Snap back to reality
“Companies that put up with remote work for a long time are finally getting sick and tired of it,” according to an article published this week by Fortune.
Several years have now passed since home working became the new normal, and while at first it promised greater productivity, a better work/life balance and even benefits for the environment, it seems that now the dream may be coming to an end.
Many companies which previously committed to offering employees fully remote working have since backtracked on those promises, including Twitter, with many now preferring a hybrid setup at most as staff are required to spend several days per week in the office at a minimum.
According to Fortune, there are four main reasons bosses are becoming “fed up with remote work.”
First, economic blogger Kevin Drum suggests, working from outside an office environment “simply isn’t as productive as office work, no matter what remote workers say,” adding that “too much evidence has piled up to credibly deny this any longer.”
According to the article, remote workers put in three and a half hours less work than their office-based counterparts… per day.
That time is apparently redirected to activities including leisure and sleeping, according to calculations made based on the American Time Use Survey.
While that might sound lovely, it’s certainly not ideal for companies looking to get stuff done.
Next, remote work is also considered to be worse for new hires and junior employees, who miss out on the experience of learning from colleagues face-to-face.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff says he knows “empirically” that new hires do better in an office environment, something more and more business owners are coming to discover.
The other reasons to back a return to the office included that remote work sometimes causes more problems than working in-person, with staff having poorly aligned schedules, and that as a result, “productivity plummets” on days when everyone works remotely.
It’s difficult to get any hard evidence on a relatively new phenomenon like widespread remote working, but its effectiveness is most certainly up for debate.
Perhaps it’s time to get back in the office after all.
1xBet co-founder dies
Newsweek this week published the story of the death of 1xBet co-founder Sergey Karshkov.
The Russian businessman died aged 42 this week after a “medical mishap” in Switzerland, which saw him have an allergic reaction during a medical examination, causing him to fall into a coma and later die.
“I can’t believe [it]… I have a lump in my throat. It just can’t be! How so?” wrote animator Pavel Muntyan in a post on Facebook, “Sergey was one of the most athletic and healthy people I knew! Like a bull!”
Karshkov was born in the Kyiv region of Ukraine in 1980 before moving to Bryansk, Russia, where he ended up leading the department for combating cybercrime in the regional department of Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs.
According to Newsweek, in 2020 Karshkov was placed on a wanted list for “the illegal organisation and conduct of gambling.”
He had been accused by Russia’s Investigative Committee of operating illegally and without a licence, as well as laundering money through 1xBet’s operations.
The operator said in a statement following Karshkov’s death: “We as a company share the pain of loss. We will remember Sergey Karshkov with warmth and respect.”
Meet Nils Andén
Kindred Group offered up a chance to get to know its new interim CEO a little bit better this week.
Nils Andén was appointed to head up the Unibet operator on an interim basis in May after the resignation of long-serving CEO Henrik Tjärnström.
In a casual interview with the firm’s new interim leader, Kindred set out to show us what makes Andén tick.
After “a few busy days and late nights” while taking over from Tjärnström, Andén has “found [his] feet quickly and [is] surrounded by a great team that makes it easy to keep the ball moving and look ahead,” he said.
Having previously worked for Kindred between 2006 and 2016, Andén returned to the company in 2020 because of the firm’s culture, he said, as well as there being “something exciting about Kindred’s outlook at the time.”
The positive culture within the business is one built on trust, he added, together with a strong sense of teamwork, fairness and respect for each other.
Interestingly, Andén also shared that he “spent a couple of years as a professional football player” before entering the world of business, and saw that the gambling sector “offered a way to combine my interest in sports and my background in business in a fast-moving environment.”
He picked up the principles of resilience, accountability, and that “practice makes perfect” from his time spent in football, he said, which he now applies to his life as a business leader.
He also brought with him a fierce competitiveness, he added, while he likes “seeing how the sum can become greater than the parts, much like I could on the football pitch.”
The full interview offers further insights into Andén’s views on how the gambling sector has changed over his two-decade career, his hopes for the future of Kindred, and the areas where he sees the business can continue to improve.
This is one new appointment the industry will certainly be keeping its eye on.
Nigeria is one of the most up-and-coming markets for the global gambling industry. Below, iGaming NEXT takes a deep dive to find out what drives its growth and potential for the future.
With a population of more than 200 million people and a rapidly expanding middle class, Nigeria presents a significant opportunity for gaming companies looking to tap into the African market.
In this African hotspot, nearly 100 licensed local and international sportsbooks are fiercely competing for market share.
However, a regulatory tug-of-war between the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) and several state regulators has threatened to stunt the industry’s rapid progress.
Additionally, as discussions surrounding gambling in Africa continue, there is a growing concern regarding responsible gambling failures and the rising instances of gambling-related harm.
Industry experts agree that addressing these issues is paramount to ensuring Nigeria’s gaming sector can thrive sustainably.
Nigeria’s gaming market is experiencing rapid growth, with projected revenue set to triple by 2027, according to H2 Gambling Data.
In 2022, the country generated approximately $480m in gross gaming revenue (GGR).
Several factors contribute to Nigeria’s expanding market, including increased financial independence, a growing disposable income and the widespread use of smartphones and other devices.
Lawyer and Nigerian market expert Immaculata Mbaso told iGaming NEXT that estimates indicate close to 60 million Nigerians between the age of 18 and 40 actively participate in sports betting.
That’s almost a third of Nigeria’s population.
In Nigeria’s bustling gaming industry, sports betting takes the spotlight as the most sought-after product, although online slots and casino are increasing in popularity.
While comprehensive data is scarce, industry insiders consistently point to Bet9ja and 1xBet as the leading sportsbooks in the country.
However, it is more than a two-horse race: BetKing, 22Bet, Sportybet, and Merry Bet have all earned considerable acclaim among Nigerian players, garnering a loyal following in the process.
Currently, foreign companies are required to have a minimum of 20% local ownership to operate in Nigeria.
Betsson entered Nigeria in July following the acquisition of a 60% stake in local sportsbook Betbonanza, which was founded in 2019 and is licensed by the Lagos State Lotteries & Gaming Authority.
Another prominent player making waves in the Nigerian market is Betway, which is also licensed in Lagos via Digi Bay Limited.
However, it’s not only operators that have Nigeria on their radar.
Earlier this year, affiliate Better Collective formed a content and commercial media partnership with one of Nigeria’s leading newspaper groups.
“Sports betting has slowly emerged as a lucrative segment, leveraging Nigeria’s huge football culture,” Petra Zackrisson, Better Collective’s SVP of growth told iGaming NEXT.
“The Nigerian gaming industry is driven by a large and young English-speaking population, increasing internet and mobile penetration and passion for sports and entertainment,” she added.
Challenges to overcome
While international companies are entering the market, there are challenges to navigate.
Zackrisson highlighted the importance of selecting the right partner and establishing robust local teams that possess a genuine understanding of the local sports fans and the broader online market.
Factors such as slow internet connection, basic mobile devices, and an evolving, yet still developing, online market also need to be taken into account when operating in Nigeria.
Additionally, Zackrisson said, it is essential to acknowledge that Nigerian betting behaviour differs from that commonly observed in Europe, with a strong preference for offline platforms.
As is the case in other African markets, a retail presence is important to build trust among consumers.
Although online betting has gained in popularity, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, having a physical store “reassures African bettors about a company’s authenticity” and commitment to fulfilling its obligation, lawyer Mbaso explained.
A significant point of contention in Nigeria’s gambling industry is the regulatory overlap at federal and state level as both have claimed the right to regulate the sector.
At the federal level, the NLRC is responsible for issuing licences, but 22 out of 36 federal states also have their own regulatory bodies.
Among these, the Lagos State Lotteries & Gaming Authority (LSLGA) is considered the most important.
As Nigeria’s largest federating state, Lagos is often described as a country within a country, boasting the seventh-largest economy on the African continent.
Under the oversight of CEO Bashir Are, the LSLGA oversees a substantial portfolio of more than 65 companies.
Concurrently, approximately 40 companies have obtained sports betting licences from the NLRC.
The regulatory dispute has persisted for years and the case has now reached Nigeria’s Supreme Court.
However, a decision on the matter is not expected until November 2023, prolonging the uncertainty surrounding regulatory jurisdiction in the country’s gambling industry.
LSLGA CEO Are told iGaming NEXT that the country is working to “resolve the issue”.
While most companies comply with the rules and regulations of the LSLGA, Are suggested that some “companies are exploiting the regulatory tussle.”
Operators, meanwhile, have expressed frustration over this “double regulation”.
In essence, the state regulators assert that regardless of the obligations imposed by the NLRC on operators, they must also comply with additional demands from the states in which they wish to operate.
This dual burden creates complexity and financial implications, including multiple taxes and double licensing fees.
Meanwhile, advocates for responsible gambling stress the ongoing regulatory conflict is detracting from the critical issues that really need addressing.
“We definitely need more provisions for responsible gambling,” said Mbaso.
“This starts with the issue of underage gambling, but we see a lot of adverts for sports betting products that don’t promote safer gambling,” she explained.
Fisayo Oke, founder of Gamble Alert, a Nigerian NGO dedicated to promoting responsible gambling and supporting those affected by addiction, shared a similar view.
He believes that while responsible gambling policies exist, the effectiveness of these measures are often compromised by a more pressing focus on revenue.
Oke pointed out that a verification platform has been created to ensure the authenticity of Know Your Customer (KYC) documentation collected by operators as well as to ensure operators adherence to anti-money laundering (AML) policies.
However, according to Oke, the existing regulations, although present on paper, require more rigorous evaluation of their impact on promoting responsible gambling.
A remote permit
The federal government’s recent proposal for a “remote operator permit” has stirred up significant controversy within the industry.
This permit would enable international operators to legally provide online gambling services to Nigerian players without the requirement of establishing a physical presence in the country.
The NLRC has suggested that operators would need to pay an initial fee of $100,000 to obtain the remote operator permit, followed by an annual fee of $50,000 for the subsequent four years.
However, little progress has been made due to the ongoing regulatory situation, creating a sense of uncertainty surrounding the implementation of the new law.
The NLRC has not responded to iGaming NEXT’s interview request.
A united front
Are, the CEO of the Lagos regulator, believes that standardisation and harmonisation of state regulations are key to progress.
He also chairs the federation of state gaming regulators, an association comprising all state regulators, and underscores the significance of unity within the association.
“We are working on standardising our operations and regulations, so that when investors are coming in, they know they have the same standard, no matter which state they go to,” he explained.
Furthermore, he stated that Lagos is diligently working towards enhancing and fortifying its ecosystem for the gaming industry.
The state has widespread fiber optic infrastructure and hopes to attract more software developers and to develop homegrown gaming platforms.
Additionally, the local government is “highly supportive of esports and has plans to establish two large casino resorts in Lagos.”
Come November, the regulatory power dispute should be settled by Nigeria’s Supreme Court.
However, there are lingering doubts about whether states, including Lagos, will be willing to relinquish their licensing systems, as these systems serve as a significant source of state revenue.
Our NEXT market in focus is a new feature from iGaming NEXT designed to place one gambling market under the microscope.
We hope to provide a valuable overview, from market leaders to regulatory insight. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to suggest the next market for our consideration.
Ukraine provided a major shock this week by imposing 50-year sanctions on corporate bookmakers that practically dissolved the country’s online gambling industry overnight.
The biggest surprise, however, was that Ukraine’s largest bookmaker, Parimatch, was among the companies sanctioned, despite employing nearly 2,000 Ukrainians and contributing millions of dollars to the country’s ongoing war efforts against its Russian aggressors.
Nevertheless, the decision was imposed by Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) before being presented to the public by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on 11 March.
Zelenskyy said the sanctions would shut down schemes worth billions that had drained funds from Ukraine and were instead being used to finance Russian war initiatives.
So why did Parimatch, which has contributed more than €8m to the Ukrainian state budget and a further €10m in aid and warfare support, also get banished by the government?
A tale of revenge
Several credible sources have suggested that 1xBet, the global online gambling giant of Russian origin, may have influenced the decision to have Parimatch included in the list of bookmakers expelled from the market.
The two companies are fierce CIS-region competitors, and this rivalry extends to Ukraine.
An estimated 25% of Ukrainian adults have gambled with Parimatch, while iGaming NEXT understands that approximately 5% of 1xBet’s global profit is derived from Ukraine.
Both companies were licensed to offer online gambling services to Ukrainians in the early days of the country’s regulated market, which became legal in July 2020.
But the harmonious environment didn’t last long.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the government cancelled the operating licence of 1xBet in September 2022, reportedly under intense lobbying pressure from Parimatch and other operators.
That summer, Parimatch participated in a “black” mass media campaign to get 1xBet stripped of its licence, according to sources, despite 1xBet’s insistence that it was a Cypriot company headquartered in Limassol with no military allegiance to either Russia or Ukraine.
“The situation was presented in a way to the President that was very unfavourable to Parimatch.”
“There was a lot of shit-storming from one side to the other,” said one executive who worked in public relations at the time.
One Ukrainian betting consultant told iGaming NEXT that Parimatch felt threatened by 1xBet despite the fact the former boasted 50% of online sports betting market share in Ukraine.
“I think Parimatch was a little bit scared of 1xBet because they are a very strong operator,” the consultant said. “It is not ethical to make a war with your competitors, because they can always do something in response,” he warned.
Eventually, 1xBet was hounded out of Ukraine and Parimatch had strengthened its grip on the market, although the story does not end there.
According to open-source intelligence outlet Molfar, 1xBet managed to evade its enforced exile by re-entering the licensed market as a shell company via the PointLoto brand.
Tensions escalated on this discovery and the battle of the bookmakers began to heat up, despite the suggestion that revenge is a dish best served cold.
In a statement provided to Forbes Ukraine, Parimatch denied any corporate conflict with rival operators in the market, insisting that competition drives development.
Fast forward to the present day and allegations continue to mount that 1xBet-linked lobbyists succeeded in persuading the government to sanction all bookmakers.
But how did they convince the NSDC to include domestic darling Parimatch?
Fight or flutter
“The situation was presented in a way to the President that was very unfavourable to Parimatch,” says our consultant on the condition of anonymity.
Forbes reports that Zelenskyy was easily sold on the idea of the sanctions because his troops are losing billions of hryvnia on gambling every month, lining the pockets of Russian companies in the process.
“This idea has gotten into the head of Zelenskyy and he was enraged with it,” says the consultant. The President said there would be “no way back” for the sanctioned bookmakers during a live television broadcast in the days following the announcement.
Parimatch CEO Maksym Liashko told Forbes that no law enforcement agencies had been in touch with an explanation, or with a request for information to verify their allegations.
“Put it this way, I am sure Parimatch didn’t get smaller during the war.”
Parimatch has since sent an appeal and explanation to the President and the National Security Council, but the outlook is less than optimistic.
Boris Davydenko, the Forbes journalist behind much of the excellent reporting on the developing situation with Ukraine’s bookmakers, said in a personal Facebook post: “Maybe the authorities have good reasons to take Parimatch out of the game, but then society has to see them.”
In a comment on the post, one user said they had seen Ukrainian soldiers climb up trees to gain access to better wi-fi before playing online casino games on their mobile phones.
“I am sure this is true,” says an anonymous source. “When a society has problems, they tend to gamble more and more and more.
He adds: “Put it this way, I am sure that Parimatch didn’t get smaller during the war.”
For Western Europeans, it might be tempting to cast 1xBet as Russia and Parimatch as Ukraine in a bookmaker role play.
It is nowhere near that simple. From the start of the war, 1xBet also came through with donations for the Ukrainian government.
Some sources have even suggested that 1xBet’s contributions to the country’s war relief fund actually far outweighed those of Parimatch, which may at least go some way to explaining the former’s persuasive power with parliamentarians.
“Of course the government understood this was a Russian-based company in the past,” an anonymous source told iGaming NEXT. “But the money decides everything.”
Parimatch has also made sizeable donations to the war effort and contributed taxes and licence payments of nearly €11m in 2023, gaining favourable press coverage in the process.
This figure might have fallen some way short of government expectations, however, which launched an investigation into gambling industry tax avoidance last September.
The investigation discovered, among other factors, that gambling firms used crypto as a tool to withdraw funds to foreign accounts in a bid to escape the attention of the tax authorities.
Several high-profile bookmakers were also understood to have played an active role in Ukraine’s offshore market, using additional Curacao-licensed entities to attract players.
A source on 1xBet: “Of course the government understood this was a Russian-based company in the past. But money decides everything.”
This has been described as a “classic model” for Ukrainian operators by one source in the market, even for brands like Parimatch that already possess a regulated licence.
The same source has alleged that Parimatch’s donation paled in comparison to its overall turnover, which they went on to describe as “something crazy”.
“When you make $1000 but you donate $1, you can say ‘I am a very good person’, but it was still very small,” they added.
Parimatch did not immediately respond to an iGaming NEXT request for comment.
The sanctions imposed against Parimatch Ukraine are not related to the Parimatch worldwide brand or international service company PMI, which works with the Parimatch franchise.
Its B2B brand recently rebranded from Parimatch to GR8 Tech, while its charity arm, Parimatch Foundation, is now called the Katerina Biloruska Foundation.
GR8 Tech confirmed it has suspended its client partnership with Parimatch Ukraine until the situation is resolved.
A dangerous precedent
Forbes reporter Davydenko said in his Facebook post that all entrepreneurs might consider themselves at risk of being kicked out of Ukraine after sanctions were imposed on Parimatch based on its “ambiguous reputation”.
He is one of a number of people concerned that NSDC sanctions have set a dangerous precedent for the Ukrainian business sector, potentially deterring start-ups and founders in the process.
“Ukrainian entrepreneurs and the owners of large businesses are in shock,” a source told iGaming NEXT on the condition of anonymity. “How could you put a company [Parimatch] on the list of sanctions that has built up its strength for 30 years while representing Ukraine on the global stage?
“It also provided jobs for 2,000 Ukrainian families and the amount of money it spent on the Ukrainian army was immense, so this is not a joke,” they added.
He went on to say it was a “bad signal” that Ukrainian businesses can be closed down for being tied to Russia. “Trust me, it is easy to tie anybody to Russia. Even if you visited once or twice in the past, that could be enough to cancel you.”
UGC chair Anton Kuchukhidze: “I am convinced that Parimatch will be able to convey to all state agencies that it is right.”
What does this all mean for the future of Ukraine’s regulated gambling sector? That is a question for another day, although the chairman of the Ukrainian Gambling Council (UGC) has said the country’s legal gambling sector is “being tested for strength and maturity”.
In a LinkedIn post, UGC head Anton Kuchukhidze said the inclusion of Parimatch in the government sanctions was a mistake.
“I hope that security and law enforcement agencies will pay attention to the information that will be submitted to them for consideration and will change their positions,” he wrote.
“I am convinced that Parimatch will be able to convey to all state agencies that it is right, because this brand took the principled pro-Ukrainian stance since the beginning of the large-scale invasion of Russia in Ukraine: Parimatch stopped the operation of the franchise on the territory of the Russian federation, and Ukrainian company Parimatch LLC began to systematically provide aid to all defence and security forces of Ukraine,” he added.
Kuchukhidze even touched on what he called the “tax inconsistencies” of gambling operators as set out above. In a message to the government, he wrote: “It would be better to act through the tax service or the court instead of taking the harshest measures.”
With Curaçao determined to clean up its image as an offshore gambling hub, a legal battle over the alleged bankruptcy of 1xBet is making waves.
1xBet has never been far from controversy and has a history of legal issues.
Accusations range from offering a pornography-themed casino and taking bets on children’s sports and cockfighting in the UK in 2019, to more recent claims that the Russian-linked business tried to extract data from Ukrainians during the war after being a granted a licence in the country, a decision which was later reversed.
The Sunday Times, which revealed questionable practices by the company in the UK back in 2019, reported that the operator was “on the radar” of law enforcement agencies across the world.
For many years, 1xBet and its parent company 1XCorp, which is headquartered in Cyprus, have been operating under the master licence of Curaçao e-Gaming (CEG).
However, in November 2021, 1XCorp was declared bankrupt in a court in Curaçao.
The case was lodged in August 2021 by the Foundation for the Representation of Victims of Online Gaming (SBGOK), an organisation which represents gamblers who claim they have been defrauded by operators licensed in Curaçao.
The player advocacy group claimed that 1xBet’s parent company 1XCorp refused to pay out winnings to customers and owed unpaid taxes in Curaçao.
While the court initially ruled in favour of SGBOK and declared 1XCorp bankrupt, 1XCorp successfully contested the legality of SGBOK as player representative and creditor to 1XCorp. A second judgement overturned the initial ruling.
It was then SGBOK’s turn to appeal the decision, and the advocacy group won the case in May 2022. 1xCorp was declared bankrupt again. However, in June, 1XCorp appealed again.
Last week (25 November), Curaçao’s Attorney General advised the Supreme Court to officially declare 1xBet’s bankruptcy.
While the Supreme Court has yet to rule, both local media and casinonieuws.nl reported that it generally follows the advice of the Attorney General.
1xBet was founded in 2007. In 2019, the firm briefly sponsored Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC before having to close down its operations in the UK following the Sunday Times investigation.
Moreover, in August 2022, 1xBet secured a sponsorship agreement with football club Paris Saint-Germain and became the club’s official regional partner in Africa and Asia, despite the bookmaker’s controversial past.