When Australian betting company Stake.com inked its blockbuster title sponsorship agreement with Sauber F1 ahead of the 2024 season, cynical paddock chatter immediately dismissed the deal.

With the team’s performance suffering for years now, many see branding those underperforming cars as wasted marketing dollars that deliver little value beyond logo placement on lacklustre machines.

However, far from a naive blunder, Stake’s partnership, in fact, represents a visionary and strategic coup on multiple fronts.

Aligning with Formula 1’s unmatched global showcase furnishes tremendous visibility while also bathing Stake in the sport’s enticing aura of luxury, innovation and speed.

Vitally, the Zhou Ganyu driving partnership also cracks the lucrative Chinese market that Stake has been unable to reach.

So, let me explain why I think this agreement cements Stake’s ascendancy at the vanguard of sports betting’s new world order on an international scale and why it’s going to unlock some key markets for them.

The meteoric rise of F1 sponsorships

To comprehend this deal’s shrewdness, examining Formula 1’s unique symbiosis with sponsors is essential.

When the first World Championship race flagged away at Silverstone in 1950, cars were plain compared to today’s vibrant sponsorship branding.

But the sport quickly realised lucrative possibilities, capturing a global audience spellbound by daring heroic legends chasing checkered glory.

Consider Sir Stirling Moss, the swashbuckling British ace still regarded as history’s greatest driver never to win a title.

Though he raced plain green Vandervell Vanwalls synonymous with British Racing, by 1957, fame elevated him into a sponsorship pioneer.

Bell Helmets paid Moss to don their crash hats exclusively, marking a watershed moment inaugurating personal branding and endorsements permeating modern motorsport.

Yet full-blown commercial team sponsorships remained forbidden until 1968’s catastrophic withdrawal of free supplier deals by tyre manufacturer Firestone and fuel giants Shell/BP critically risked Grand Prix racing’s survival.

However, allowing external financial support for the first time swiftly gave rise to F1 becoming a billion-dollar sporting juggernaut.

When Colin Chapman’s legendary Lotus squad secured Imperial Tobacco funding through its Gold Leaf brand at that 1968 Monaco event, a Pandora’s Box irreversibly cracked open.

Within years, sponsorship money flooded Formula 1’s coffers, indelibly altering its commercial DNA.

Chaparral’s audacious 2J “sucker car” fan innovation provides the perfect example: though swiftly banned in 1970 for unfairly sealing the underside, its Free Formula eponym clearly highlighted sponsors now “owning” teams.

Stake plants flag with Sauber transformation

Stake strategically partnered with Sauber for 2024-2025, right before the team transitions to the Audi factory squad in 2026. This two-year window creates unique opportunities.

Currently, Sauber’s outdated Ferrari engines hamper their performance. But Stake’s massive sponsorship investment for 2024-2025 empowers the team to take more daring technical risks and innovations chasing enhanced car speed.

Knowing the Audi engine upgrade is coming in 2026, Sauber can push their initial chassis designs to the limit.

If these gambles pay off, fans could witness a radically quick Sauber car setting the stage for Audi to fight at the front when they take over the operation.

So Stake seized a special chance to fund Sauber’s final seasons operating independently, right at the cusp of the team’s major upgrade.

This transitional period allows Sauber to throw everything into raising performance before their 2026 reset.

If they succeed, Stake reaps the benefits of being the title sponsor that transformed plucky underdogs into legitimate contenders.

Reaping global visibility and brand awareness

A future championship for Stake F1 remains unlikely in the near term. However, the sponsorship immediately gives Stake unmatched global visibility and exposure.

Recent Formula 1 seasons have averaged over 1.5 million viewers in the US alone on ESPN. That’s nearly double the audience from 2018, with viewership rising 15% yearly.

And China, a potential key market for Stake (more on this shortly), is already F1’s biggest market globally. They reached 70 million unique viewers in 2021.

Races in new host countries plus strong ongoing interest in European strongholds means Formula 1 is increasingly capturing worldwide attention and engagement as a top international sport.

The presence of other luxury brands like Rolex and Emirates signals Formula 1’s upscale reputation. This lets Stake project a sophisticated image fitting for a top-tier betting company.

Seeing Stake represent Formula 1 enhances its profile and credibility amongst giants like DraftKings and BetMGM.

Additionally, having the Stake brand boldly displayed on Formula 1 cars and team gear associates the brand with the sport’s long legacy of innovation and star power since 1950.

Photos of Stake drivers alongside historical F1 heroes spotlight this heritage, connecting with both old and emerging fans.

Overall, this prominent Formula 1 integration drives immense value for Stake by inheriting the racing series’ prestige to boost perceptions of trustworthiness and authenticity.

Tapping the fabled Chinese market 

China represents the holy grail for Stake – the world’s largest black market for online betting. Yet stringent anti-gambling laws completely blocked Stake until now. This F1 deal provides the key to unlocking this restricted territory.

Stake hit astronomical success across Europe and Latin America. But the Chinese juggernaut remains unattainable despite explosive demand there, with no entry point… until Zhou Guanyu.

Zhou’s anomaly status as just the second-ever Chinese F1 driver sustains massive domestic interest, with Formula 1 viewership exceeding 70 million thanks to blanket state TV coverage.

Formula 1 returns to China in 2024 and ‘25, with Zhou racing in his native Shanghai for the first time in April. What was already a key market for F1 is about to reach stratospheric levels.

This phenomenon offers Stake a backdoor into Chinese consciousness. Mimicking their Drake celebrity blueprint, Stake can activate around Zhou as a national trailblazer to influence restricted punters.

Custom Zhou merchandising and WeChat campaigns leverage Formula 1 fervour, converting audiences despite anti-gambling laws.

So Zhou represents the golden key for Stake to infiltrate and dominate the forbidden Chinese online betting boom through a homegrown national hero.

Capturing just a fraction of this vast viewership offers incredible commercial upside, rivalling their achievements across easier markets.

Supercharging customer acquisition

This Formula 1 deal most importantly serves Stake’s crucial ambition of customer growth. Recent seasons of Netflix’s Drive to Survive series dramatically expanded F1’s audience by spotlighting captivating personalities and behind-the-scenes drama.

This democratisation effect opened Formula 1 to diverse new millennial fans beyond dedicated racing crowds. Stake now engages this younger generation as the bold newcomer crashing the establishment.

Events like exclusive paddock access or special merchandise also build enduring emotional connections with potential punters far beyond F1.

These special experiences make Stake feel embedded in elite sporting environments for audiences also betting on football, basketball, boxing and more.

Even mere glimpses of Stake signage penetrating global television feeds subconsciously register across various sports verticals.

Regardless of Sauber’s middling recent form, Stake benefits by bathing in the perceived glamour and attitude surrounding Formula 1’s overall spectacle.

In summary, this landmark deal leaps beyond F1 alone, leveraging the sport’s expanding appeal to magnetise new hordes of young multimedia gambling customers across numerous sports.

Wherever excitement and controversy unfold, Stake F1 integrates itself through Netflix storylines captivating both casual and diehard modern fans.

Navigating regulatory headwinds

However, Stake’s landmark Sauber deal right away faced legal trouble that threatened lucrative opportunities.

Swiss authorities quickly disputed naming rights, arguing Stake F1 breaks local gambling advertising rules lacking a domestic operating license.

Potential massive six-figure fines jeopardise showing off Stake branding before hometown crowds at the Swiss Grand Prix in Sauber’s backyard. This risks hurting the benefits of targeting Europe’s eager and profitable betting homelands.

It also highlights Stake’s questionable areas across multiple jurisdictions hosting Grand Prix events. Struggling to enter the tightly controlled Chinese mainland makes sense – but similar barriers arising in respected Western democracies proves worrying.

Stake must be careful to obey local gambling codes, or else authorities may force alternative “Kick F1” tagging weakening their slick Formula 1 presence after investing big sponsorship money.

Related disputes like opposition towards Stake’s suggested Premier League shirt sponsorship deals highlight the brand’s divisiveness.

However, Sauber’s ingenious fallback of switching Kick labels where needed offers clever sidestepping of tightropes imposed by inconsistent gambling policies.

This flexibility of swapping identities smoothly across borders shows practical smart thinking, keeping Stake’s Formula 1 exposure on track.

Their nimble adapting to overcoming mixtures of different regulations provides confidence that Stake can face future legal uncertainties, too.

But more clashes likely loom as Formula 1 keeps expanding globally into lucrative yet strict new frontiers.

This promises an ongoing high-risk balancing act for Stake F1 to maintain their meteoric momentum and maximise their full marketing potential.

In conclusion

In summary, Stake’s landmark Sauber F1 title sponsorship deal unlocks innumerable competitive advantages, accelerating their firm into overdrive.

Critics overly focused on substandard racing results miss the bigger picture. Far greater value accrues through immeasurable prestige allying with Formula 1’s glittering pedigree spanning seven decades.

But immediate benefits shine brightest via Formula 1’s unrivalled global showcase, reaching critical masses of potential punters, plus game-changing access penetrating restrictive Chinese markets through native star Zhou Ganyu’s participation.

This multi-pronged strategy exemplifies visionary leadership, cementing Stake’s dominance on international gambling’s grandest stage.

Their face-melting pace leaves a lumbering chasing pack of rivals choking on Stake’s smoking hot exhaust fumes.

Dmitry Belianin is an experienced marketing strategist and leader in the sports betting industry. He has over 15 years of experience in marketing and gaming and a proven record in building global teams, growing profits, and implementing high-growth marketing, digital, and product development strategies within the biggest gaming companies. He has recently launched a new portfolio business via belianin.com.

GR8 Tech’s edition of the last ICE in London, with over 300 meetings held, marked a successful start to the business year, bringing the company several new clients and laying the groundwork for its expansion into the Latin American region.

“While the latest ICE in London was not primarily focused on generating new leads, it proved to be an invaluable platform for reconnecting with industry peers and reigniting old conversations. GR8 Tech capitalized on this opportunity, finalizing discussions with several operators and thus adding three new clients to our growing portfolio. We look forward to the start of this cooperation and delivering results for our client,” said Evgen Belousov, GR8 Tech CEO.

GR8 success formula: Expanded stand, engaging quiz, and crisp winning mentality

Over the course of three action-packed days, GR8 Tech’s stand drew crowds with its dynamic and engaging setup.

Among the highlights was a Formula 1 race car equipped with a cutting-edge VR experience, capturing the essence of GR8 Tech’s ‘top pit crew’ mentality and illustrating the company’s commitment to excellence. This feature proved to be a magnet for visitors, gathering non-stop traffic throughout the course of the event – over 60 participants every day.

Adding to the excitement, the GR8 Quiz was successfully held on the second day of the exhibition, gathering over 100 participants. The quiz concluded with one lucky quick thinker winning tickets to the F1 Dutch Grand Prix 2024.

All this happened against the backdrop of a GR8 exhibition centered around GR8 Tech’s high-performance Sportsbook platform, renowned for its unique margin management capabilities, reliability, and scalability.

Denys Parkhomenko, GR8 Tech CPO and the key person behind the GR8 Tech platform shared his impressions from ICE, stating, “Along with other GR8 products, the platform attracted a lot of interest from operators and received excellent feedback after the demos. I’m excited to see that because it affirms GR8 Tech’s direction and strategy in the highly competitive iGaming market landscape.”

GR8 Trajectory: New hires and LatAm expansion plans

In a strategic move to broaden its global footprint, GR8 Tech is to expand its presence in the Latin American region.

This initiative was highlighted by the introduction of Thomas Carvalhaes, a known Brazilian iGaming executive with over 12 years of experience, who has joined GR8 Tech as a senior business development manager.

Carvalhaes’ expertise in the LatAm iGaming landscape is expected to play a pivotal role in the company’s growth strategy.

“Thomas will lead GR8 Tech’s expansion into LatAm, an incredibly interesting region for us considering its explosive growth, bolstered by strong mobile Internet usage that feeds a high demand for streaming and esports along with traditional sports. With our deep market experience and a compelling product lineup, including our versatile high-performance GR8 Sportsbook tailored to local tastes and a robust casino offering for business monetization, we are ready to offer operators in the region—and globally—reliable, predictable, and profitable solutions, fostering success in our lifetime partnerships,” highlighted Yevhen Krazhan, head of global sales at GR8 Tech.

Looking ahead, GR8 Tech is set to delve deeper into the Latin American market with its participation in the upcoming SBC Summit Rio from March 5-7, 2024.

Thomas Carvalhaes will take the stage as both a speaker and a moderator, engaging in discussions on Affiliate Leaders and Localized Marketing Approaches.

The team aims to leverage these opportunities to gain insights into local trends and challenges, further strengthening their position in the region.

The momentum will continue with GR8 Tech’s presence at SiGMA Americas in April, where the company plans to showcase its products and solutions tailored to meet the specific needs of local operators.

With a clear vision for the future and a solid plan in place, GR8 Tech is poised to continue its trajectory of growth and success in the iGaming industry.

About GR8 Tech

GR8 Tech is an international iGaming provider of high-performance Sportsbook and Casino platform.

GR8 Tech’s flagship product, GR8 Sportsbook, renowned for its exceptional event coverage and robust feed, manages heavy user loads with real-time anti-fraud processing and advanced margin management capabilities.

Complementing the Sportsbook, GR8 Tech’s portfolio includes the GR8 Casino platform, vital standalone products like CRM, payment gateway, player account management, etc., and tailored solutions like iGaming Launch and iGaming Upgrade.

Focused on the personalized approach and lifetime partnership, GR8 Tech perfectly alleviates iGaming operators’ challenges by delivering customized, scalable solutions that evolve with business growth.

Stake deal could hit skid mark

It might be a case of full throttle into murky waters for Swiss racing team Sauber, who unveiled their shiny new C44 car in London on Monday, only to find the glitz overshadowed by a regulatory speed bump.

Their new main sponsor, crypto casino giant Stake, has emblazoned its logo on everything from the car to the crew’s new threads, injecting a dose of high-octane neon green controversy into the mix.

Sauber team boss Alunni Bravi is revved up about the new partnership, touting Stake as a turbo-boost to Sauber’s fan base and fortune.

But there’s a ‘but,’ and it’s a big one, according to Swiss news site SRF.

The sponsorship will not wash in countries where gambling ads are as welcome as a puncture on race day. The plot thickens back home in Switzerland, where Stake is playing the part of an unwelcome gatecrasher – it does not have a local licence, which makes its ubiquitous logo a bit of a no-no.

This has caused the Swiss Federal Casino Commission to wave the yellow flag by opening proceedings against Sauber, which could see the team cough up half a million francs as punishment.

So as the new F1 season gears up, Sauber’s got more than just rival teams to outmanoeuvre – it has legal loops to jump through and could be in for a bumpy ride.

Jeff jumps out of his skin

The Guardian this week turned its attention to the controversial world of skins gambling in online gaming, telling its readers the story of Jeff, a professional video gamer, with 750,000 subscribers on YouTube alone.

Jeff, who is skilled in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), declined a lucrative marketing deal to advertise skins gambling, which he believes is negatively impacting young gamers.

“I wanted to show how unregulated gambling is rotting the brains of young people,” he said.

Skins, virtual items within games that can be bought or won, have become a significant aspect of online gaming, offering gaming companies a new revenue stream beyond initial purchases.

“Some skins carry enormous price tags in the real world,” the article reads. “One website that tracks skin prices values a ‘Gungnir’ sniper rifle, available in the CS:GOgame, at more than $18,000.

“A knife – a ‘factory new, case-hardened Karambit, pattern 387 (blue gem)’ – is reputedly the most expensive CS:GOskin in history, attracting a $1.5m offer that its owner turned down. Further down the scale, guns, outfits, stickers and knives sell for hundreds of dollars,” the writer reports.

However, what concerned Jeff most was not the skins themselves, but the fact that a host of third-party marketplaces, such as SkinBaron and Skinwallet, allow gamers to sell skins for real money.

The operator that offered the promotional deal to Jeff, Cyprus-based KeyDrop, attracted almost 17 million visitors in one month last year, states The Guardian.

To use these sites, players must have an account on gaming platform Steam, where gamers can buy skins. Steam was created by the maker of CS:GO, US-based game developer Valve.

Jeff believes that while Valve doesn’t endorse skins gambling or take a cut when players cash out their winnings, it still indirectly benefits from this overlooked industry.

“It [skins gambling] helps drive the value of the skins up and Valve takes a cut of every Steam market sale. So in the end they get more,” Jeff asserts.

Numerous other entities in the online gaming sphere also reap the rewards.

Upon rejecting the offer to endorse skins gambling, Jeff created a documentary to voice his concerns about the industry, exposing that some of the biggest names in esports earn substantial incomes from sponsorship deals with the websites he opposes.

Jeff’s decision to expose the practices has drawn backlash.

While ordinary gamers have largely applauded his actions, with overwhelmingly positive comments on YouTube, Jeff has also faced threats and intimidation.

“We know where you live my dude,” wrote one anonymous individual. Ah, that old chestnut.

MP warns of parliamentary ‘illiteracy’ on racing

As the starting gates open for a pivotal Commons debate on affordability checks, there’s a jockeying for position among MPs, and not all of them know their furlongs from their finishes.

Conor McGinn, co-chair of the all-parliamentary group for racing and bloodstock, is saddling up for a February showdown that could see financial checks rein in the industry.

But according to the Racing Post this week, he’s bracing for a hurdle: a “real illiteracy in parliament around horseracing and gambling.”

Gone are the days when MPs could tell a trifecta from a treble, laments McGinn, an independent, ex-Labour MP whose turf includes Haydock.

Today’s political handicappers are quick to moralise on wagers they’ve never placed, he suggests, eager to dictate the spending habits and leisure pursuits of their constituents.

The petition against these checks, championed by Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale, has McGinn and racing’s backers champing at the bit.

“We’re the last of the Mohicans,” he declared, determined to defend the punter and the sport against the odds.

He also urged the racing world to embrace its bond with betting – a relationship that should be championed, and not shied away from.

As the debate looms, the industry finds itself in a race against more than just time – it’s a battle for understanding, acceptance, and the freedom to bet on a good time.

“I think the rise of Stake has been heavily based around our ability to really push the boundaries,” said Stake co-founder Ed Craven.

The elusive executive was speaking to the gambling industry’s trade media for the very first time last night (5 February), where Stake had indeed pushed the boundaries for the grand unveiling of its new Stake F1 Team Formula 1 racing car.

A lavish night was unfolding at London’s Guildhall, a Grade I-listed medieval complex dating back to the 15th century. The juxtaposition was stark, as the building’s historic art gallery was draped with neon green banners, stamped with the hashtag: Unleashed.

The car itself – the C44 – was unleashed at 7pm. It was a futuristic green and black racing machine that would look far more at home in a dystopian video game than it ever could in Guildhall.

The motor was uncloaked as people buzzed around the unveiling party, where canapés and champagne were being handed out to global celebrities and gaming industry leaders. Manchester City’s all-time top goalscorer Sergio Aguero also made an appearance, and streaming personality Roshtein was an ever-present.

While a first glimpse of the car was exciting, most were fascinated by the chance to get up close and personal with Stake – a company that until now has operated largely in the shadows. That approach is more difficult to maintain when your name is on the front of an F1 car.

“When Stake started, I think the demographic, or the market that we were aiming for was much, much smaller,” Craven told NEXT.io. “It was a very niche industry, but it’s grown a lot.

“And with that our ambitions have also grown. Every year, we start setting the bar a little bit higher, and more things become a reality,” he added.

Stake started taking notice of F1 around three years ago, according to Craven, with the company attracted by its global appeal – something Stake is striving to replicate.

“It was reaching every continent, almost every country,” he said. “And that was really powerful messaging for a company like ours, which operates at a very global capacity.”

F1’s global awareness has also caused problems, however. The 24 scheduled Grands Prix for 2024 reach into every corner of the globe, including in markets where online gambling, or gambling advertising, is illegal.  

To break down this barrier, Stake has committed to a dual brand strategy, where Kick, the video streaming platform founded by Craven, will replace Stake in countries where gambling branding is prohibited. Kick.com is widely used for online gambling streaming.

“There’s local regulation around where each race takes place, so that has always been tricky,” admits Craven. “That is what I think has made this partnership the most challenging, but also the most rewarding. I don’t think there are many other brands that have attempted to pull something off on this scale.”

Coming to America

With the recent addition of Las Vegas, there are now three US circuits on the schedule. With different gambling regulation in each state, will Stake use its flagship brand for the country? The answer is yes, as Stake operates a social gaming casino platform nationwide.

Gambling with crypto – the foundation on which the Stake empire is built – is illegal in the US, but the operator still makes waves in the country through its lucrative partnership with brand ambassador Drake, who has completely bought into the brand and its product.

Stake’s social casino product was recently hit with a cease-and-desist order by regulators in Michigan, but Craven is confident the company can manage any blowback stateside.

“Depending on the circumstances, there might be room to do an activation with Kick, as Kick is also massive in the United States.

“I think it’s all about trying to work with the event location to maximise the activations and ensure that we get as much as exposure as possible, and sometimes Kick will do that more than Stake.

“For the time being, we’re unsure exactly what each race will look like. But we’ll definitely make sure we work alongside local regulators to keep everyone happy,” he added.

“I don’t think there are many other brands that have attempted to pull something off on this scale.”
Stake co-founder Ed Craven

As gambling with crypto is largely unregulated, Stake has been forced to get creative in certain markets. The social casino product in the US is evidence of that, and the company also operates in the UK via a white-label agreement, which is strictly Fiat.

A UK licence has allowed the company to sponsor Premier League Everton, another activation to have delivered global exposure. Craven believes F1 is more of a global phenomenon than the Premier League even.

He is careful with his words and does not speak like someone talking to the trade media for the very first time. He is polished and polite, but he is also clear that barriers to entry – whatever those may be – will not prevent Stake from providing a product for consumers.

“We’re constantly working towards trying to make sure the website and app is accessible to as many people as possible – we don’t want to be in situations where we have to make the product unavailable, so we are working with the regulators to get that across the line in as many countries as possible,” said Craven.

A new dawn

The sport of F1 has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years, in part thanks to the explosive Netflix documentary series Drive to Survive, which is now in its sixth season.

The current campaign is also set to begin with extra spice after seven-time world title champion Lewis Hamilton announced he would break from his deal with Mercedes to sign for Ferrari in 2025.

It will also be a pivotal season for Sauber Motorsport. They were known as BMW Sauber from 2006 to 2010 and as Alfa Romeo F1 Team between 2019 and 2023.

The Swiss outfit has returned in 2024 as the newly rebranded Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber.

Speaking during a televised press conference from Guildhall’s East Crypt, team representative Alessandro Alunni Bravi spoke passionately about the partnership with Stake while sat alongside team drivers Valtteri Bottas (below) and Zhou Guanyu.

He said that joining forces with Stake was more than just a commercial agreement and would usher in a new era for the team. “Unleashed, for us, means a lot. This is a mantra incorporated in our new brand essence. We want to push the boundaries. It is a concept that pervades everything we do,” he added.

Bravi hailed the launch as an important milestone as it allowed the team to present its new vision to both fans and stakeholders. While some F1 traditionalists were disappointed that Sauber would not feature in the team name despite manufacturing the car, most appeared to buy into the prospect of an exciting new dawn under Stake.

One journalist pointed out the location of the unveiling was “more crypt than crypto”.

Bravi replied: “You can see here a contrast and we wanted to show this. We have the establishment and a prestigious venue, which was chosen to represent a contrast with our new identity. It is something new and something fresh that will challenge the status quo.”

If disrupting the status quo is the aim of the game, then who better to learn from than Stake?

Formula None

AP News this week offered a deep dive into one of the most (over)hyped sporting events of this year, Formula One’s Las Vegas Grand Prix.

The event so far has proven a bit of a damp squib, according to the author, who points to several factors serving to undermine the relevance of the event for American sports fans.

First, entry to the event was originally pitched at such a high price point that it was simply inaccessible to most sports fans.

With an average “get-in price” of some $2,000, combined with hugely inflated room rates at Las Vegas hotels, “this race was never about attracting new fans to the global motorsports series or growing the American audience,” the article argues.

Rather, Formula One promoter Liberty Media has “clearly viewed a race in Las Vegas as an international showstopper for the highest of the high rollers”.

That didn’t stop Formula One Group predicting a sell-out success for the Vegas event, with CEO Renee Wilm boldly vowing on an earnings call earlier this month that “we will be sold out by the time of the event”.

Wilm’s crystal ball clearly requires a good polish, as the big race has all but arrived and tickets remain available, both directly and “on a dramatically reduced secondary market”.

Hotel prices along the Las Vegas Strip have also fallen drastically, the author adds, with all signs now pointing to Liberty Media having “grossly overshot the price point for drawing in new fans and spenders.”

Even the Formula One drivers don’t sound particularly enthused about the event.

Max Verstappen, who has already done enough to secure victory in this year’s world championship, was quoted as saying: “First of all, I think we are there more for the show than the racing itself if you look at the layout of the track.

“But you know, I’m actually not that into it. I’m more like, ‘I’ll go there and do my thing and be gone again.’” If even the drivers don’t want to be there, just imagine how it feels for the fans.

Who’s really at fault?

The Guardian’s Aaron Timms revisited the relationship between sports and gambling advertising following the 10-month ban handed to Newcastle and Italy midfielder Sandro Tonali for breaching betting regulations.

Timms questioned the apparent surprise or shock by club managers at discovering athletes involved in wagering within a sporting culture so heavily intertwined with gambling.

He emphasised that the core issue isn’t solely the few players enticed by incentives but also the clubs and officials enabling the sport’s close ties with the gambling industry on the back of sponsorship and advertising deals.

He pointed out that as gambling ads saturate the football landscape and the ease of placing bets on specific match segments increases, more players may succumb to the allure of gambling.

“Football executives across Europe have now created an impossible task for themselves: ‘protecting’ players from the very impulses they’re unleashing among fans,” he wrote.

This predicament isn’t just limited to soccer; it extends to many other sports, as evidenced by the recent suspension of three players in the NFL in the United States.

He argued that suspending players serves to maintain the illusion that football operates within a framework of laws and fair treatment, rather than acknowledging its evolution into a hub for the flow of money and influence.

He referred to Tonali and fellow footballer Ivan Toney, who also received an eight-month ban and a £50,000 fine for breaching betting rules earlier this year, as “scapegoats of a broken system.”

“The whole spectacle of player punishment in soccer today has become a way to enforce a form of selective justice that distracts from other, more consequential infractions that go unpunished, the very unevenness of the sport’s playing field,” Timms wrote.

“It substitutes thin proceduralism for a deeper fairness. The big perps run free, while the little guys get benched.”

No regrets

Entrepreneur magazine, sticking very much to its roots, has released the latest in its series of entrepreneur Q&As with an interview with Tipico chief Adrian Vella.

In the wide-ranging piece, Vella outlined his industry history, what makes him tick, as well as walking us through his “no regrets” philosophy. 

Vella – who moved to the Big Apple in 2019 to spearhead the launch of the Tipico US platform – said the company has taken a hyperlocal approach in the states as part of its strategy of building long-term customer loyalty.

Tipico took a famously relaxed attitude to the US, preferring to limit its ambitions to a moderate share in a few markets rather than getting bogged down in an expensive marketing spend war.

The company has arguably built the best iGaming product in the US, as highlighted in the most recent Eilers & Krejcik quarterly rankings.

However, the business is very far from achieving anywhere near the success it has enjoyed in its native Germany.

The University of Malta graduate said product was very much top of mind in the business’ US strategy post PASPA repeal, using that as a differentiator with the number of US companies that attempted to rush something out on white-label technology.

Prior to his American adventures, however, Vella was the rare case of a Malta iGaming professional moving to London, which he admits was a “leap of faith”.

Vella’s “no regrets” attitude extends both to life and business – and he argues this approach has been essential in the states. 

“At work and in my personal life, the only regrets I have are from the times when I didn’t put things into action — when I didn’t go for it.”

In the latest edition of Breakfast with NEXT, Sonja Lindenberg sat down with Apostolos Dousias, Betsson COO and one of the company’s longest-serving team members, to discuss his unexpected journey through the gaming industry.

An appropriate name

The Greek word “apostolos” means “messenger” or “one sent with a message”.

Finding the right tone or message is essential for a COO who must navigate the often conflicting goals of various business units within one organisation, while ensuring that all units work towards the same strategic objectives.

It’s a fitting name for Betsson’s COO. But don’t let the title fool you – Apostolos Dousias is a down-to-earth guy.

He’s not one to blow his own trumpet, and that’s what makes this interview interesting. It provides a rare chance to learn more about him and his work.

Dousias’ journey to Malta started back in 2004 when he was studying for a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Democratisation at the island’s university.

Fast forward to 2008 and he made the move from Greece to Malta. With two Master’s degrees under his belt, Dousias was pretty set on a career in diplomacy.

But after graduation, he took a job in customer care at Betfair (now owned by Flutter) just to earn some money, although he never thought it would turn into a career.

Little did he know, he’d still be working in the industry to this day.

Twelve-year timeline

In 2011, Dousias joined Betsson as a customer team manager and worked his way up the ladder until he became COO in December 2017.

Looking back, he remembers that gaming was just getting started. It was a time of big changes with new technology and an increasing focus on responsible gambling, risk management, and fraud prevention.

“I was drawn to the excitement of the field and started to see a future for myself in it,” Dousias recalls.

Today, he leads Betsson’s ESquared Hub, the company’s second office in Malta. It is situated at the heart of St Julian’s, where around 500 people work.

He is responsible for various departments, including Betsson’s customer service, complaints management, payments, risk and AML functions, and sportsbook trading.

Understanding the business

According to Dousias, starting off in customer support was the secret to his successful career at Betsson.

“Customer service is the place where you can really learn about a company,” he says. “You get a feel for what the customers need and what their pain points are. That insight helped me move up quickly.”

Dousias believes that customer service can be a launching pad for a great career. “Sure, it’s an entry-level gig, but there’s plenty of room to grow and develop,” he says.

“And let me tell you, you don’t know the true meaning of a stressful situation until the sportsbook goes down during a Champions League game and you’re hearing complaints from customers left and right. That’s when you really understand the customer and learn what the business is all about.”

“You don’t know the true meaning of a stressful situation until the sportsbook goes down during a Champions League game.”

Dousias still places a high importance on user experience, and at Betsson, they have a team specifically focused on getting to know their customers.

This function, called “the voice of the customer,” collects customer feedback and collates insights for the product and commercial teams on a weekly basis.

“We’re pretty proud of our customer satisfaction rate as over 90% of customers are happy with our customer service, which is on par with top ecommerce platforms,” says Dousias.

In this area, Betsson has invested in AI and chatbot software, but “we don’t want to hide behind technology,” Dousias explains.

“Sure, we have chatbots that handle about 20-30% of incoming customer inquiries, but it’s always connected to one of our agents,” he adds.

Formula 1 team

Being a COO is not a one-size-fits-all job. The role changes from industry to industry and organisation to organisation.

One of the biggest challenges for a COO is managing different departments with contrasting goals.

“For example, I have to balance the customer service team, which focuses on keeping the customer happy, with the sportsbook team that is focused on making a profit.”

Dousias adds: “Think of it like a Formula 1 race car; you’ve got the tech and product team who design the car, the HR folk who support the back, the driver who’s the commercial and marketing team, and the pitstop crew who are operations.

“Being a COO is like being the glue that holds all the different departments together and ensuring that we all work towards the same goal for the company.”

It is a job that requires a lot of diplomacy after all and a deep understanding of how different parts of the organisation fit together.

As Dousias puts it: “You need to be able to take the wants and needs of the CPO, CTO, and CMO, and find a way to reconcile them. That’s where my background in humanities actually comes in handy. I have a broad knowledge, which allows me to see the big picture and navigate the various interests within the company.”

The secret to scalability

Despite being in the gaming industry for more than a decade, Dousias never gets bored at Betsson.

“People often asked me if I want to change, but there is always something new at Betsson, whether it is integrating a new company that we have acquired or adapting to new regulations,” he says.

A decade of broad exposure has not only shown Dousias which levers make each department work, but also how they can be coordinated for the company to succeed.

Dousias emphasises the importance of scalability in the operations of Betsson.

“You need to be able to take the wants and needs of the CPO, CTO, and CMO, and find a way to reconcile them. That’s where my background in humanities actually comes in handy.”

While he admits there are challenges in achieving scalability, the company follows three key principles: being multi-brand, multi-lingual, and multi-jurisdictional.

He reveals the aim is to be as agnostic as possible so that a customer service agent, for example, can effectively deal with a customer in Sweden or Greece, even if they are under a different brand, regulation permitting.

While scalability is essential for business growth, “maintaining a local touch is equally important”, he says.

Future prospects

Looking ahead to the future, Dousias expresses great enthusiasm for Betsson’s prospects.

Full-year 2022 was Betsson’s most successful year in business to date, having recorded four consecutive quarters of record-breaking financial performance.

Despite the recent economic downturn, Dousias remains confident that the company will maintain its upward trajectory.

According to him, this is partly due to Betsson’s diverse portfolio of brands and markets, which allows the company to weather any untimely economic fluctuations.

Dousias also highlights the importance of delivering both B2B and B2C products, such as the Betsson sportsbook, which he believes many industry players have yet to fully appreciate.