Dainis Niedra: Entain CEE is a long-term project
In an extensive interview with Dainis Niedra, Entain Regional COO, we discuss the rationale behind the establishment of Entain CEE, but also what specific plans they have for the Polish STS. Besides, Dainis tells us about the trends he has observed in the B2C gambling market, as well as how to effectively manage a company in the bookmaking industry, or how to analyze data.
Entain plc started cooperation with EMMA Capital a year ago. Its fruit was the creation of Entain CEE – a venture that allowed the acquisition of the Croatian operator SuperSport and accelerated expansion in Central and Eastern Europe. How do you assess this business move in retrospect?
We recognized the necessity of having strong expertise in the local markets of the CEE region. With that in mind, we came up with the idea to create something appealing to these market experts, coupled with a structure that would grant them the opportunity to participate in the project. This is how the idea for Entain CEE was born. Looking back at the acquisitions of both SuperSport and STS, it becomes clear that the decision was indeed the right one.
Both deals couldn’t have been accomplished without the establishment of the Entain CEE platform. Moreover, the acquisition of SuperSport paved the way for the STS opportunity. The STS deal is one that would not have been possible without the involvement of our partners at EMMA Capital.
Entain CEE is a long-term project, and our aspiration is to establish a presence in all 12 markets within our CEE scope. We are also delighted to welcome Mateusz Juroszek to the Entain CEE board. His knowledge and experience will prove to be invaluable as we continue to expand further in the CEE region.
You are also in the process of taking over the Polish tycoon STS. What are your plans for the Polish market?
The STS team has a strong history of success in the Polish market. There’s great talent density in their organization, and they are market leaders for a reason. What we want to do, is to enable them to further accelerate that continuous growth through our group resources, buying power, products and best practices that can be replicated in the Polish market. We’re carefully observing the regulatory developments in Poland. If online casino regulations were to become more lenient, it would present a significant opportunity. As the leading Sports Betting operator, STS stands to greatly gain from such a development.
With your extensive international experience in the gambling industry, what trends have you observed in the B2C gambling and entertainment/hospitality sectors across Scandinavia, the Baltic countries, and Central-Eastern Europe?
I would split the trends into two main streams – let’s label them as internal and external.
Internal trends revolve around everything related to the overall players’ experience. Here, we have largely reached the finishing line on the fundamental trends that were set some years ago: mobile gambling, live casino and streaming, and betting on esports.
Today, gambling is largely mobile-centric – players have access to a wide range of casino games, sports betting, and other gambling activities through dedicated mobile apps and fully responsive websites.
We also have a rich offering for live dealer games, where real-life dealers interact with players via video streaming. This provides a more immersive and social experience for online players, bridging the gap between online and land-based casinos.
Live dealer games have evolved significantly, with real-life dealers engaging players through video streaming. This immersive and social interaction bridges the gap between online and land-based casinos.
Esports betting, especially among younger demographics, has witnessed remarkable growth.
Betting on competitive video gaming events has become a mainstream activity, with various esports titles and tournaments available for wagering.
Alongside these “must-have” features, a competitive edge can be gained by implementing advanced gamification, personalization, and innovative payment methods. Advanced data analytics and AI are being used to personalize user experiences. Operators analyze player behaviour to offer tailored recommendations, promotions, and incentives. Apart from cryptocurrencies (not yet regulated), operators are exploring new payment methods and digital wallets to facilitate quicker and more convenient transactions. As of now, it doesn’t appear that VR and AR technologies have become a trend in gambling – immersive and engaging gambling experiences today are far from what players are seeking.
External trends – regulation, licensing, and responsible gambling. Governments and regulatory bodies are tightening control over the industry to ensure fair play and consumer protection. This trend has led to increased licensing requirements, limitations on marketing communication, and compliance measures for operators. With each passing year, it will become more and more complicated (taking more time and costing more money) to enter new markets or introduce new brands within existing ones.
The barriers will not decrease, which means that there will be more M&A cases and less organic growth for a certain number of big and medium-sized operators. Finland, one of the largest grey markets in Europe, recently announced that it will introduce a licensing model by 2026 at the latest. The Finnish government’s objectives for market licensing are crystal clear – to reduce social and economic harm and to strive for the highest channelization rate.
Responsible gambling remains more of an external trend, yet key market players tend to be more proactive in this arena than regulating bodies. Operators are implementing tools that allow players to set limits on their deposits, losses, and playtime, promoting healthier gambling behaviors. The main challenge is not to let RG become a “teenage sex” – where everyone talks about it, but no one really practices it. At Entain, we firmly believe that responsible gaming principles are one of the key pillars for building and developing a sustainable business.
As a seasoned leader and trainer, what key qualities do you believe are essential in effective management within the gambling sector?
Effective management requires a combination of various qualities and skills that contribute to the successful leadership and coordination of teams, projects, and organizations. You can pick up any book about management from the shelf, and all the key points will be more or less the same – communication, problem-solving, decision-making, adaptability, empathy (or the more modern “emotional intelligence”), delegation, team-building, motivation, strategic thinking, etc.
I entered the industry through poker, and this game offered more than just prize money. One of the most important things in poker is to find your game. There’s no right or wrong answer – you can play loose, tight, aggressive, or passive and still be a champion. You just have to feel that it’s yours. The same applies to management – find yourself. Be open, be true. And never stop learning.
In your approach to data-driven decision-making, could you share an example of how data analysis has led to significant improvements in your management or operational processes?
When it comes to performance marketing, CRM, retention, and any on-site player’s behaviour where you have almost all the data, the question is only how good you are at reading and interpreting this data, how advanced you are in AB testing, and your ability to find correlations and prove concepts beyond this data.
In the last couple of years, we have introduced two additional data-based analyses for creative materials (web banners and wallpapers, TVC, OOH, print). The first one – an AI-based solution – helps us reduce subjectivity when it comes to the structure of creative materials. It aids in building more effective creatives where all the details, like text, logo, and gaming elements, are in the right place. It maximizes ROI in the ATL channels.
The second tool is based on qualitative data (not only quantitative data can be useful for decision-making). We do have a large brand portfolio, and even in small markets, we manage up to four brands. There is a risk of cannibalization and a risk of losing identity for every single brand. So besides measuring general awareness, we measure, track, and evaluate recognition, remembrance, experience, and recall for every single brand.
This is very helpful during the process of brand facelifting or significant changes in the brand book. From an operational point of view, a massive help comes from Entain’s in-house built RG system ARC (Advanced Responsibility & Care). It takes a technology-led intelligent approach to risk reduction. Using revolutionary AI technology, ARC operates in real-time, and crucially, it is individually tailored for each customer.