Q&A: Sportingwin and the Bulgaria opportunity

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Mark Chakravarti, Head of Investment at Sportingwin, talks about why the operator sees such potential in the market and how it has found the licensing process to date

Bulgaria has had a major shake-up when it comes to how gambling operators are licensed and regulated in the country with the National Revenue Agency recently taking on the responsibility.

Amid allegations of corruption among its predecessor, the State Gambling Commission, the new regulator is moving forwards with plans to issue additional licences over the coming months.

The first in line to receive such a licence is Sportingwin, which has ambitious plans for Bulgaria once it has been given the green light to launch.

To learn more about Bulgaria and the operator’s plans for the market, we sat down with Mark Chakravarti, Head of Investment at Sportingwin.

Why do you see so much potential in Bulgaria?

You just have to look at the numbers to see the potential. We estimate the Bulgaria market to be worth around £300m right now but as new operators enter the fray it could grow at a rate of 20% per year to hit £500m over the course of the next five years.

Coupled with this is the low level of competition. Only five betting licences have been issued to date and mostly to local retail bookmakers with a limited online offering. These sites simply don’t offer the depth of markets, odds and products available in other European jurisdictions.

This presents a tremendous opportunity for experienced online sportsbooks to make their mark, so long as they enter Bulgaria with a localised product that delivers a superior player experience. Those that do are very much in the driving seat to capitalise on the tremendous potential on the table.

What do Bulgarian players look for in an online sportsbook?

There is a long tradition of retail and online sports betting in Bulgaria, so players are seeking a comprehensive, quality, cutting-edge product and experience similar to that offered and found in mature markets such as the UK.

In particular, they are seeking a high volume of events, a range of bet types as well as modern features such cash out. We also believe that exchange betting, while not currently available, will be hugely popular once we secure our licence and launch the Sportingwin exchange in the market.

How will you meet those needs and localise your offering?

There are two key ways we are doing this – product and our approach to CRM. When it comes to product, we are developing a proprietary platform that is fully customisable for each market we enter, including Bulgaria. This includes localised payment options, currencies, sports, etc.

In terms of CRM, we are investing in a local customer support centre so that we can comfortably meet the staff-intensive local language CRM and marketing operations and activities we believe will enable us to communicate to and engage with Bulgarian players.

How have you found the licencing process to date?

The Bulgarian regulator has incredibly high standards and expectations when it comes to due diligence. As such, the licensing process has been a little slower than in other jurisdictions, but we are okay with this as we want to make sure we not only meet but exceed their standards.

This means taking additional steps such as appointing a dedicated Bulgarian CEO. He has a proven background in gaming and the regulator can quickly carry out the necessary checks that it needs to in order to ascertain his credibility and suitability for the role.

Owning our own technology has also allowed us to synchronise our platform with the NRA already, which in turn means we are among those on the regulator’s list of approved technologies ready for when our licence is granted.

In addition, we are a Maltese company so have requested that the Maltese consulate in Bulgaria monitor the licensing process from start to finish as our application is the first to be considered since the Nation Revenue Agency took over regulatory responsibility earlier in the year.

By having the right people on a local level, and by taking considered steps towards ensuring we meet the standards set by regulator, we expect to receive our licence in the first quarter of next year.

What has been the toughest challenge to overcome?

The toughest challenge is in respect to the due diligence and in particular the requirement of having an €800,000 investment from a local, proven source of funds. To do this, we have had to find a local banking partner which was easier said than done.

That being said, the team pulled together and we were able to find a local banking partner happy to facilitate the investment allowing us to progress through the licensing process.

What are your long-term plans for the Bulgarian market?

We want to claim 9% of the local market within the first three years. We then plan to build on this rapidly by securing further venture capital that will enable us to consolidate the market through mergers and acquisitions with local operators.

Once we have achieved the scale we are seeking, we can then effectively pursue market leader bet365. It is a tough task, but one that we are more than capable of completing thanks to the incredible team we have built out in recent years.

We also believe our cutting-edge proprietary technology and platform gives us a huge edge over the incumbent operators and brands and will allow us to compete with and defeat any other overseas operators that enter the market.

What is your long-term plan for Sportingwin?

We are currently undertaking a fundraising campaign to help accelerate our global expansion efforts, selling off more than €1m in equity.

These investments are in line with our long-term strategy for the brand which is to achieve a valuation of €50m in three years and, once achieved, would deliver a x13 increase on the current investment opportunity.

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