Tjärnström; Rushing into the US is not in our DNA

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Kindred CEO Henrik Tjärnström has explained why the firm’s entry into the US will be more pragmatic than the industry has seen with other major European operators.

The longstanding leader of what was formerly Unibet Group said the firm had deliberately chosen not to enter the US in the early 2000s and in so doing swerved the disruption felt by many operators when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act came into force in 2006.

However, in 2017, predicting that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act would be repealed the following year, the firm decided it would enter the market, but slowly.

“We have probably approached the US in a different way to most of our competitors in the sense that we’ve clearly seen these big pan-US partnerships being formed and announced and that’s not really in our DNA and way of working”, Tjärnström said.

Speaking during a session titled Responsibility, US and Crypto at this week’s iGaming NEXT Online: Bright Future conference, the Kindred boss continued: “We’ve chosen a more controlled expansion strategy for the US by trying to be selective, similar to what we have done in Europe and other places, we’re trying to do a careful analysis of the different states, or countries on a global level, and seeing where would we have a good opportunity for profitable growth”.

He said the firm analysed the market in 2017/18 and chose this strategy “even if it’s going to be a bit more cumbersome for us to get market access” because, he said: “It will give us a better opportunity to have a clear and independent strategy and more optimal execution.”

While other major brands have being conducting high-profile partnerships with local land-based operators and doing eye-watering M&A deals, Kindred has taken a stealthier approach.

“The team has secured access to up to 12 states, which cover more than a third of the US population”, Tjärnström said, “and that’s still before some of the bigger states are clear what’s going to happen there”.

Kindred is well-known for its approach to player protection and recently committed to a target of 0% of revenue coming from problem gamblers by 2023. Tjärnström said committing to the ambitious taregt fits with the firm’s overall approach.

“We’ve had a principle that we want to have a life-long relationship with our customers, taking part of their entertainment budget for life, but it should be just that – it should be the entertainment budget and it should be for fun and what people can afford to play for.”

Tjärnström said operators that take player protection seriously and place it at the centre of their strategy will ultimately win the market, particularly considering the way that regulation has panned out across Europe and, latterly, into other parts of the world such as the US.

Asked by Green Jade Games chairman Jesper Kärrbrink whether he thinks Kindred’s 0% revenue from problem gamblers target is achievable, he said he thought it was with the right buy-in across the market and from regulators.

“As you know 98% of the adult population enjoy gambling but 2% are in the risk zone and those are the 2% that we work very hard to try to get to have a healthy relationship with gambling”, he said.

“With today’s technology and data processing power and artificial intelligence, if we can use technology for good, we’re convinced that we are very much part of the solution and not the problem here and its by having a sustainable regulation that creates that opportunity for everyone.”

Tjärnström was clear to point out that “no customer is alike” and that regulation needed to that take into account.

Pointing to Sweden’s covid-era deposit limits he said the measure was pushing some players to the black market and that any such limits were inevitably going to be too high for many players, and too low for others. Likewise, he added that affordability checks were a good player protection tool but could not be considered the entire answer.

You can watch the session with Henrik Tjärnström (CEO, Kindred Group) and Jesper Kärrbrink (Chairman, Green Jade Games) on igamingnext.tv.

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