporary or permanent relocation and opportunity to work in our Prague or Limassol offices.   

Speaking of business, we put more emphasis on asset diversification. As you know, we transformed from Parimatch Tech to GR8 Tech in early 2023, reflecting our transition into the B2B industry. Plans for this transition have been in the works for some time, but the invasion forced us to act faster and more decisively. 

Changes that would otherwise take some time were accelerated and implemented in less than a year, which required considerable flexibility, internal resources, and resilience. The diversification also made it possible to provide the necessary backups for the company’s critical functions outside of Ukraine. This contributed both to reducing the burden on those employees who are in Ukraine and working in more difficult psychological and physical conditions, and to ensuring business continuity in all processes.

Daniel Heywood, CEO of NuxGame: Given the financial instability and limitations caused by war, some companies have faced difficulties with banking and payment processing. However, apart from this, the effect of the war on the igaming industry has been limited and the industry has persevered.

In today’s hyper-connected, globalised world, igaming has found ways to adapt to the constraints and challenges that have threatened to hinder its growth. Many companies have found alternative solutions and created new partnerships to ensure they can continuously develop and evolve despite the disheartening situation. In doing so, it demonstrates the sheer power of the industry in the region and the adaptability of the suppliers who inhabit it.

Ruslan Kravchuk, Head of HR, Playson: The war in Ukraine impacted business operations in different ways starting from availability, productivity and, most importantly, the safety of people. War involves lots of crisis management and making quick decisions along the way. 

In fact, such traumatic experiences show corporate ethics and values are transmitted into tangible actions from the company and at Playson, we managed to quickly adapt and complete our business targets. This would not be possible without the heroic actions of our people who often work in bomb shelters, find solutions to how to work when there is a blackout or no electricity and work during nights if they were not able to work during the day. 

Most importantly, this is not a “corporate direction”, but a will of our people who simply want to create a great product together and feel responsibility and ownership for the work one does. 

Our people adapted to the ongoing crisis and we would not survive if our culture was not mature and transparent enough. 

 

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