The iGaming industry is crying out for disruption and innovation. Start-up Stories is your guide to the potential game-changers of online gambling.

We ask the key questions to provide investors and industry professionals with crucial insight into the new ventures seeking to redefine the digital entertainment space.

Humbl.ai is the next business to go under the microscope.

What?

Humbl.ai is developing a modular suite of automation and AI software in the digital marketing space. 

The company’s goal is to empower clients to make informed decisions, optimise return on marketing investment, and streamline time-consuming manual tasks. 

The company sees its main USP in developing tailor-made tools, highlighting the limitations of general-purpose tools like Ahrefs or Semrush commonly used in the iGaming industry. 

According to humbl.ai, its tools offer unique information and insights not obtainable from these conventional tools. 

The company claims its second modular product, scheduled for launch in January, will outperform similar offerings from competitors and provide a significant improvement at a more affordable price.

Who?

Founder Alen Kojadinovic has more than 10 years’ experience in various roles within the iGaming industry. 

Kojadinovic’s background ranges from professional poker playing to analytics, finance, and sales roles for both affiliate companies and operators. 

Humbl.ai’s development team collectively boasts over 40 years of experience in software development.

When?

Established in 2022, humbl.ai is a LeoVentures portfolio company that recently concluded another successful funding round. 

The company is on the verge of achieving operational cash flow breakeven. 

To date, the company has managed to attract more than 65 B2B clients mainly in the iGaming and e-commerce niche. 

Cients include major operators such as Stake, Grosvenor, LeoVegas and Betsson, as well as prominent affiliates like Better Collective, Raketech, and Mount Media.

Where?

While the company is Estonian, humbl.ai operates with a fully remote setup.

Why?

Humbl.ai’s products are founded on the principle that clients should derive maximum value from every euro spent on marketing activities while minimising time spent on manual tasks. 

“In our opinion, our core vertical, the iGaming space, is lacking affordable, tailor-made software that exactly match a client’s requirements.”

“For example, it should not be acceptable that users need to wait five minutes to receive an email report or click four buttons to navigate to a specific dashboard,” founder Kojadinovic told NEXT.io

“However, that seems to be the status quo with some of our competitors, something we simply refuse to follow.”

“Thus, everything we build is as user-friendly and fast as possible with current technology,” he added.

Looking ahead, humbl.ai envisions a future where the majority of iGaming operators and affiliates utilise their modular offerings at an affordable price point, with plans to expand into other digital marketing industries in the coming years.

Bigwinboard is embroiled in a legal tug of war with the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), claiming the regulator threatened to block access to its comparison site for UK visitors. 

In a blog post, the affiliate site said it “recently faced unexpected legal pressure from the UKGC” and explained the core issue revolved around the site’s listing of “unlicensed casinos”.

However, Bigwinboard said the accusations remain “vague” and “puzzling”, considering that Bigwinboard neither caters to the UK market, nor operates within it. 

The casino comparison site further stressed that it is not an operator and therefore does “not have any direct obligations towards the regulator”.

Affiliate or operator?

Bigwinboard was founded by Daniel Hansson Sokcic in 2017 as an iGaming news site and casino comparison service. 

In response to the UKGC’s message, Bigwinboard has questioned whether the regulator fully understands the website primarily serves as a review site and global web community for gamblers.

“We find the UKGC’s request to be an overreach, infringing on our right to operate freely in an international context. 

“We intend to stand firm against this pressure, championing the principles of free speech and open access to information,” Bigwinboard said. 

When NEXT.io contacted the UKGC for comment, a spokesperson stated that the regulator does not discuss individual cases. 

The regulator did however mention its duty to investigate and take action against operators advertising unlicensed websites, without addressing the fact that Bigwinboard is an affiliate, and not an operator.

Unhealthy relationship

Meanwhile, Bigwinboard founder Sokcic shared on LinkedIn: “Thanks for all the private messages and support. I know not everyone is comfortable criticising the UKGC publicly due to fear of repercussions or just getting on their radar, and some have even deleted their own comments here, but it’s obvious that the relationship between the UKGC and the industry is anything but healthy.”

The site also suggested that the situation with the UKGC goes beyond a legal dispute and may serve as a litmus test for “integrity and resilience” in the face of regulatory overreach.

The affiliate also stressed that it would continue to operate within its legal rights and described the situation as a “noteworthy case study in the balance between regulation and freedom on the digital frontier, with implications far beyond the gambling industry”. 

In conversation with NEXT.io, Sokcic added that he feels “that Bigwinboard is being deliberately targeted” because he recently questioned their policies in a separate blog post.

“I believe this is a ‘punishment’. Out of all the big platforms and streamers, only we seem to have been singled out,” he said.

Sokcic said the UKGC informed him that not only do operators who target British customers without a licence commit an offence under the Gambling Act, but so do those who advertise illegal gambling, as they are in violation of section 330 of the regulation.

Widening the scope

The relationship between affiliates and unlicensed operators has become a significant point of discussion across the industry in recent years.

Historically, UK enforcement efforts have focused on the operators directly, with licensed operators also held directly accountable for the actions of the external affiliate partners.

But in recent months, the UKGC has widened its scope to combat the threat of offshore gambling by partnering up with ISPs, payment providers and software licensees.

These efforts have resulted in a 46% reduction in traffic to the market’s largest illegal sites, according to UKGC CEO Andrew Rhodes.

Elsewhere this year, German regulator GGL imposed a substantial administrative fine on a licensed operator for promoting their services on affiliate websites that also advertise unregulated offers.

Germany’s gambling regulator GGL has fined Red Rhino €50,000 for offering online gambling in Germany despite an enforceable prohibition order.

Red Rhino discontinued its gambling offerings on localised website platincasino.de but continued to operate on a website with the same domain ending in “.com.”

Furthermore, a significant penalty was imposed on a payment service provider associated with Red Rhino Limited, although the specific name was not disclosed.

The GGL said it is signalling its commitment to taking consistent measures against unauthorised online gambling providers and is utilising all available administrative means.

In addition, the GGL emphasised that penalty payments can be repeated or increased until the prohibition order is fully adhered to.

Co-CEO Benjamin Schwanke commented: “The GGL’s measures are having an impact and we are seeing an increasing pushback on existing unauthorised online gambling offers.”

Fellow board member Ronald Benter added: “This goes hand in hand with channeling to legal offers. Consumers should make sure that they only use legal online gambling offers, as the strict legal player protection measures are supervised by the GGL.”

All authorised providers are listed on the official whitelist.

Earlier this year, the GGL revealed it had identified 200 black market operators, with more than 60% of them operating from Curacao.

To provide players with a clear distinction between regulated and offshore gambling websites, the authority also unveiled a new “GGL test and approval seal” that authorised operators are required to display on their websites.

Industry concerns

The regulator also maintains strict rules regarding affiliate marketing, expecting operators to avoid any association with unregulated counterparts.

Earlier this year, the GGL imposed a fine on an undisclosed licensed operator for violating advertising regulations, as it intentionally advertised on affiliate sites endorsing unregulated gambling services.

This, the GGL said, contravenes Germany’s State Treaty on Gambling advertising provisions, aimed at guiding players toward the regulated market by clearly distinguishing legal and illegal offerings.

This practice, according to the regulator, contradicted the advertising rules laid out in Germany’s State Treaty on Gambling, which aims to safeguard players by clearly distinguishing between legal and illegal offerings to steer players toward the regulated market.

iGaming NEXT understands that there are concerns within some quarters of the industry regarding the potential application of similar rules for game providers.

They fear that in the future the regulator may also restrict the offering of GGL-approved games to unregulated operators.

Malta-based affiliate marketing company Game Lounge has made multiple redundancies after adopting a new long-term strategy.

Most of the layoffs impacted the company’s content division.

The wave of redundancies began with consultants and freelancers in July.

iGaming NEXT understands around 20 employees were let go at that time, with those working remotely first to be informed.

The affiliate then commenced a further round of content-led redundancies in its Malta office during the week beginning 14 August.

Multiple Game Lounge employees, most of whom occupied content roles, changed their status to Open To Work on LinkedIn on 22 August.

Some affected employees stopped working before their official termination date as the projects or brands they were working on no longer required staff or supervision.

“We made these decisions with the company’s long-term vision in mind, always recognising the significant contributions of those we’ve had to part ways with.”
Game Lounge CEO and co-founder Jonas Cederholm

One source, who spoke to iGaming NEXT on the condition of anonymity, said this included the firm’s Slot Tracker tool, which Game Lounge is now seeking to sell.

Game Lounge acquired Slot Tracker for €1m in 2018.

In a comment provided to iGaming NEXT, Game Lounge CEO and co-founder Jonas Cederholm said the company was adapting its strategy to align more closely with individual significant markets.

“This change aims to improve our responsiveness to local needs, strengthen our partnerships, and create brands that genuinely connect with users,” said Cederholm. “With this change in direction, there have been adjustments to our content team.

“We made these decisions with the company’s long-term vision in mind, always recognising the significant contributions of those we’ve had to part ways with.

“We are optimistic about the future and the steps we’re taking. We are shaping a stable, forward-looking organisation focused on sustained success,” he added.

Game Lounge has two main offices in Marbella and Malta but employs staff all over the world.

Better Collective has acquired sports and entertainment media platform Playmaker HQ in a deal worth up to $54m.


What is Playmaker HQ?

The Florida-based brand is not to be confused with the Toronto-headquartered sports media company, Playmaker Capital, which last year acquired US-facing affiliate business Wedge Traffic in a $31m deal.

Playmaker HQ specialises in providing original entertainment and sports content, often featuring exclusive athlete collaborations and creator talent, mainly targeting the US market.

The business currently distributes more than 2,000 pieces of sports content monthly across social media platforms including TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube.

The brand now boasts a following of more than 20 million across those platforms, demonstrating rapid growth since 2020 when it had around 7 million followers.

Playmaker HQ content reaches more than 500 million users each month, according to Better Collective, while the company holds partnerships with a variety of brands in sectors including sports apparel and fast moving consumer goods.

Terms of the deal

Better Collective will pay up to $54m for the business on a debt-free, cash-free basis.

The deal will consist of a $15m payment to be made upfront in cash, followed by a further $1m in deferred payments and performance-based earnout payments worth up to $38m over a three-year period.

Better Collective said the earnout structure is intended to ensure that Playmaker continues on its “rapid” growth path.

The business is currently targeting full-year revenue in excess of $10m in 2023, with an expected EBITDA margin between 20% and 25%. 

In order to reach the full earnout payments totalling $38m over the next three years, Playmaker will need to generate revenue over $75m and EBITDA of more than $25m over the period.

The transaction will be funded with cash but the earnout payments will carry some optionality to have a portion paid in Better Collective shares.

Management commentary

“We have been following Playmaker HQ for some time, and are excited to announce the transaction today,” said Marc Pedersen, CEO of Better Collective North America.

“Playmaker HQ offers access to millions of sports fans in the US, the majority of which are new in the Better Collective user base. 

“We are excited to help enhance these fans’ sports betting experience, while also being able to utilise Playmaker HQ’s know-how to scale the product and revenue stream across Better Collective’s global portfolio.”

Brandon Harris, CEO of Playmaker HQ, added: “We cannot wait to make plays with Better Collective’s world class team who will help us create amazing content, experiences and opportunities, reaching an even wider audience of sports fans globally. 

“I know our creators are going to do amazing things with the support of Better Collective’s team and resources. We are just scratching the surface, and we are so excited to align with Better Collective to help achieve our vision of building the world’s leading sports media group.” 

Germany’s GGL has found itself at the centre of a legal storm as operators challenge certain aspects of the country’s gambling regulations.

The GGL stated that it was facing “a large number of lawsuits” primarily related to advertising and player protection provisions from operators.

However, recent rulings have strengthened the existing player protection measures, according to the regulator.

The Higher Administrative Court of Saxony-Anhalt revised the decisions made by the Administrative Court of Halle in five provisional legal protection cases after the GGL appealed, largely upholding GGL’s guidelines.

The court ruled that the bans on infomercials, advertising for free-to-play online casino games and virtual slot machines, influencer marketing, advertising by streamers, and affiliate marketing on sites that also promote unlicensed firms.

The court determined that these regulations were necessary to fulfil the objectives of the State Treaty on Gambling, which include combating addiction risks and protecting minors.

Complete ban disproportionate

However, the court also viewed the complete ban on advertising in public spaces, such as billboards, advertising columns, and public transport vehicles, disproportionate.

The court suggested that time restrictions, especially for digitally targeted outdoor advertising, could effectively protect minors.

Additionally, the court deemed it likely inappropriate to prohibit advertising at public film events before 9pm, specifically if the movies are exclusively for adults with an age restriction of 18 years.

In a separate ruling, the Administrative Court of Halle rejected the application of a Malta-based lottery company against the prohibition of unauthorised public gambling in Germany in an urgent legal protection procedure filed earlier in June.

According to the court, the prohibition was rightly issued because the applicant had offered gambling in Germany without the required licence.

The lottery business had already submitted two applications, both of which were rejected.

Better Collective has upgraded its 2023 revenue and EBITDA guidance, as the strong momentum seen by the business in Q1 continues into Q2.

The affiliate now expects to report full-year revenue of between €315m and €325m in 2023, updated from previously issued guidance of €305m-€315m.

The new revenue range would give the business a year-on-year growth rate between 17% and 21%.

Meanwhile, full-year EBITDA before special items is now expected to reach between €105m and €115m, compared to previously issued guidance of €95m-€105m.

EBITDA is therefore expected to climb between 24% and 35% compared to 2022.

The business still expects to maintain a net debt to EBITDA ratio of less than 2x for the year, consistent with its previously issued guidance.

Better Collective said the upgraded earnings guidance was the result of “strong momentum” from a record breaking Q1 carrying over into Q2.

The business generated €87.9m in Q1, an increase of 30.4% year-on-year, while EBITDA totalled €33.3m, up 44.2%, and profit after tax grew 52.3% to €20.9m.

Preliminary results for April, following the end of the reporting period, suggested a growth rate of around 40% heading into Q2.

Alongside the newly issued guidance, Better Collective said today (21 June) that in May the business maintained its strong underlying growth rate across the business.

Growth has been driven by the firm’s Americas segment performing ahead of expectations, while its media partnerships and sports win margin during Q2 also helped deliver stronger results than anticipated.

The company will report its full Q2 results in August.

The Higher Administrative Court of the State of Saxony-Anhalt in Germany has upheld the power of the German gambling regulator to ban licensed operators from advertising on affiliate sites that also promote unlicensed firms.

This decision confirms the GGL’s strict stance on affiliate marketing.

Earlier this year, the GGL issued its first ever fine to an undisclosed licensed operator for advertising breaches.

According to the regulator, the operator deliberately advertised its offer on affiliate websites that also promoted unregulated gambling offers.

The GGL said this practice contradicted the advertising provisions outlined in Germany’s State Treaty on Gambling, which aims to ensure player protection by strictly separating legal and illegal offers to drive players towards the regulated market.

Avoiding any association

The Higher Administrative Court determined that affiliates who link to unregulated operators are advertising unregulated websites.

This was incompatible with the goals of the State Treaty on Gambling, the court ruled, adding that the ban was necessary to avoid creating an impression of equality between authorised and unauthorised gambling.

Operators on the whitelist must therefore ensure that their affiliates do not advertise unlicensed sites by avoiding any association with them on their websites.

In addition, the court confirmed other aspects of the law, including the obligation to refer to the “White List,” which directs potential players to legal gambling, and the need to inform players about the risks of addiction, the prohibition of participation by minors, and the availability of independent counselling and therapy options.

The decision is final and cannot be appealed.

The esteemed AffPapa iGaming Awards has announced its partnership with CasinoCanada, a leading Canadian online gambling affiliate website, as the Diamond Sponsor for their second annual event.

CasinoCanada has earned a strong reputation in the online casino sphere for over two decades, providing Canadian players with comprehensive reviews and insights into the country’s premier online gambling platforms. The site’s commitment to offering valuable iGaming knowledge is supported by a team of seasoned experts guiding players in making well-informed choices.

The mission of the AffPapa iGaming Awards is to celebrate outstanding achievements throughout the year, recognising the dedication and performance of partners and players alike. As the Diamond Sponsor, CasinoCanada will play an essential role in ensuring the event’s success and offering a platform for industry leaders to highlight their accomplishments in the field of affiliate marketing.

Dmitry Rogalchuk, CasinoCanada’s head of content, spoke about the importance of the sponsorship.

“Speaking for the whole team of CasinoCanada, I can say that it is an honor and a privilege to be part of the second iGaming Awards,” he said.

“Gambling has always been a highly valued form of entertainment all over the world. Therefore, we are pleased to do our part in educating and connecting players globally. We hope that our partnership with AffPapa in celebrating excellence will continue for years to come.”

Those eager to attend the AffPapa iGaming Awards 2023 can now register their interest.

The event is scheduled to take place at Malta’s renowned Mediterranean Conference Centre, just one day before the anticipated iGaming Club Malta gathering.

Blexr has acquired affiliate website ThePOGG from Brand Streamers for an undisclosed six-figure sum.

Blexr is a Malta- and Barcelona-based lead generation specialist which operates affiliate websites in the online gambling and financial services industries, including Casinos.de, Casinos.pt and TopRatedForexBrokers.com.

ThePOGG is a UK-based website offering reviews of online casinos and an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service for iGaming customers, having managed more than 6,500 player complaints and returned over $7.5m to customers since launching its ADR service in 2012.

The website was acquired by Brand Streamers in April 2022, before the business announced in December it was putting the site up for sale as part of a broader restructure of the business.

Brand Streamers now intends to focus its efforts more directly on US markets.

Blexr, meanwhile, said it is expanding its presence in the online gambling sector by acquiring ThePOGG, as it offers a variety of in-depth online casino reviews and effective, low-cost mediation services for operators and players alike.

The acquisition highlights “the company’s commitment to enhancing the scope and capabilities of the service, further improving the industry for casinos and players alike,” Blexr said.

As part of the agreement, ThePOGG founder Duncan Garvie will join Blexr’s team.

Garvie said he was incredibly proud to be joining Blexr.

“We have worked hard to provide exceptional service to our users and clients over the past few years, and have developed the highest standards in the industry,” he added. “I’m really happy to be joining an organisation that shares that same commitment.”

Blexr founder and CEO Paudie O’Reilly added: “We know this acquisition will be a great addition to our existing product portfolio and expand our presence in our target B2B markets.

“The work Duncan has done over the years to build a trusted service at ThePOGG is second to none and represents an enormous opportunity for Blexr to grow and develop that business.

“We have big plans in this space and are excited to see how it will grow in the coming months.”

Blexr recently acquired the New Zealand-based affiliate site CasinoReviews.net.nz, and is the owner of several other casino review sites targeting the UK, Canada and Latam markets.