Following the announcement that blockchain-based betting exchange BetDEX received a remote gambling licence in Ireland, iGaming NEXT editor Conor Mulheir caught up with the operator’s CEO and co-founder Varun Sudhakar. 

The pair discussed the process of securing BetDEX’s Irish licence, the reasons behind pursuing a presence in that market, and the brand’s plans for the future.

iGN: You recently acquired your remote gambling licence in Ireland. Why did you choose to enter that market?

VS: Ireland is just one of many different jurisdictions that we eventually hope to operate in, so we’re looking at a number of other licences as well, which we’re planning to pursue over the next few months and years. 

Ireland is a relatively small country in terms of population, but it’s home to one of the oldest betting markets globally, and the population there has been betting for a long time. 

That means they run into a lot of the same issues which our platform tries to solve, so there’s less of an education process required for us to launch in a country like Ireland, compared to other countries where gambling doesn’t necessarily have as much of a history as it does over there.

iGN: Ireland is currently in the process of introducing a new regulatory regime for its gambling sector. How did that affect the licensing process?

VS: At present, licence applications are made with the Revenue Department of Ireland, so you have to fill out certain applications and then they carry out a background check on the directors and owners of the company, dig into the product that you’re offering and evaluate your business model. After you pass the due diligence phase, the licence is granted and there are fees to be paid.

The process took us around three to four months, from start to finish. And if/when the new gambling bill is signed into law, we would plan to apply for a license under that regime as well.

iGN: What unique challenges do you face when applying for licences for a blockchain-based betting exchange? 

VS: A lot of the regulators that we speak to hear the word ‘blockchain’ and immediately react from a position of thinking “are these guys doing something shady?” Or, “is this illicit activity?”

So, there needs to be a process of educating the regulator and showing them how the blockchain is, I would argue, much safer and more transparent than traditional fiat rails. 

It’s also important to show them the benefits that the blockchain can provide from a regulatory perspective in terms of AML and KYC. That is a challenge that needs to be overcome, but once you do overcome it, a lightbulb goes off in their head.

 iGN: What are some of the regulatory benefits of operating on the blockchain? 

VS: The transparency and traceability of the blockchain is really powerful and a strong tool for regulators. But it’s not necessarily one that they immediately think of when they hear the word “blockchain”.  

Recently I have seen, especially internationally, regulators starting to become more comfortable with this, starting to really understand the technology and the benefits that it can offer them. But it is an education process, especially when we’re probably the first exchange to go about doing this. It does take time to walk people through that. 

iGN: What are the benefits to customers of using blockchain?

VS: We chose to build on blockchain rails because of the benefits it can give to users, as it allows us to operate a product where we don’t have to limit winners, and we can offer a noncustodial platform with low fees. 

We’ve done a lot of research and we’ve been working in the industry for a while, and we always thought that would be a major selling point, but the proof is really in the pudding when a product goes live. 

When people come and start wagering, you see whether they actually do resonate with those USPs or not. For me, almost to a tee, every single one of the customers that I’ve done interviews with, has fallen within that bucket. 

iGN: What is the profile of your typical customer? 

VS: I would say every customer that I’ve spoken to is a sports bettor first – they usually have some exposure to crypto, but aren’t necessarily ‘crypto enthusiasts’.

Almost all of them tell me that they found out about our platform because they’ve either been stake limited on other platforms, or been hit with too many premium charges because they’re ROI positive players, or in other cases they’ve ended up placing wagers on platforms where the platform has actually taken or lost their money – or it’s just disappeared. 

So typically, our customer base is folks who I’d say are sports bettors first, and may have some exposure to crypto, but really find value in the differentiating factors that our product offers. 

iGN: Where are your customers typically from?

VS: When we originally launched on our Isle of Man licence, from a jurisdictional perspective that allowed us to access about 40% of the world – largely jurisdictions in Asia and South America, plus parts of Europe and Africa. 

So geographically, our customers are largely from international markets. Some of our biggest countries by volume are jurisdictions in Asia or South America. Our customers are really global, to be honest with you. 

iGN: How has the product developed since launch?

VS: From a product perspective, we’ve been expanding quite a bit since we launched. When we initially launched in November, we only offered football markets on the World Cup, and we only had pre-match, match winner markets, so the only thing that you could bet on was for Team A or Team B to win, or for the match to end in a draw. Since then, we’ve expanded both the product inventory and the sports inventory. 

On the sports side, we’ve added NBA, cricket, tennis, baseball, plus a few esports and MMA markets. And then from the product perspective, we’ve expanded in terms of the types of markets we offer – we’ve expanded into side markets for certain sports, so for example, on football, you can now bet on things like ‘both teams to score’ markets. 

In addition, we’re continuing to expand those side markets for other sports, and we just recently launched in-play betting for cricket and tennis. We want to bring that to other sports over the remainder of the year as well.

iGN: How much further do you intend to develop the product, and will that require additional funding?

VS: If you ask me, we’re far from having a “complete” product, but I would say we’ve definitely made a lot of progress since the beginning of the year. I still think there’s a lot more that we can do, and I’d say we’re maybe 30-40% of the way to where I want to be in terms of product coverage. But, we started from a place which was maybe 5% of what I wanted when we launched, so we’ve made significant progress but still have a long way to go.

In terms of our funding, we raised $21m in a seed round in November 2021, and we still have a few years of runway left, so we’re not planning on raising any more capital in the short term. We want to be the world’s largest web3 sports betting exchange with high customer satisfaction, so right now the focus really is just on continuing to grow, developing the product and continuing to expand. 

The product was built on open-source technology called The Monaco Protocol, so we only need a small team of around four engineers working on the tech. I do anticipate that we’ll probably raise additional capital in a few years’ time, but nothing in the short term.

When it comes to identifying the leaders of the next wave of gambling companies, I can’t claim to have all the answers.

But after immersing myself in the iGaming industry over the past year, I have gathered some intriguing thoughts and observations to share.

While I’ve crossed paths with this sector before, it was this past year that truly rocketed me into its depths after I joined iGaming NEXT in June 2022.

One aspect to have caught the attention of many is the remarkable surge of leadership changes witnessed in major iGaming companies over the past few weeks and months.

Interestingly, some believe these developments mark just the beginning of a dynamic new era.

Paris Smith, who recently stepped down as CEO of Pinnacle, has predicted that more changes lie ahead at the helm of iGaming companies.

So, with my newfound expertise, let’s explore the future generation of company leaders and uncover what lies ahead in this ever-evolving landscape. Here are three observations.

1. Poker players and job seekers

Forgive my simplification, but the industry owes its roots to a diverse mix of former poker players and individuals who found their way into iGaming due to various circumstances.

Numerous companies have been established by individuals with a background in poker. Our very own managing director Pierre Lindh comes to mind, as does Videoslots CEO Alexander Stevendahl.

And, of course, Isai Scheinberg, who, together with his son Mark, founded PokerStars, which is now owned by Flutter via The Stars Group.

Other current C-level executives entered the industry primarily out of necessity, needing “a job” at the time.

Interestingly, the sector offers rapid career progression. Those prepared to put in the hours to stand out above the rest are able to climb the corporate ladder, sometimes within just three to four years.

I have heard countless success stories, where individuals initially starting out in customer support roles have reached coveted C-suite positions.

While this approach has worked well thus far, the question remains: will it be enough to lead the next generation of iGaming companies?

2. Challenges demanding attention

You may wonder why I pose this question. Allow me to share my second observation: the iGaming industry has experienced significant growth and complexity, yet not all parts of the industry have reached the necessary level of maturity to ensure a sustainable future.

The industry’s immaturity is evident through a continuous stream of regulatory settlements and investigations stemming from governance issues, deficiencies in anti-money laundering (AML) practices, and inadequate measures to address problem gambling.

This lack of maturity also perpetuates the persistent stigma surrounding the industry.

Moreover, industry experts argue that the industry’s insufficient adherence to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards is resulting in diminished valuations and increased capital costs.

Then there are other issues: operators, affiliates, and service providers express dissatisfaction with the nature of regulations.

In fact, Tim Heath recently contended that excessive regulation in Europe both stifles innovation and compromises the customer experience.

While there’s much more to delve into, it’s evident that the industry faces significant challenges that demand attention and at some point, a resolution.

3. Outside talent

Now, you may be wondering how to tackle these challenges. I apologise for any disappointment, but I’m still working on finding the answer.

However, here’s my third observation: the iGaming industry must break free from its narrow focus on industry experience and actively recruit talent from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Let’s face it, the gambling industry has long struggled with its reputation, which has made it difficult to attract top external talent.

Interestingly, companies often prioritise industry experience excessively when hiring.

But in today’s highly regulated landscape, it’s time to think differently. Look beyond the industry and consider candidates with diverse backgrounds.

“Replication of skill sets and knowledge brings little to the table in terms of innovation or unique approach. The industry requires fresh perspectives, enthusiasm, and new ideas to thrive.”

Mere replication of skill sets and knowledge brings little to the table in terms of innovation or unique approach. Instead, the industry requires fresh perspectives, enthusiasm, and new ideas to thrive.

There are already successful examples of where this approach has worked. Jette Nygaard-Andersen, initially joining Entain as a non-executive director, lacked specific gambling experience but brought over 20 years of leadership and operational expertise in media, entertainment and digital businesses.

Another example is Peter Jackson, the group CEO of Flutter. Although he had some gambling experience through board positions, his background primarily lies in consulting and the financial sector.

Newcomers, unburdened by conventional practices, can offer invaluable insights and invigorate the industry.

I believe this is, at least, one way to ignite innovation and nurture the next generation of leaders who will drive the iGaming industry forward.

Hot off the heels of the release of ChatGPT in November 2022, Silicon Valley-based startup OpenAI has released ChatGPT 4, the latest iteration of its artificially intelligent large language model (LLM).

What is ChatGPT? (As if you didn’t know)

ChatGPT has been considered a major step forward in AI technology since its release last year, due to the apparently sophisticated ways in which it can respond to users’ queries.

From writing articles and essays to coming up with poems and song lyrics, writing functional computer code and solving complex mathematical problems, the programme has a broad range of language-based capabilities.

ChatGPT hit an estimated 100 million monthly active users in February, according to Forbes, making it the fastest growing consumer internet application in history.

The LLM has taken the world by storm and helped bring AI applications thoroughly into the mainstream. Its appearance on the cover of TIME magazine last month went to show how the app has rapidly cemented itself front-of-mind for a huge number of businesses and individuals alike.

So, what’s new?

The programme’s latest iteration, ChatGPT 4, brings with it an improved level of sophistication which allows the app to perform increasingly complex tasks and respond to queries with a greater level of accuracy.

According to OpenAI, the app is “more creative and collaborative than ever before,” and significantly outperforms previous iterations on several benchmark tests.

One salient example is its performance in examinations intended to be taken by humans.

When asked to take the Uniform Bar Exam, which is designed to test knowledge and skills that lawyers should be able to demonstrate prior to becoming licensed to practise law, previous iterations of ChatGPT produced results in the bottom 10% of performers.

ChatGPT 4, meanwhile, performs in the top 10%, showing how far the programme’s capabilities have come in a short space of time.

One major concern around the use of LLMs is their tendency to offer up inaccurate information as if it were fact.

ChatGPT 4 is 40% more likely to produce factual responses than the app’s most recent prior iteration, GPT 3.5, according to OpenAI.

However, the knowledge cutoff date for this latest iteration is still September 2021, so some information may be out of date.

Use cases

One especially significant development is ChatGPT 4’s ability to understand image-based inputs as well as text. 

That capability brings about innovations such as – perhaps somewhat trivially for most users – the ability to take a picture of a cupboard full of ingredients, and have ChatGPT recommend recipes based on what’s available.

In a more significant and practical scenario, ChatGPT 4 has now been integrated into Be My Eyes, a mobile app which pairs up visually impaired users with human volunteers, who can see a video feed from the visually impaired user’s phone camera and give instructions such as which product to select from a supermarket shelf.

Now, ChatGPT will allow Be My Eyes to integrate a virtual volunteer, which will interpret visual information and give instructions to users without the need for human interaction.

“The implications for global accessibility are profound,” said Michael Buckley, CEO of Be My Eyes. 

“In the not so distant future, the blind and low vision community will utilise these tools not only for a host of visual interpretation needs, but also to have a greater degree of independence in their lives.” 

What about the gambling sector?

ChatGPT 4 will bring about use cases across perhaps all industries, and should help business owners and employees alike to simplify and automate a variety of tasks.

From helping to write content for affiliate websites, for example, or coordinating diaries to find the best meeting time for a group of colleagues, ChatGPT can work as a virtual personal assistant, and much more.

The determining factor in how useful the app can be will ultimately come down to its users and their ability to properly prompt or command ChatGPT.

Still, OpenAI’s demonstration of the programme yesterday (14 March) also gave a dystopian glimpse into what the future could hold in terms of its use cases.

The firm’s president and co-founder Greg Brockman fed the programme a photo of a hand-drawn, rudimentary sketch of a website, from which ChatGPT automatically created a functional website coded in JavaScript.

The implications of such capabilities could be vast for those in technologically-driven industries such as iGaming.

What are the drawbacks?

OpenAI has not shied away from the fact that ChatGPT remains far from perfect.

While improvements have been implemented in its latest iteration, the LLM still cannot match human reasoning or fact-checking skills, and remains liable to provide information which is inaccurate or out of date.

While it can be trusted to carry out simple tasks with clear instructions, more complex requests may generate less-than-satisfactory responses, or answers which are just downright wrong.

Still, with a $10bn investment from Microsoft earlier this year and the programme now integrated into the software giant’s Bing search engine, it seems that the only way is up for AI-powered LLMs, and their impact on our daily lives will only become more visible from here.

Ethical concerns are more difficult to overlook, however.


AI capabilities are expanding exponentially. Ask anyone to guess where the capabilities of programmes like ChatGPT will be in 10 years’ time, and they are almost guaranteed to get it wrong.

The rate of acceleration of such technologies is only going to increase from here, as an AI revolution sweeps across the globe. 

Perhaps the processing power of AI – which of course can already outperform any human in any number of tasks – will bring about fundamental changes to our society, daily lives, and the way we work, and all much sooner than we think. Or perhaps it won’t. 

Unlike some technological advancements (NFTs, anyone?), businesses and individuals would do well to keep a close eye on AI and its beneficial use cases. 

While no-one quite knows what the world will look like a decade from now, we can say with relative certainty that this is only the beginning for AI. 

Much is made of the word “innovation” in our industry, the prevailing logic being that if something is new, it must be good, and customers will therefore line up to enjoy the thrill of a novel gambling experience.

Both operators and suppliers are often seen clamouring to come up with the Next Big Thing, in the hopes it will skyrocket their sales and – perhaps – leave their mark permanently on an industry which at times has been rather set in its ways.

The question remains, however: is the industry responding to customer demands, genuinely improving their levels of engagement and delivering an experience superior to that which came before it, or are we simply innovating for the sake of it?

How did we get here?

In the casino world, it’s no secret that the most popular products have been around for quite some time.

Live casino notwithstanding – it being perhaps the most natural progression of the online casino experience borne out of technological advancements – most products popular with casino players have been around for decades, if not longer.

From the long-standing popularity of roulette – first devised in 18th century France – to blackjack, which is thought to have appeared during the following century (still some 200 years ago), it seems gamblers have been satisfied to stake their cash on the same old games throughout modern history.

Even the first slot machine – built in 1894 – existed alongside Queen Victoria (on different continents, admittedly), and has stood the test of time ever since.

This poses a problem for online casino developers. Should they rely on time-tested products, reiterating them time and time again with new branding, graphics and sounds, in an attempt to give customers something which is ‘new’ enough to get their engines running, but familiar enough to make them feel at home?

Or should they throw out the rulebook, come up with something entirely new, and take the risk of scaring away customers with unknown rules and mechanics, possibly resulting in a complete flop?

Been there, done that

One business owner who has explored both sides of that equation is David Newstead, CEO of slot studio Jelly and the former founder of an industry-recognised online casino developer which he exited last year.

Newstead told iGaming NEXT: “My previous studio started off creating unique table games, with different rules and which were completely different to what else was available. And I guess that was our downfall as well.

“The products were received quite well in the market by operators, who liked talking to us because we offered something different to what they had seen before.

“And for that, we were patted on the back. But when it came to getting contracts signed, and getting operators to back the products and release them, they shied away a bit. We were essentially told: ‘we want to release new stuff to players, but we don’t want them to have to learn anything new’, and I don’t really see how that’s possible.” 

Jelly CEO David Newstead: “If your games don’t hit the ground running, it’s very hard to get back on and get support for further investment. Most studios can’t afford for games not to be a hit on day one.”

Indeed, with the most popular casino games so well established within both gambling culture and popular culture at-large, it’s easy to imagine why operators would be reluctant to take a risk on something that appears and works in a different way.

And for a small business in the online casino development space, taking a risk on a novel concept could mean putting everything on the line.

Newstead said: “I think smaller studios don’t have many opportunities to impress. There’s a lot of dependency on third party platforms such as Relax, Light & Wonder, Yggdrasil, where for new studios, they may give you a couple of chances. But if your games don’t hit the ground running, it’s very hard to get back on and get their support for further investment.

“Most studios can’t afford for games not to be a hit on day one. If Jelly released five games that missed the mark and didn’t make any money, I mean, we’d be out of business. That is why we have taken a more considered approach to our first run of games and now that we have enjoyed early success with several operator partners, will look to push the boundaries a little more.”

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Newstead recognises, however, that the industry will continue to need some form of innovation to keep things fresh and continue bringing new customers in.

“Do I see a need to change online slots necessarily? Well, based on industry figures probably not, because people keep coming back and playing slots.

“But that’s not to say there isn’t a need for evolution or innovation, because you’ve got younger audiences, using different technologies, who will probably want to play something different. But what that difference is, I think we’re all guessing at this point.”

Indeed, the industry is continually putting itself through an iterative process to try and identify the next big hit in online casino.

And other developers in the space agree with Newstead that while innovation is crucial, it’s important not to alienate users by trying to change too much at once.

“Great design in any industry is evolution, not revolution,” said Frank McPolin, managing director of slot developer Bang Bang Games.

“When you’re a new studio trying to make a mark in a saturated market you must prove to operators and players you have something special to offer, but it’s important to bear in mind that very few of your players are off reading review sites and judging you on how innovative your game idea is.

“Most are just there to play something that is, above all else, fun. A narrow portfolio of wacky themes and mechanics is a very risky way to run a business; it’s essentially boom-or-bust. In the early days you must strike a balance between games with mass market appeal, and then introduce more experimental titles for the enthusiasts.”

Bang Bang Games MD Frank McPolin: “Take Nolimit City or Peter & Sons. These guys have crafted incredible universes where all their games live. I would argue that’s even braver than experimenting with a game idea.”

Even some of the most popular game mechanics today had their teething problems to begin with, insists McPolin.

“I’m not really one for reading a game’s rules and I must confess Megaways had me scratching my head the first few times I played it; I also remember playing Book of Ra in a casino and was completely baffled to begin with. But innovation didn’t hurt either of those two concepts.

“Ultimately, if you deliver a great game in a beautiful and exciting package then players are more likely to stick with it and enjoy it.”

McPolin added that plucky developers can do enough to leave their individual mark on the industry without reinventing the wheel when it comes to game mechanics.

“I don’t really think that game concepts and mechanics are where the real innovation is coming from now,” he said.

“I’m more impressed by studios that are innovating within their branding. Take Nolimit City or Peter & Sons, for example. These guys have crafted incredible universes where all their games live. I would argue that’s even braver than experimenting with a game idea as they commit to this style and narrative for their entire catalogue, but it is paying off for them because they have executed it so brilliantly.”

Stick to the facts

Ultimately, of course, it will be customers who decide whether a new game is a hit or a bust. While developers may pat each other on the back for producing something fresh, the proof is in the pudding and only players can decide whether new ideas will survive long into the future or be consigned to the history books.

In order to produce those winners, Light & Wonder CEO of iGaming Dylan Slaney suggests the industry should rely more on feedback that can be measured objectively.

“From an iGaming perspective, I think the dynamics of the industry are changing and I think we need to improve the way that we innovate,” he said.

Light & Wonder iGaming CEO Dylan Slaney: “There’s always emotion in building anything from a content point of view, whether it’s a new movie, a slot, or writing a book.”

“And one way to do that is to use the brilliant data and insights that we get from our platform, which is a very, very rich source of reality and not emotion.

“There’s always emotion in building anything from a content point of view, whether it’s a new movie, a slot, or writing a book.

“But if we can bring the objectivity, the data and insights, into that build process, alongside the emotional subjectivity, then I think that’s a better balance.

“It gives us the best chance to ultimately get into that consumer consideration set, because that’s where everybody wants their content to be,” Slaney added.

It seems, then, that many in the industry are in agreement. While innovative ideas are essential for keeping the industry moving, online casino developers need to evolve, and not revolve. After all, going round in circles will get you nowhere.

iGaming NEXT: How important is first-mover advantage in terms of iGaming innovation?

Lorand Minyo: In the words of the lovely Loretta Lynn, you’re either first, the best or different; it’s almost impossible to be first, challenging to be the best, so you’re left with being different.

Even Apple has shown time and again that it’s less important to be first, but rather to get it right. Gaming, like pretty much any other industry, is ripe for disruption and quite honestly, the innovation bar is not yet set as high as in other industries; this, however, doesn’t mean that anything goes and one should tread with caution.

Our organisation has a healthy disregard for the impossible and we empower our people to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, so we’re quite comfortable investing in experiments that can increase the bottom line.

iGN: When you hear about gambling innovation, which areas of the industry do you think are most ripe for disruption?

LM: First and foremost, everything that has to do with usability and experience. The average player age decreases every year and younger players are used to having extraordinary experiences in non-gaming apps. Offering them a boring, dated experience will get them to close your site or app faster than they found out about it.

The second thing that comes to mind is payments—today’s world is so fractured when it comes to payments, that it’s somewhat of a miracle to see that players still stick around sites and apps that take minutes to finalise a transaction—when it actually works, as many times the process of adding or removing credit to and from a player balance seems to be stuck in the ’90s. This obviously has to do with UX as well, however it’s part of the larger PSP issue the industry is facing.

Third, I’d simply love to see real, authentic entertainment being delivered on all channels, to all players. After all, we are part of the entertainment industry, so it’s high time to live up to the name.

iGN: How important is UX in our industry? Can this make or break a gaming offering?

LM: Good UX most certainly increases conversion. First and foremost because a good UX is invisible—it just works. It gives you the feeling that the experience is natural, delicate, and doesn’t get in the way of doing what you’ve set out to do.

And when players truly enjoy the experience, everyone wins.

iGN: We have seen some firms enable crypto payments. What is your position on this? Should iGaming firms embrace this technology or are others right to have concerns?

LM: I would definitely bet on crypto being here to stay, and not only in iGaming, but in entire industries. Soon enough, it will be a part of everyday life, much like credit and debit cards are today.

Imagine 50 years ago that you told Jane Doe she would be able to purchase everything using a piece of plastic; she would’ve looked at you in disbelief. Now we pay with our phones and watches and this has become the norm. Crypto is here to stay, it just needs a little bit more time and regulation in order to become truly mainstream.

As with any new concept entering the mainstream, there are, and will be, concerns, yet I’m sure we’ll be able to come to tackle most of them.

iGN: What do you think about NFTs? Do they have a place in gambling?

LN: Most definitely. Contrary to popular belief, NFTs are not pixel art or snarky drawings of bored apes, but proof of ownership.

I can think of at least a dozen ways in which NFTs can and should be used in iGaming, from a simple method to drive acquisition and retention to driving profit.

iGN: Is innovation essential in iGaming?

LM: Most definitely, as in any industry. Peter Drucker famously said that you either innovate or die, and that sentiment is now indisputable: stay ahead of the pace of change or you’re toast.

iGN: How does iGaming compare to other technology sectors in terms of innovation?

LM: Severely lacking to be honest. Except for a few outliers, the industry has been comfortably doing the same things for quite some time, which is quite ironic, since the industry has the financial means to invest in research and development even more than other industries.

iGN: The casino market is so saturated. What are some ways that a brand can stand out from the crowd and achieve differentiation?

LM: Design, diversity and determination. Add to the mix great software and a dash of genius, and you’ve got a winner.

iGN: What are your short-term and long-term goals?

LM: To launch our next 10 brands and continue strategically building out our empire.

Lorand Minyo is a technology, operations and marketing executive at Mate Affiliates who has worked with household names such as Apple, Berkshire Hathaway and Microsoft.

He is a strategic leader focused on growth in the iGaming industry and is passionate about education, health, food, energy and security. Interested in biotech, renewables, AI and robotics. 

Entain has promised to spend £100m on a new global innovation hub called Ennovate to explore metaverse entertainment projects in collaboration with leading tech firms.

Ennovate will provide the FTSE 100 operator with a platform from which to design and launch innovative NFT and virtual reality (VR) products and experiences across its portfolio of online gambling brands.

The first concept has been unveiled today (31 January) by partypoker, which Entain said will go live with an NFT collection to showcase some of the most iconic moments and tournament hands in the history of the brand.

This will be accompanied by the launch of unique digital avatars called PokerApes, tapping into the trend kickstarted by Bored Ape Yacht Club, a collection of 10,000 unique NFTs hosted on the Ethereum blockchain.

The partypoker NFTs have been developed in association with Theta Labs, a video delivery firm powered by blockchain and one of three tech companies working alongside Entain on the Ennovate project. The other two are Verizon and BT, which will focus on delivering the new technology via 5G connectivity.

Not-for-profit organisations are also collaborating with Ennovate, using technology for innovations which bring societal and environmental benefits. All external partners will collaborate with Entain’s own tech team and use the Ennovate Hub to conceive, develop, experiment, and launch their innovations.

“We want to lead the way with new, exciting products and experiences for customers and use our cutting-edge technology to pioneer innovations in sport, gaming and interactive entertainment for the metaverse,” said Entain CEO Jette Nygaard-Andersen.

“We also want to use our position as a global technology leader to help drive innovation more widely. Working with partners around the globe, Ennovate will demonstrate how Entain’s industry-leading technology can both revolutionise experiences for consumers and deliver real benefits to society,” she added.

Ennovate’s first dedicated innovation lab will be located in Farringdon – one of London’s tech hotspots – with £40m of the overall investment earmarked for UK-specific projects.

It will host on-site experimentation work involving around 50 full-time Entain developers and software engineers.

The London base will open in the spring and is being fitted with cutting-edge technology so that customers, investors and partners can trial new immersive gaming experiences.

This will include a virtual reality room and a VR multi-sports club experience, according to Entain, which could then be spun out into the operator’s retail estate later in the year.

The Ennovate hub will also serve as an accelerator and incubator of disruptive technology start-ups from the summer, with an initial commitment of £5m guaranteed by Entain.

“Our goal is to bring the most exciting experiences in immersive sport, gaming and interactive entertainment to life as the metaverse takes shape,” said Entain COO Sandeep Tiku.

“Working with partners we believe we can achieve great things faster, both for customers and to apply these technologies and skills to benefit wider society,” he added.

Justin Dellario, who is MD of esports at Entain following the operator’s undisclosed acquisition of Unikrn last year, is scheduled to speak at our iGaming NEXT New York City event in May.