Former Head of LATAM for Ezugi & Pragmatic Play
The executive is the Fomer Director of LATAM for Ezugi, the online live dealer business owned by Evolution Gaming. He also recently ran LATAM for Pragmatic Play, where he was responsible for bringing the live dealer solution to LATAM to compete with EVO.Read moreView Profile Page
Disclaimer: This interview is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. In Practise is an independent publisher and all opinions expressed by guests are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinion of In Practise.
Where are you based?
I have been in Israel the past few months, but I have offices here, in Argentina in Uruguay.
We are scheduled to talk about Ezugi or Evolution, the entire gaming market, but it is a busy day today, I am sure you saw the announcement from Playtech? This morning an Australian company, Aristocrat, acquired Playtech. I wanted to mention I have interests in Israel and Uruguay, so this call can be timely from other angles.
I have not seen anything today because I am busy with other things this week. I was the representative of Playtech in Latin America, excluding Mexico, through Teddy Sagi's Skywind Group, a private company who used to be the main shareholder of Playtech.
Before we get started, I will tell you about me and then I certainly want to know everything about you. I run a global fund based in Chicago. It is very concentrated and only invests in public companies. I am interested in Ezugi because Evolution is my biggest position and they ended up acquiring Ezugi. The live casino part is interesting to me, so that is the nature of this call. I have other diversified investments, one of which happens to be an Israeli company called Automatic Bank Services, SHVA.
In Israel it is local here, not international, but they are big for the Israeli market. I am almost 45 years old, was born and raised in an Israeli Kibbutz, which is a concept of living. I am in the south, 5km from Gaza, and I also served in the army in a very combative position. I started in the online business in 1999, where I was an affiliate in the United States with a website called Gaming Jetset, which we ended up selling. Since 2008, I got in parallel in B2B and B2C, of online casino. If you are interested in live casino and in Ezugi specifically, my first business in Latin America was called Stream Tech, which became Ezugi, acquired by Evolution. I am still a very good friend of Kfir Kugler, the CEO and founder of Ezugi. I think he still has shares and is the CEO of Ezugi under Evolution.
In 2009, the Stream Tech was a downloadable client and only worked on Windows. The product was terrible; there were only five live dealer providers in the world and the bandwidth was not good enough. The games kept loading which created a credibility issue with players. There were only two games – roulette and Blackjack – and in the beginning in roulette, when you threw the ball, there were five to 10 seconds where you would see the window loading, then found out you lost. It was not good, but it evolved a lot. In the B2C operations I was involved in with live dealer casino, there was a 1.5% to 2% NGR at most of the total bets. Today, it represents 25% to 30% of the NGR, because it is now high quality. We have high-definition cameras which we could not have dreamed of at the time.
Did you spend more time in Latin America or did you move around?
I am still in Latin America today. I am in Israel now but I have operations there in the form of a B2B company called Viva Solutions. The URL is vivosa.org but we do not invest in our corporate website, but you can see some of the brands we represent, such as Sirplay, Playtech, Ezugi and others. We have offices in Montevideo.
The Uruguayan company I am interested in was called AstroPay.
Yes; they have created a new company called dLocal.
dLocal is not new; they are in the same building, two floors below AstroPay. AstroPay was for the less regulated or more high-risk merchants, and dLocal were integrated in ecommerce websites which were fully regulated and not so high risk. I know Andrés very well from 15 years ago; he used come to us with a business card in London with his partner, and they are both Jewish. They did not exist at the time but have grown substantially.
dLocal is now a public company here in the US.
Publicly traded; wow, I did not know that.
Yes, the stock has done very well within a very short span of time. Before Ezugi was acquired by Evolution, they were playing in New Jersey and Oklahoma. What was it that Ezugi provided to Evolution? Was it the head start into these new markets?
Evolution acquired Ezugi because of their operation in the US. Ezugi made a deal with quite a famous and veteran offline casino in New Jersey. This was before online gambling was prohibited in 2006. Then in 2018, they started to move towards allowing it again. Kfir recognized the opportunity there and I accompanied him through a very lengthy process, and finally got the license. There are more states opening now but, in the beginning, you had to have a brick and mortar land based casino in order to get the online license. Land based casinos do not know how to do online, and online casinos do not know how to do land based; it is all a cooperation. Kfir and Ezugi actually started in New Jersey. Their activity grew as they were also first to market. Even though the market was very small, 95% of the activity was there so it was enough to do business. Evolution recognized that and ended up buying Ezugi. I am not saying it was only because of that, but it was definitely the trigger.
In South America, where was Ezugi at the time of the acquisition?
Ezugi still have offices there, with their headquarters in Costa Rica. They operated in almost all the Latin America countries. Colombia is the sole country with proper regulation or licenses per se. The rest of Latin America divides into either illegal or unregulated.