Talking to Vlad Ardeleanu, General Manager of Superbet Romania
He recently took over the position of general manager of operations of Superbet, the biggest sports betting house in Romania, after several years being number two at Carrefour Romania. Having also his entrepreneurial experience, Vlad Ardeleanu wants the group to be number one in Central and Eastern Europe region. Internationally, his dream and the founders’ is that Superbet will become a business at least the size of current global industry leaders.
➤ How was the switch from Carrefour to Superbet? What is the difference between food and sports betting, how are they consumed in Romania?
Having the experience of almost 17 years in which I held executive positions in both entrepreneurial and multinational companies with operations in several markets in Central and Eastern Europe, I can say that the transition was not a difficult one. There was an effort to adapt to the specifics of the market, to a new organizational culture, but at the end of the day, I apply the same managerial and operational expertise whether they sell TVs, carrots or sports betting.
➤ How does the picture of Superbet business currently look like?
I will try to synthesize what the Superbet group means today and I will refer here only to the operations in Romania, already consolidated after the eight years of activity. Superbet is currently one of the largest gambling operators in Romania, with an offline network of nearly 1,000 agencies across the country and with a turnover that at least doubles at least, from year to year.
The national business is now consolidated under the umbrella of Superbet Holding Romania, which operates four retail brands – Superbet with 630 agencies, BetArena with over 200 agencies, GoBet, our franchise arm with 120 agencies and Magic Jackpot, the slots brand. If Superbet is the premium brand, already consolidated on the local sports betting market, BetArena is a start up created this year built around a totally different concept of what is now on the Romanian market – I mean especially those entertainment areas where we put focus on live sports events. At the same time, we created BetArena applications for live draws at the most important lotteries.
Moving the discussion to online operations, the picture looks like this: superbet.ro is the locomotive of the business at this moment, having the fastest growth and competing with the volumes made by over 600 offline agencies under the Superbet brand. It is also an effect of massive investment which we have directed to the online platform, and to which we will continue to drive much of our future investment.
I want to tell you that, at the current technological level, an online sports betting business is today rather an IT business than a service business.
Built on a different platform concept, which we are still working on and we want to launch in the coming months, betarena.ro will be the mirror of BetArena’s retail business, a start up that already has a rising dynamics over expectations in the 200 locations it operates.
➤ What are the main directions of company development? What are the next steps in business development and what do you prioritize?
The first one is regional. Since the beginning of the year we have begun to build teams for regional expansion. We have recruited top managers from the leading global gaming industry both to strengthen the team in Romania and to prepare the next steps for development. By the end of this year, we will be launching on online and offline market in Poland, where Superbet has already been licensed for offline earlier this month. We hope to open there about 50 agencies by the end of the year so that we will have 100 locations operating until the World Championship in 2018. In the first part of 2018, we will probably get the license for online and we will launch superbet.pl.
And regional ambitions of Superbet do not stop in Poland. The entire next year, we will enter the market in Slovakia and Serbia.
This is exclusive information for the pages of your magazine.
To sum up the answer, the goal of Superbet and mine is to export to Central and Eastern Europe this Romanian entrepreneurial success.
➤ Does business development ambitions stop in the region?
I think that for this kind of business, if it’s a well-built and financially sound business, the goal of turning Superbet into a global company is as legitimate and realistic as possible. The company is in advanced discussions to get the online gambling license in Gibraltar.
With this license, Superbet will become the first business in Central and Eastern Europe to enter the select licensed Gibraltar operators alongside names such as Bet365, William Hill or Ladbrokes. I have to tell you that those operating on the Gibraltar market are subject to the world’s most stringent online gambling legislation and that is why we are talking about an extremely select club in this industry. In this context, Superbet has already opened an office in Gibraltar, and the next step will be to increase the team there from 20 people this year to 50 by the end of 2018.
At the same time, this year we opened an office in Leeds in the UK, which is already working in tandem with the one in Gibraltar.
➤ What is the local or international competitor that you admire or respect most?
The short answer is Bet365.
The largest international gambling business that started as a family business, and today is one of the largest contributors to UK GDP. As a business model, the business founded by Denise Coates is our source of inspiration, but we intend to be more innovative and, in time, to overcome it, why not ?!
➤ Towards what will the budgeted investments be targeted to the next year / medium term?
As you have learned from the press, we have decided to attract capital through a listing on the AERO stock exchange market, an alternative trading system. It was a bond issue worth 9.6 million lei sold to Romanian investors and maturing in 2020. Superbet manages to attract money from Romanian investors, money that will remain in Romania through this second placement because they will be used to develop operations in Romania.
The money will be invested both in expanding the retail business – new betting agencies, and in boosting the online business that has just begun. In the online environment, most of the money is being directed as I have already told you to develop advanced technology.
➤ How did turnover change in recent years and what expectations do you have for the current year? How about the next two or three years?
For 2017, I estimate that we will again have a consistent growth in terms of turnover. Since its establishment, Superbet Holding Romania has grown steadily and we can say that it has doubled, at least, from year to year.
For 2018, I wish we could keep up the pace, even if it’s getting harder, given the growing business size and volumes run.
➤ In the current context, what are the main obstacles to company development?
I think the biggest brake at this moment is the shortage of labor.
Unlike other sectors, it is all the more difficult for us to work in a special industry, young people are not always attracted to work in a sports betting agency due to the poor image of this type of activity still has in Romania. But we try to attract them by being closer to their needs and by offering opportunities to advance hierarchically better than in other sectors.
➤ How many employees does the company have?
Currently, the Superbet Group employs more than 3,000 people in Romanian offices, and 1,800 of them work for the Superbet brand.
What I want to emphasize is that the Superbet group is the largest tax payer in our industry and among the largest contributors to the national budget with over 35 million euros paid this year and 26 million euros last year.
➤ What is the profile of sports betting consumers?
Referring to the behavior of players, most bet both in offline and online agencies. From the figures I have, about 15% of players use both environments, the rest either online or offline.
At the level of the gaming industry, sports betting is the most dynamic and with best growth potential. Football and tennis are sports which attract the most betting.
In terms of development, the Romanian betting market is still below those in Spain, Italy or the UK.
In mature markets, betting or playing is one of the main means of entertainment. In this chapter, we can talk more about responsible game. Superbet, together with other members of the Rombet Association and other professional associations, insists that betting should be seen as a way of spending time and not as a source of money.
As in any industry, there is a minority of consumers who exaggerate and to whom the industry needs to pay attention to and support.
➤ What does Superbet do to minimize the negative impact of
gambling on certain people… those who are too fond of it?
I would like to stress the importance of protecting the players. It is a common effort that all operators need to support. Your question references to what operators are doing for a responsible game, one of the major debates in the global industry, not just in Romania.
There are many dedicated events, campaigns and activities designed by operators and authorities to help addicted gamblers and offering them rehabilitation options. But I repeat, it is a minority under 1% that makes excesses and which is present in any industry – tobacco, alcoholic beverages, etc.
➤ What can you say about the legislative environment, is there something that makes your activity difficult? How is Romanian legislation comparable to that in countries where the gambling market is already mature?
Compared to other economic sectors, the gambling industry is one of the most regulated and transparent in Romania. It is a fair and correct regulation at this time that has eliminated operators who did not want to adhere to the rules of the game. There have been three important moments towards reaching this normality – I am referring to the adoption of OUG 77/2009, the first important milestone for the regulation of the field, the creation of the National Gambling Office in 2013 and finally the summer of 2015, when the ONJN has also regulated the online betting market.
A leverage that ensures the full transparency of the sports betting business is that each betting company must establish a terminal at the ONJN headquarters.
This terminal is basically a mirror of the bookmaker’s betting server, so absolutely all financial transactions related to betting are also seen at the ONJN.
Even in comparison with other countries, Romania is a good example of fair, functional and attractive regulation in gambling, which we cannot say about other industries.