SiGMAgazine Interview with BetConstruct CEO Vahe Baloulian

SiGMAgazine Interview with BetConstruct CEO Vahe Baloulian

You recently received a Maltese Class 4 license. Why it is important and what opportunities does it provide both you and your prospective clients?
Many of our partners have asked to be regulated by the MGA because it provides the mechanisms and protections their players are looking for. It is not an easy license to be granted. We went through a thorough investigation. As to opportunities, the license permits our operators to work in certain markets and through particular marketing vehicles which require a license issued by an EU entity. With all its shortcomings, which the Maltese Gaming Authority makes every effort to eliminate, the Maltese license is the only worldwide license issued by a sovereign EU country.

What are the latest developments at BetConstruct? All of us have recently heard about your new platform. What is new and innovative about it?
BetConstruct is always on the move. By the time I tell you about the latest developments, they most probably will not be the latest anymore. The platform, which we christened SpringTM, is an all-encompassing system including all tools an operator may desire and need, to successfully compete in any market. Spring gives operators of any size an opportunity to be better equipped than most of their rivals, an opportunity to one up the competition in our persistently consolidating industry. It offers an intuitive mechanism built not only to grow with the operator, but for them to remain one step ahead. We aim to provide a platform that will reverse the roles of the user and technology, instead of the operator waiting for new ammunition, Spring will always be waiting for the operator to make use of its incessantly growing arsenal.

BetConstruct recently developed and announced the BetCloud. What is it and why do you think it is important for your partner operators?
The BetCloud was born as a result of our drive to have an immediate upward impact on our partners’ profitability. At first we didn't expect the BetCloud to be an easy sell, but from day one it is proving to be one of those innovations that is driving growth beyond what we aimed for. In essence, the BetCloud is the first online marketplace allowing operators to accept larger bets than they would usually service due to now being able to share the risk with their fellow operators. The BetCloud also allows participating operators to take advantage of the bets sold by other partners since they can accept a certain fraction of them. It’s a very exciting alteration to the way the operators have been accustomed to dealing with the large bets.

You recently added to your e-Sports offerings. Could you please provide your opinions relating to this development?
We have been offering e-Sports for a few years now. Recently we started paying a lot more attention to this vertical by actively developing it. My opinion is that while e-Sports betting may not become as big as is frequently predicted, it will certainly be big enough to warrant attention. It’s a game of skill which mostly matters to and is understood by e-Sports players who are part of the so-called millennial generation, and an affluent part at that. That’s a very significant, I would even say vital segment, access to which is being discussed and sought by gaming operators at most gaming conferences and publications. However, I really doubt it will gain the attention of the masses the way poker did in its heyday. I look at it as another group of sports with an important, dedicated fan base.

Let’s talk about land based operations. What solutions can you offer for betting shop owners?
Actually, BetConstruct was born over 10 years ago as a supplier to a land-based operator. Today we power thousands of betting shops offering both sports betting and wagers on virtual games. Our solution, specially developed for land based operation, is an attractive combination of high quality products, very affordable cost structures, and flexible payment systems. Although we don’t make the hardware for the betting shops, through cooperation with the manufacturers of terminals and other equipment, we often act as a one-stop shop, helping to put together the retail locations from design to complete set up.
Aside from the betting shops, we are preparing to supply sports betting services to land based casinos in the U.S. state of Nevada.

Mobile is fast growing niche. What does BetConstruct offer in the mobile/tablet sector?
We have been treating mobile and tablet channels as mainstream for some time already, making most of our products available on both device categories. Obviously, at first we concentrated on the products. I think we were lucky to realize from the start that we can’t just shrink our sites to new sizes mandated by the hand-held devices and call ourselves mobile-ready. There were a lot of questions to be answered. What are the right choices - HTML5 or native applications, single app or multi-app suite, etc? As these questions were being answered, the focus switched to marketing and strategy. 
Aside from our partners who operate only online, our land based partners are also offered an opportunity to utilize tablets as a very appealing part of the retail environment, providing more intimate, uninterrupted gaming experience.

Does your company develop solutions specifically for the European market or are you focused on universal offerings?
Universal was the answer in the beginning. And it worked well, although now when I think of it, I don’t feel calling what we offered in the beginning “universal” would be completely true. We were active in a small number of culturally and socially associated regions and our products were subconsciously tailored to them. With time, as we entered new markets and explored local requirements, we became smarter and more sophisticated in our approach. We began consciously diversifying our offerings to meet the expectations of our new partners and their players and we offered true localization of our products and services. BetConstruct treasures its customer-centric culture. Listening to our partners is an important and valued process which we never forgo. Our decisions and actions concerning the development of region and culture specific solutions are fully informed by this listening and discovering approach.

Does BetConstruct develop any solutions that can be used in territories where iGaming is restricted? Do you have any social play products?
As we were preparing to enter the U.S. market and had absolutely no desire to jump into the crowded and grueling online battlefields of Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey, we decided to develop solutions that could be offered across the country. The development and launch of Fantasy Sports and Free Play social gaming platform were the obvious choices. Also, we have started the development of network, which will cater to the Native American gaming interests, providing them with marketing solutions they will definitely benefit from. 

Although these were designed with the U.S. market in mind, the Fantasy Sports and the Free Play are attracting considerable interest from other areas where we can’t be active with our real-money offerings.

What achievements have been a particular source of pride for you this year? Also, you have been shortlisted for the Digital Innovation in Global Gaming Awards 2015. For which innovation were you nominated?
It is similar to asking which one of my children I love more. There is no differentiating answer that would reflect the truth. However, as in most families, the youngest child gets the most attention. Today it is the BetCloud and tomorrow we will come up with some other initiative that will move our industry forward and make our operators more successful. We believe in everything we do. Of course, sometimes we can get carried away with crazy ideas that eventually will not come to life or will have a short lifetime for one reason or another. However, without these there is no development, no growth. 
The nomination you have mentioned is for the Free Play Sportsbook offered first in the U.S. market. As online sports betting is prohibited throughout the U.S., this product gives the Americans an opportunity to see and experience, albeit without real money betting, what bettors worldwide take for granted.

Does innovation play an important role in the development of products at BetConstruct?
We prefer organic growth for BetConstruct, and without innovation it is not possible. I can confidently say that innovation is what BetConstruct is all about. This point is driven hard by our executive chairman and co-founder. New ideas, however insane they may seem, are always encouraged, discussed, analyzed and, if implemented, rewarded. The most important thing is that we know that we don’t know everything and that is why we are always eager to learn. We learn not only from our peers, but also from other industries. Discovering new methods, ideas, and approaches concerning everything from software development to customer service, from human resource management to executive education, and adapting these discoveries to what we do, is a defining part of our ethos.  

Which markets have you targeted for future growth?
We operate from nine offices worldwide and target every area where we believe there is an opportunity. Licensed by many jurisdictions, including UK, Malta and Alderney, with three more licenses in the process, we are not restricting ourselves by territories and markets. Soon we’ll be opening our office in Asia, which is an extremely difficult, diverse, and electrifying market. BetConstruct branches in Los Angeles and Lima are actively growing our business in Americas and the Caribbean. 
In short, we are always ready and looking for new markets to tackle, recognizing and benefiting from the challenges and opportunities they bring along.

What are the main areas in which the company can grow and evolve in the future?
There are no perfect products, perfect services, and perfect employees on any level. This means that there is always an opportunity to do better. For me the growth of the company is not defined solely by growing profits. It is defined also by the growth of employees as specialists, as innovators, and as ethical business people. This is the only way to grow and evolve for a forward-looking company such as BetConstruct.