Leaders accept contrasts and conflicts as CIS removes ‘grey market tag’

Day two of the SBC Digital Summit CIS kicked off with a range of C-level perspectives on CIS market developments and objectives for the gaming market.

Opening panel discussions, Simon Westbury, Head of Sales for Digitain, probed panelists on whether industry incumbents could form a comprehensive strategy to tackle a region of diverse conflicts and contrasts in the CIS, where regulatory frameworks are still being settled for online gambling services. 

Marinos Shiapanis, CEO & Co-Founder at Campeon Gaming Partners, branded the region as a unique challenge. “There is no such thing as a binding approach for the CIS region,” he said. “Years back operators just thought you could secure access by offering their products in Russian language, they were proven wrong very quickly.”  

Having recently launched Campeon properties across the CIS region, Shiapanis explained that the firm’s main strategic focus was on ‘customising products and services’. 

“Each market needs a dedicated attention to service differing characteristics with regards to languages, payment providers, and customer service,” Shiapanis added. “The customisation of your platform is also vital, as in each CIS territory players differ widely in what choice of games they want to play. You need to get this right before you start thinking about the local legislation.”

Yet, Westbury underlined that market regulation had been placed at the forefront of the CIS agenda. Ukraine recently adopted its gambling laws, while Uzbekistan and Russia have ordered reviews of their gambling frameworks as – ‘country-by-country’ – the CIS removes its grey market tag.

“The regulations are very interesting, and as an operator we always look to support them. But we would prefer if the regulators act as regulators and not market dictators,” said Paris Smith CEO of Pinnacle.

Smith stated that she was pleased that Ukraine had taken a revised approach in opening its market, consulting with operators ‘to know the industry and find a balance between regulations and forming opportunities’. 

On market strategy, Smith underlined that Pinnacle would follow its tried and tested formula of securing local market-by-market partnerships. “From our previous experience, local partnerships are key for a region such as the CIS. A partner is needed as you don’t want to drop the ball on localization and marketing,” she explained.

“Furthermore, as a region, the CIS is already very competitive. As a global sportsbook, we are competing against established domestic brands that have a strong foothold. In the long term we aim for our product and marketing to be king.”

Following Smith’s comments, the panel was pressed on whether 2021 would see the ‘floodgates opened’ on CIS markets, with European operators entering the region. 

Marcin Jablonski, CCO of Polish operator LV Bet, noted CIS appeals against western Europe’s regulatory realities. He stated: “For many operators, this will be a new territory. They have seen what has happened in Western Europe is becoming very challenging, with Italy and Spain banning advertising and Germany producing restrictive legislation for 2021.

“CIS is a fresh opportunity, which in my opinion mirrors what we have seen in LATAM, where it’s a huge territory with diverse approaches to regulating gambling which eventually transitions.”

Jablonski detailed that LV Bet is monitoring all CIS regulatory developments closely, in which Ukraine stands out as its main point of entry. “We don’t know specifics yet and its an outcome that will be tax dependent, but there is one country that stands out and it is Ukraine,” he said. “We have 3 million Ukrainians living in Poland, that will help us with resources and localisation.”

Customisation and localisation formed key narratives throughout the panel proceedings. Westbury highlighted whether international operators would really want to accommodate these dynamics when they can simply return to their M&A playbooks for the CIS region.

Vladislavs Hveckovics, Co-founder at SoftGamings – an igaming platform provider with 10-years’ experience servicing CIS markets – interjected by stating that whilst M&A will play a role in shaping CIS regions, ‘it should not be the dominant discipline’.

“CIS has already played an important role in shaping online gambling, with many technology providers establishing their tech bases in the region to service Western operators,” he underlined.

“From a technology perspective, we anticipate more competition. But the question for these entrants is whether they can service the whole region, not just one or two markets, as international  operators will not want to be locked into a one market that may instantly change its regulations.”

Hveckovics believed the CIS M&A plays will be more focused as on technology rather than securing market access. He explained: “The CIS region is already very competitive and operators are demanding innovations to drive their consumers whether it be through new games or gamification.”

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SBC Digital Summit CIS (4 – 5 November 2020) is the leading virtual conference and exhibition for the betting and gaming industry in the CIS, Ukraine and Georgia. It features more than 70 expert speakers sharing insights and ideas about the future of markets across the region, with all 18 conference sessions available both live and on-demand. 

Delegates can also enjoy a programme of networking roundtables and an interactive product display area showcasing the latest industry innovations. Click here to register for your free pass.

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