Last month, Betsson AB disclosed its intentions to become a new player in Greece’s re-regulated online gambling regime, securing two Hellenic Gaming Commission (HGC) licences. Starting from ‘Ground Zero’, Betsson aims for growth within the high tax and brand saturated Greek marketplace.
Speaking exclusively to SBC, Chief Commercial Officer, Ronni Hartvig, and Greece MD Thanos Marinos stated confidence that Betsson’s proven market-by-market growth strategy can overcome Greek complexities, flipping the script on the market’s doom ridden narratives.
SBC – Betsson’s launch in Greece has been a long process – what have been some of the biggest challenges in acquiring a Greek gaming licence?
Ronni Hartvig – If you look at it from Betsson’s perspective, we are focusing a lot on expanding, especially in local regulated markets. All markets have their different requirements and different needs that need to be sorted before we can come to the launch.
Whenever we embark on such projects we always need to see how we can give it the prioritisation it merits without effecting the progress of other projects or the growth of existing. Another major challenge relates to reach and regulatory requirements, combined with maintaining or growing your existing business and having to expand in other markets at the same time.
Thanos Marinos – Challenges were anticipated because the Greek market has actually been active for over ten years and companies were operating without really carrying a licence. Now, even the companies that were operating in the interim regime will need to switch to the new licencing system.
During the process there was a change in the HGC’s chairman which caused some delays, but we have now been granted one of the first licenses in Greece, and we will be ready to take off soon. It’s one of the massive milestones for us because it took a lot of time and at the same time there is big anticipation, and we’re very excited to launch in the Greek market.
SBC – Betsson recently opened a Tech Hub in Athens, how will this asset be used to help drive further expansion in the Greek market?
RH – When we looked at the Tech Hub in Greece, it was obvious because it was a great location for us in many ways, with regards to access to talented people and recruitment, and logistically it’s very close to our head office in Malta. We were already in the process of getting the Greek licence as well. You’ll never know what happens before you get an approval but we were hoping that we would get the licence so we could combine our operations in Greece with the Tech Hub in Athens. The fact that we now have the licence and can start operating in the market will also mean we will put even more effort into the Tech Hub, as we’re committed for the long term.
TM – The Greek market represents a very big pool of talent in this sector and this is actually something that is happening as we speak. We believe that the Tech Hub can be fully equipped by the end of summer with talent that supports from a technical and payments perspective.
SBC – The Greek market already has some well established local brands, such as Kaizen Gaming’s Stoiximan. What do you believe are Betsson’s key USPs that makes the company stand out from other Greek operators?
RH – We fully respect that there are some big operators in Greece, and they have done a tremendous job from their company point of view, and they have provided a good service to a lot of great customers. From our perspective, when you enter a new market you can go in and do the same as the ones who have succeeded, or you can go in and try to differentiate yourself with completely different USPs, or invest a lot more and outperform anyone else in terms of spend.
Our approach is that we want to be different through our offering. We can support the Greek strategy we have, but besides offering sportsbook and gaming like anyone else, we will definitely have an approach to position ourselves as offering fun and entertainment in order to attract attention to our operations.
TM – We will focus on differentiation both in terms of brand positioning, but also the marketing activities. Speaking of big established brands, Stoiximan has been in the market for almost 10 years now and there is a desperate need for a new brand in Greece and Betsson is going to be the only big brand entering at this stage.
We’re planning to do things differently and trying to bring fun and entertainment, rather than competing by saying we’re the biggest operator. It’s not about the operator, it is about the end customer, and this is who we are aiming to please.
SBC – The Greek government has settled on a high-cost fixed license regime and GGR tax rate of 35% – are these welcoming conditions for new incumbents joining the playing field?
TM – We estimate that there are going to be around 20 licenced operators. If you look at the size of the market, it makes sense that you pay €5 million for seven years. I know it’s one of the biggest entry fees in Europe, but at the same time, the market is very big.
Regarding the tax on the GGR – it is high, and there are actually some conversations between the government and the operators. They all know that this is something that needs to be reviewed when the time comes.
RH – Maybe at first it doesn’t look attractive as the licencing fee is quite expensive, but when you compare it to countries such as Sweden where there are 100 operators, Greece will not be as saturated. I’m actually very impressed with the Greek approach and mindset to this. When a lot of operators see the €5 million cost, they do not see the point, and that prevents the market from becoming oversaturated.
SBC – Germany and the Nordics have presented some unique challenges to European betting operators over the past year, do you believe an expansion into the Greek market will help offset some of the headwinds of 2020?
RH – I would like to look at Greece as a great opportunity for us, and I really believe with our approach we have a chance to really get good traction in the market and be a key operator. Our ambitions are very high, because we believe in that specific market. I hope that Greece can offset some of the losses we see in some of these markets, but I don’t like to point out Greece as being the market that would offset our lost revenue in Germany.
We believe in the market, and we will take it step by step, and learn along the way. Whatever we see that gives a healthy return we will keep fuelling, and then hopefully we get more return for what we invest in Greece compared to Germany.
TM – The market is big. We of course have targets in terms of getting the market set up quickly, but for us, it is important that we do it right and have a briefing in place before we start pushing hard, both in terms of marketing but also on the vision if you like of getting a bigger market share in Greece.
Later in the year, we will cover a much more robust and strong marketing campaign and make sure that everything we have works perfectly. Greece is a new regulated market with its own peculiarities, different payment gateways and commercial plans that need to be approved by the Hellenic Gaming Commission, etc. My hope is that this is going to not only cover the losses from other markets but actually make a significant impact in the numbers of the group. That’s why we’re all here – to make sure that this happens.
SBC – As a commercial director, do you fear that Greece may follow the script and become another ‘congested European marketplace’ – which maintains a lot of work for little growth.
RH – I would not say we have concerns about that. I think that as long as there is dialogue with regards to any regulatory initiatives, then that is positive and if there is a need for changes to happen in the market, then we will deal with that. In comparison to what we are seeing in some other markets, specially in the Nordics, is that what is happening in Greece is happening for everyone.
In the Nordics, we often have this battle where there is a difference between the licenced operators, even if they are locally licenced, and the monopoly. From our end with Greece, we don’t have concerns, but we would like to get into Greece and get some traction and create a good foundation.
I am not concerned at this point, for now I’m very positive, as the market is big, and we need to remember that no matter what happens, the market will not disappear. Should there be any more restrictions imposed by the Greek regulator, I would remain positive that they approach these things in the right manner, because they really understand it.
TM – Something to reiterate is that the Greek market is a newly regulated market, but it’s been one of the biggest markets as of early the 2000s. Even before the regulatory interim licencing that came in 2011 with the Ministerial Decree, the market was up and running with very big companies operating. The market is there and it is up to us and up to the approach that we are going to have to obtain market share and be one of the main players. We have seen the opportunity, and we’re very happy to be one of the first to get licences in this new era.
SBC – As Betsson continues to establish itself in Greece, can we expect a continuation of its expansion in emerging markets, such as in Latin America and Africa?
RH – Absolutely, we are fully focused on driving the existing business but also expanding into other territories. For us, Greece is one of those markets we believe can contribute significantly to our overall business significantly, but again Greece is actually just one of many markets.
We have our eyes on Latin America – we are already in Peru, where we have a partnership with the national football league and we got our licence in Argentina in the province of Buenos Aires, and are in the process of getting it for the city. Latin America is a region for us to focus on, but we recently launched in Croatia, and now we are launching in Greece. We have also had a foothold in Africa in Kenya via the Betsafe brand for some months now.
SBC – So it sounds like it’s going to be an exciting couple of years for Betsson.
RH – Absolutely, but like you said before, we have many challenges, whether it is with getting a licence or whether it is protecting the revenue we have in an existing market where we have been for a long time.
Just because Germany is not what it used to be in terms of revenue for a number of reasons, it doesn’t mean that we cannot make a healthy business out of it, like anyone else we just need some time to adjust to it.
SBC – Thanks Ronni. Thanos, do you both have any closing remarks you would like to finish on?
TM – The only closing remark is that we’re very, very happy and super excited about getting the Greek licence. It’s a vote of confidence towards the Hellenic Gaming Commission from our side. We believe in what the market has to offer and they’ve been actually very helpful in making this happen.
It took many months, but also knowing how the Greek public system works, they’re moving into the correct direction. It’s important that we will be ready to go live, and then we need to speak in a couple of months to update you on how we’re doing in Greece.