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  • Q&A: Lahcene Merzoug on the future of a streamlined PressEnter Group as affiliate business closes
The senior management team of PressEnter Group is set to buy out the operator’s investors, it was announced this week.

Once the deal is complete, CEO Lahcene Merzoug is primed to be appointed executive chairman of the company.

The process involved some tough decisions admits Merzoug, who is confident that 2023 will be a hugely significant year for the Malta-based online casino operator.

iGaming NEXT: How did the management buyout of PressEnter Group come about? What did it take to get the deal done? 

Lahcene Merzoug: The management team has built the company into what it has become today. We know the business inside out and where existing and new opportunities for growth are to be found. For us, it was an easy decision to take over the company and we seized it with both hands. We now look forward to taking PressEnter Group into the next chapter of its success story.

iGN: What potential do you see within the business that made you want to lead the MBO and take control of the company? 

LM: We have an incredibly strong roster of popular online casino and sportsbook brands that are performing well in core markets. Each site has been designed to deliver a seamless user experience across all devices, delivering high levels of engagement and entertainment to players. This is achieved through a vast portfolio of games, markets and odds, big bonuses, localised payment options and attentive customer support. This network of brands provides a great foundation from which to drive the business forwards.

This will see us launch additional brands and products over the coming months, as well as enhance our existing casino and sportsbook sites and forms part of a revised strategy the management team has put in place since the deal was agreed.

iGN: As we know with any change in ownership, there is a knock on effect when it comes to staffing. We understand a number of employees were let go recently. Can you tell us a little more about this?

LM: Prior to the MBO, we were already looking at the business as a whole, identifying areas to ensure they were efficient as possible. This led to a number of hard decisions being made.  One of the outcomes was to unfortunately close down our affiliate business PressEnter Media and although initially this was an exciting and promising project, we felt that we needed to focus our attention on our core business.

PressEnter Group also had to let quite a few, very talented colleagues go, which has been really tough for everyone involved, but we have managed to retain more than 70% of our workforce.

iGN: How are you supporting staff that have been affected?

LM: This is a very sensitive time for everyone at PressEnter Group, but especially those that have been let go, therefore we are doing everything in our power to help. This includes leveraging our huge network of contacts within the industry and ensuring they have access to the best recruiters in iGaming. We have also leant on our partnership with the Richmond Foundation in Malta, to ensure anyone affected, who is struggling with their mental health, can find a safe space to discuss their well-being.

iGN: How will the running of the business change following the MBO?

LM: Moving forward, we will now be solely focused on the existing business and leveraging the tremendous opportunities for growth that exist within it. Continuity is important at a time like this and I’m really pleased that I’ll be supported in my role as CEO by the same management team that was in place prior to the MBO and that share our vision and passion for the business..

iGN: What are your biggest markets and most successful brands? What has been the key to success?

LM: PressEnter Group holds licences in a range of markets including Malta, Ontario and Romania, and is becoming increasingly popular in emerging markets like Peru, Chile and many more. Our brands perform incredibly well in these markets due to the branding and UX we have developed in-house, and the interactive and entertaining experience provided to players. Localisation and personalisation have both been key to our success in these markets, too. Of course, we will continue to enter new and emerging markets so that more players can enjoy what our brands have to offer.

iGN: What do the next 12 months have in store for PressEnter Group?

LM: We want to ensure our workforce is happy and healthy and that they are receiving the support they need to achieve their full potential, professionally as well as personally. It takes time for a new business to find its feet, and post MBO it will be the same for PressEnter Group. That said, it will still be a big year for the business, and we have some really exciting developments that we will be announcing over the next few months.

The senior management of Malta-based PressEnter Group is set to buy out the operator’s investors as CEO Lahcene Merzoug prepares to be appointed executive chairman of the company.

Led by Merzoug, the terms of the management buyout have been agreed with the company’s current financial investors and the transaction will soon be completed, the operator said.

Founded in 2018, the company which rebranded last year from its former name Betpoint Group will continue to operate from its headquarters in Sliema, Malta.

Commenting on the deal, Merzoug said: “The management team has worked hard for the chance to take ownership of the business and we have a sound strategy that we strongly believe in.“With the management team taking full ownership, the business will enter a new era. This is a major milestone for the organisation, and I look forward to leading from the front as we turn the page and start the next chapter of the PressEnter Group story.”

PressEnter CEO Lahcene Merzoug: “The management team has worked hard for the chance to take ownership of the business and we have a sound strategy that we strongly believe in.”

Merzoug, who took over as CEO in April 2021 with the vision to establish PressEnter as a tier one organisation in the global iGaming industry, is a highly experienced iGaming executive.

Before joining PressEnter, he spent more than two years as CEO of ComeOn Group. Prior to that, he was CMO at Green Media, the internal media agency of Mr Green.

PressEnter’s brands include 21.com, JustSpin, NeonVegas Casino, NitroCasino, UltraCasino and RapidCasino.

The company has made a series of high-profile hires from rival operators this year, including ex-Tipico finance specialist Qurban Hussain as its chief financial officer.

Malta-based online gambling operator PressEnter Group has entered the Ontario market with the regulated launch of its NitroCasino brand.

The operator, which also operates other brands including 21.com, recently made its debut in Canada’s first regulated iGaming market after securing approval from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

It said the market is expected to be one of the largest in the whole of North America, and therefore represents an important step as the operator continues to expand into regulated markets across the globe.

The firm’s broader plans for international expansion have recently seen its Ultra Casino brand launch in Chile and Peru, while the operator expects further market entries across Latam over the coming months.

“We have an ambitious international expansion plan and entering Ontario is yet another step towards PressEnter Group becoming a truly global, top-tier operator,” said PressEnter CEO Lahcene Merzoug.

“Ontario is a market with great potential for operators that can deliver engaging, entertaining player involvement and that is where we excel. We look forward to seeing players from Ontario enjoy the high levels of entertainment that our brands deliver.”

Merzoug told iGaming NEXT that the NitroCasino brand was selected for the Ontario market because its combination of sleek design and user experience is well-suited to the Canadian audience.

“NitroCasino is one of our flagship brands and for the Canadian market we have pushed hard with the addition of sportsbook, a crucial element for the Canadian market,” he said.

“We have also added localised providers, but most important is the way we communicate with our customers, ensuring full localisation from the tone of voice, down to the look and feel of the brand.”

He added that Ontario – which he described as “one of the most challenging market entries one can do globally” – will form a key part of PressEnter’s growth strategy moving forward.

“Continuing on our aggressive growth plan, we know that Ontario, albeit highly competitive, can be a fruitful market which is why we intend to invest in building loyalty and value throughout our marketing initiatives.

“We do plan to launch more brands in the market but only time will tell when, for now our focus is having a successful launch with Nitrocasino.ca.”

PressEnter has been on the offensive throughout 2022, making a number of high-profile industry hires to bolster its in-house talent and help support the group’s expansion internationally.

The latest hire saw Terese Thagaard arrive at the company in September as chief legal officer from rival operator LeoVegas.

Ontario, which has been live with regulated online gambling since 4 April, generated $4bn handle in Q3 2022, resulting in $193m of operator revenue.

PressEnter Group has appointed Daniela Speranza as director of compliance to support the company’s expansion into regulated markets around the world.

Speranza is a highly experienced compliance professional. She joins PressEnter Group from Betsson Group, where she was head of compliance for three years.

Prior to that, she worked for operators such as Tipico and Cherry Ltd.

Malta-based PressEnter Group operates six online casino assets including 21.com, JustSpin, NeonVegas, NitroCasino, UltraCasino and Rapid Casino.

The company recently moved into new offices in Malta and doubled its workforce between 2021 and 2022.

As director of compliance, Speranza will be responsible for interpreting new iGaming regulations across different markets.

Lahcene Merzoug, CEO of PressEnter Group, said: “Compliance is a key pillar of any regulated markets operator, and we want to ensure that we not only meet but exceed the standards set in each of the jurisdictions we target or plan to target.

“Daniela is one of the most accomplished compliance specialists in the industry, and her experience and expertise complement our extremely scalable business, ensuring we are fully compliant at all times.”

PressEnter Group CEO Lahcene Merzoug: “Daniela is one of the most accomplished compliance specialists in the industry and her experience and expertise complement our extremely scalable business.”

Speranza has more than 20 years of international corporate experience. Before joining the iGaming sector, she worked in the automotive industry in Germany.

Speranza commented: “I am delighted to be joining PressEnter Group, who have an incredible work culture, and to be able to use my experience and knowledge to help turn compliance requirements into a competitive advantage.

“Along with the team, I am looking forward to ensuring the company meets the highest levels of compliance while also unlocking greater business insights with PressEnters continuous growth plans.”

Speranza is not PressEnter’s first hire from competitor Betsson. In January 2022, PressEnter Group recruited Betsson’s David Plumi as its new regional managing director for Spain and Latam.

Online casino operator PressEnter Group has hired finance specialist and gaming industry executive Qurban Hussain as its new chief financial officer (CFO).

Hussain has held several roles relating to finance and gaming throughout his career, most recently as director of commercial finance and insight at German sports betting operator Tipico.

He was also a director of Zeal International and head of corporate finance and group treasury for lottery specialist Zeal Group, having previously held senior positions at gaming technology provider Probability, Flutter Entertainment-owned exchange brand Betfair and UK bookmaker William Hill.

Malta-based PressEnter Group, which operates online brands including 21.com, JustSpin and UltraCasino, said the business will leverage Hussain’s experience in working for fast-growth, regulated gaming companies that have disrupted the market.

Hussain will support PressEnter CEO Lahcene Merzoug and the rest of the company’s C-suite and will help drive the group’s strategic aims, especially with regards to potential M&A.

“Qurban is a finance powerhouse and also a great cultural fit for our organisation,” said Merzoug. “Being able to leverage his experience of working with tier one operators will be a major resource for us as we continue to deploy our own growth plans.

“We have built an incredible company culture at PressEnter Group that allows all members of the team to excel and thrive and not only will Qurban help deliver this culture to the finance team, I believe he too will benefit from the environment we have created.”

Hussain added: “I am truly excited to join PressEnter Group at this time and look forward to working with the team to help deliver on the next phase of the journey to becoming a true market leader.

“I see the appointment as an excellent opportunity to use my skills and be a part of a fast-growing, innovative company.”

Earlier this month, PressEnter announced it would begin targeting the fast-growing Spanish and Latam markets, with the hire of former Betsson executive David Plumi.