Johnny Aitken, Chief executive officer – PointsBet USA
2019 was a transformative year for the Australian-based
sports betting operator, with a successful IPO in Sydney and entrance into the
potentially lucrative US betting market. Aitken has been essential to this. He joined
PointsBet as chief operating officer and was promoted to CEO of PointsBet USA just
five months later.
Under his charge, PointsBet has come out of nowhere to become
one of the major operators in the fledgling US market, with market access deals
in New Jersey, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan. Aitken will be crucial to
PointsBet’s further expansion Stateside.
Robert Andersson, Chief executive officer – Enlabs
After several years in the doldrums, 2019 was a breakthrough
year for Enlabs, the fast-growing iGaming operator previously known as Redbet and
then Nordic Leisure. Andersson took over as CEO just over a year ago to lead
So far the results have been impressive, with Enlabs
enjoying its best ever quarter in Q3 2019 as revenue hit €10m for the first
The former Catena Media CEO will be hoping his passion and
experience will drive Enlabs to further glory as one of the leading operators
in the Nordic and Baltic regions.
Amir Askarov, Co-founder & chief executive officer – BlueRibbon Software
BlueRibbon Software has quickly emerged as the leading
jackpot marketing supplier in its short history, thanks to the vision and
acumen of its co-founder and CEO Amir Askarov.
Askarov has landed a number of tier-one signings in 2019,
including Mr Green, EveryMatrix and Scientific Games. He also oversaw the company
securing its UK and Malta licences.
Having spent nine years at Playtech in key management roles,
Askarov knows what it takes to drive a business forward and has positioned BlueRibbon
for a spectacular 2020.
Neil Banbury, General manager UK – Kindred Group
Neil Banbury is approaching the ten-year mark at Kindred
Group and has impressively climbed the ranks to become general manager of one
of the operator’s key markets. While the operator has struggled with headwinds
in Sweden and the Netherlands, the UK has been a real plus point for Kindred
Banbury has been at the heart of all this, whether through
unique sponsorship deals with the likes of record-breaking England soccer star
Wayne Rooney or through Kindred’s responsible gambling commitments in the UK.
He is the kind of understated superstar the Hot 50 was invented to celebrate.
Bryan Blake, Chief executive officer and Founder – Hexopay
With over 15 years banking and payment industry experience
behind him, few doubted that Bryan Blake would make a success of Hexopay, but
few could have predicted the meteoric rise of the payments and risk management
Already profitable just two years after its inception, Blake
has been at the forefront of attracting industry big-hitters like Kindred
Group, Lottoland and William Hill.
With plans to double its staff by early 2020 and the
feel-good factor Blake has instilled in the company, expect its rise to keep
Elena Barber, Chief marketing officer – Kindred Group
Elena Barber has risen through the ranks to assume her
position on the executive management team at the beginning of last year. Having
headed affiliates, digital advertising, performance marketing and central brand
marketing, her experience is perfectly formed.
She will now have to navigate a landscape where media and
political pressure are forcing operators to rein in their advertising; and
where bonusing is becoming more contentious.
Barber has the versatility and nous to ensure Kindred is
perfectly equipped to thrive in this changed landscape.
Tim Bucher, Chief product officer – Scientific Games
Tim Bucher is exactly the sort of product genius that
Silicon Valley specialises in churning out. After spells at Microsoft, Apple,
Dell and a string of successful startups, Bucher has turned his attention to
gaming, where he is continuing to display the innovation that has served his
career so well.
Insiders say Bucher reimagined innovation at the company. He
has launched products such as SG Connect, SG Game Service and, most excitingly,
SG Vision. The latter could revolutionise the industry with vision-recognition
technology that could not only overhaul the player experience but also
introduce a guarantee of responsible gambling that brings a smile to the face
of any regulator. Bucher’s impact could be monumental.
Jo Button, Head of digital – Camelot
Digital sales at UK National Lottery operator Camelot soared
past the £1bn mark during the first half of its 2019/20 financial year. While
Jo Button can’t take all the credit, she has led the team that has delivered
growth of 40 per cent to Camelot’s online unit in the past year.
Her phenomenal success rate is driven by a devotion to
innovation that could see that figure repeated year after year. Every lottery
could use a digital marketing superstar like Jo Button.
Robin Chhabra, Chief executive officer – FOX Bet
Robin Chhabra has appeared in the Gaming Intelligence Hot 50
in both of his previous roles, as business development chief at Stars Group and
at William Hill. His M&A feats at both are legendary but he now has his
biggest challenge as CEO of newly-launched US sports betting business FOX Bet.
After acquiring Sky Betting & Gaming, Chhabra saw the
potential to export the model to the US. In snaring FOX Sports to provide brand
and other marketing assets, Chhabra almost guaranteed its success. Now we will
see how Chhabra copes as an operator.
As one of the smartest and hardest-working men in the
business, you can be sure he will make a success of FOX Bet.
Robert Chvátal, Chief executive officer – SAZKA Group
In his seven years in charge, Robert Chvátal has transformed
SAZKA Group into the fastest-growing lottery
operator in Europe, with a wide-ranging portfolio of retail and online operations
across Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece and Italy.
Chvátal believes that teamwork, a focus on innovation, and
speed are what is needed to succeed in the lottery and gaming sector. Sazka
Group’s selection as the GIA Lottery Operator of the Year 2020 proves that he
is doing things the right way.
Andrew Clucas, Chief operating officer – Microgaming
Since taking charge of operations in 2018 Andrew Clucas has
played a pivotal role in guiding the strategic direction of the innovative gaming
supplier. He has overseen the launch of Microgaming’s independent studios
strategy and quickly built up a roster of ten unique independent studios, which
are creating content exclusively for Microgaming customers. They have delivered
more than 40 exclusive games in the last 12 months.
Clucas has also overseen the launch of a new content team to
develop and drive content strategy. The team is gathering ideas from across the
company to ensure Microgaming remains at the cutting edge of game development.
With so many new ideas and initiatives, it would be easy to
lose sight of the operation of the core business but Clucas has steered the
casino vertical to double digit growth, through his unerring ability to retain
focus and inspire others.
Irina Cornides, Chief commercial officer – Gamesys Group
Irina Cornides has held numerous senior management roles as
Intertain has transformed itself into Jackpotjoy Group and now Gamesys, where
she has assumed the role of chief commercial officer. She features in the Hot
50 for the second time (after making the list in 2016 when chief revenue
officer of Intertain).
Cornides is one of the few remaining survivors from those
halcyon days. Amid all the asset yo-yoing between Gamesys and Intertain/Jackpotjoy/JPJ
Group, Cornides has been honing her skills as CEO of the company’s largest division,
Jackpotjoy, and has now become a formidable component of Gamesys Group’s new
management team as the company undergoes a key period of integration and
James Coxon, Vice president of commercial – SBTech
James Coxon has made a huge impact at SBTech since joining
as business development director from Scientific Games in early 2019. He was
swiftly promoted to VP of commercial after just six months and given wider responsibility
for all of SBTech’s 50-plus global partners and for the company’s main revenue
Bringing new ways of working and transforming the sales
team, Coxon was instrumental in winning high-value government contracts and secured
a historic agreement with BetGenius that gives customers access to UK football
Coxon has led a complete overhaul of the way SBTech executes its commercial strategy, culminating in one of its most successful years to date.
Alberto Eljarrat, Chief executive officer – Sportium
Alberto Eljarrat is one of the most prominent figures in the
Spanish industry and his attitude towards innovation, responsibility and
transparency has driven Sportium to continually operate as one of the leading
sportsbooks in the country.
Eljarrat will need to ensure a smooth transition after GVC
Group sold its 50 per cent share in the business to joint venture partner Cirsa.
GVC will continue to operate as a B2B supplier but the new relationship will
need to be managed delicately. Eljarrat can be relied on to lead the business
into a new era.
Eric Foote, US chief commercial officer – PointsBet
Attracting someone of the calibre of Eric Foote was
something of a coup for PointsBet. His 20 years’ experience in the US sports
media landscape and expertise in building strategic partnerships will prove
invaluable as the operator looks to reinforce its presence in the US market.
Having only just begun his new role, 2020 will be a very big
year for Foote, and for PointsBet.
Christian Genetski, Chief legal officer and chief commercial officer – FanDuel
Christian Genetski is the exemplar for any aspiring lawyer
seeking to double up as a business leader. Genetski is a fantastic lawyer and as
chief commercial officer he has overseen the metamorphosis of his company from
daily fantasy sports operator into sports betting and DFS market leader.
In New Jersey alone, FanDuel has raced to become market
leader – way ahead of its nearest rival, DraftKings. It has also rolled out sports
betting operations in Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia. It will not be long
before you see it elsewhere, after the company signed a deal with The Cordish
Companies group, which has venues in Pennsylvania, Maryland,Washington DC and
elsewhere. There could be nobody better to oversee this aggressive rollout than
Ravi Haldahalli, Director of architecture and development – Atlantic Lottery Corp
In his eight years with the company, Ravi Haldahalli has led
the effort to modernise Atlantic Lottery’s systems technology, with a focus on
integrating the consumer’s retail and digital experience. He is the man
responsible for architecting a complex, multi-stage evolution of the lottery’s
technology systems to a fully-integrated ecosystem.
Introducing new technology such as QR codes and mobile apps
to the lottery, he continues to push forward changes in digital customer
engagement, in retail, online and via mobile for one of North America’s most proactive
Todd Haushalter, Chief product officer – Evolution Gaming
Todd Haushalter has been described as a genius. While
Evolution excels in almost everything it does, it would not be an understatement
to declare that it would not be where it is without Haushalter’s product brain.
Haushalter brings the innovation and eye for player-friendly
solutions that guarantees success. His brilliance
ensures Evolution stays ahead of competitors with deeper pockets. Put simply,
Haushalter is the superstar of live casino.
Jon Kaplowitz, Head of Penn Interactive Ventures – Penn National Gaming
In the rush to market in the US, few have approached the
terrain with the careful strategic planning applied by Jon Kaplowitz and his
colleagues at Penn National.
They have devised a national strategy that takes in all of
its 41 properties in 19 states. Furthermore, Kaplowitz has cut deals with a
mixture of market leaders and insurgents that balance the present needs with a
desire for future innovation.
While Kaplowitz’s strategic planning is second to none, the
business has also managed to launch retail sportsbooks in ten locations in
partnership with William Hill, while launching under its own name in Iowa. Kaplowitz
will ensure Penn continues to make smart decisions.
Carsten Koerl, Chief executive officer – Sportradar
The fact that Carsten Koerl has not featured in the Hot 50
before is remarkable, but it speaks volumes about the understated brilliance of
the Sportradar founder.
Since launching the company in 2001, he has driven a growth
curve that is almost unrivalled – from tech-focused startup to global leader in
sports data and audiovisual content, as well as sports integrity.
Few founder CEOs have remained in their post for so long and overseen such remarkable growth.
Conor Leavey, Head of casino product – The Stars Group
The Stars Group has not been content with building the
world’s biggest online casino in terms of revenue, it also wants to build the
best. It has been rebuilding its casino platform from the ground up and Conor
Leavey has been working at the sharp end, reshaping the product to make it
stand out from the crowd.
Leavey is leading the team doing smart work around
personalisation and building a differentiated product. It is early days but the
intention is to move away from the standard grid of tiles, towards a casino
experience that justifies the use of the word ‘experience’. Leavey’s own
experience suggests he is exactly the right person to pull it off.
Jason Lisiecki, VP North America – IWG
Jason Lisiecki’s impact on IWG since joining from William
Hill in 2018 has been huge. He has brought experience at Michigan Lottery to
help clients launch schemes such as the Atlantic Lottery’s (ALC) Cash Buster
ticket, which encourages cross-promotion between retail and online; a weekly
game launched at Pennsylvania Lottery; and a new Lottery Instants tab at BCLC.
He has launched a Strategic Insights unit, which has helped
clients such as ALC expand iLottery sales by 52 per cent. Lisiecki is driving
the expansion of iLottery in North America in a manner few can match.
Chris Looney, Commercial director – Red Tiger
After nine years at Microgaming, Chris Looney joined the
fastest-growing supplier in online gaming. Red Tiger has continued its
extraordinary growth curve with Looney pulling in the deals that culminated in
the supplier’s sale to NetEnt.
His commercial nous is second to none. His customer care is legendary.
Red Tiger’s commercial fortunes lie in one of the safest hands in the industry.
Laura Nash, Director of performance marketing – The Stars Group
Laura Nash is a ten-year veteran at Stars, where she worked
in business intelligence before transitioning to marketing two years ago. She
brings strong analytics and expertise in maths and psychology to Stars’ performance
marketing efforts across the verticals.
The Flutter takeover of Stars makes any predictions fraught
with difficulty, but if she continues her current trajectory, Nash is a CMO in the
John O’Reilly, Chief executive officer – Rank Group
John O’Reilly is one of the most experienced men on this
list. He has a CV that takes in most of the UK’s leading operators and he continues
to make management look like a simple exercise. He has overseen a year that has
witnessed the operator boost its share price by almost 90 per cent. This has
been on the back of a transformation programme that has been implemented efficiently
and has paid off quicker than might have been expected.
While costs have needed to be cut, he has handled that
sensitively while implementing new technology
with a focus on customer experience. He has shown a willingness to invest in new
machines and property refurbishment. At Rank, O’Reilly has performed a tricky
balancing act with some panache.
Stéphane Pallez, Chairwoman and chief executive officer – FDJ
Since taking over as CEO in 2014, Stéphane Pallez has driven
FDJ’s digital transformation as part of the company’s FDJ 2020 strategic plan.
This culminated in the privatisation of the French lottery and sports betting
operator last November, beginning a new page in the history of the company.
Pallez has already proved she can drive change and inspire
growth. Her next challenge will be to keep its new shareholders happy, and
reinforce FDJ’s position in its home market, while driving its international
Kevin Reid, Chief commercial officer – 1X2 Network
The past 12 months have seen 1X2 Network become one of the
most in-demand game developers in the world, with its content now live across
thousands of operator sites. Spearheading that rise is Kevin Reid.
The executive has led 1X2 Network’s entry into core
regulated markets and built a hugely talented commercial team during his
seven-plus years with the company, fostering partnerships with the likes of
bet365 and BetVictor. Taking on more responsibilities than just CCO, Reid has
also been responsible for bolstering 1X2Networks own aggregation platform. With
Reid’s desire and commitment leading the way, 1X2 Network looks set to continue
on its impressive growth trajectory.
Israel Rosenthal, Chief executive officer – MuchBetter
Israel Rosenthal worked his way up from customer support to
COO during his long period at former PokerStars owner Rational Group. His time
at the helm of MuchBetter is evolving at a much faster rate.
Rosenthal can reasonably claim to have launched the fastest-growing payments company in iGaming. He might have expected to secure a deal with The Stars Group but integrations with 888, Pinnacle, Casumo, Lottoland and Interwetten have shown that was not purely down to old contacts. Rosenthal has developed an innovative solution that operators and customers love.
Alex Sefton, Head of software product development, Gaming & Content – bet365
Alex Sefton is one of bet365’s many unsung heroes. He is
regarded by some as the guy who gets things done at bet365. Whether that is
launching in new markets such as Estonia, Greece or Mexico, or updating products
in Denmark and Spain, it is always accomplished with a skill that continues to
drive revenue. On top of all that he has also been responsible for the
development and deployment of an entirely new gaming platform. As such, he
plays a key part in the strategic development of the world’s leading sportsbook
Furthermore, he is a great advocate of collaboration across
the whole industry and was the driving force behind solutions for the updated
Apple App Store regulations. Sefton is the kind of dynamic and collaborative
force that every team needs.
Oren Cohen Shwartz, Managing director – Skywind Group
In the space of just 18 months, Oren Cohen Shwartz has
revolutionised Skywind Group and transformed the company into a supplier of
premium content to tier-one operators in regulated markets.
During 2019, Skywind Group secured six licences – in the UK,
Malta, Spain, Romania, Alderney and Gibraltar. It had its games certified and
launched in Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden and Portugal. It has struck deals
with the likes of bwin.party, The Stars Group, Kindred, Snai, Ladbrokes, Coral,
Gala, Superbet, Caliente, VideoSlots, Sportingbet, Eurobet, Hero Gaming, The
Sun and more.
Shwartz inspired his team to develop 70 games during 2019.
He is travelling at a phenomenal pace that few – if any – can match.
Liz Siver, Chief executive officer – NeoPollard Interactive
Liz Siver joined NeoPollard Interactive (NPi) more than two
years ago after spending most of her career at Microsoft, leading a team which
delivered IT services to state and local government customers across the US.
As general manager of NPi, the iLottery joint venture
between NeoGames and Pollard Banknote, she has used that experience to help the
company expand its solutions to state lotteries in Michigan, New Hampshire and
Virginia, among others. In the process, she has transformed NeoPollard into one
of the leading North American iLottery suppliers.
Björn Sjöberg, Head of key accounts – Evolution Gaming
Since being promoted to head of key accounts 18 months ago,
Björn Sjöberg has excelled. He handles most of Evolution Gaming’s tier-one
customers and is simply amazing at it. He knows the businesses of his customers
inside out and is always equipped with new ideas and data to back up his
Whether he is adding more tables or changing limits, his
advice is invariably spot on. Clients love him and so do his bosses.
Jesper Søgaard, Chief executive officer – Better Collective
Better Collective was founded more than 15 years ago, but
its meteoric growth in the last few years has seen the company emerge as the
leading publicly-listed iGaming affiliate. Co-founder Jesper Søgaard has been
there every step of the way as CEO.
He led the company through the acquisition of seven
companies in 2017, managed its Stockholm IPO the following year, and helmed its
entrance into the US market in 2019. While other listed affiliates have
floundered, Better Collective has thrived and, for that, Søgaard deserves
Darren Small, MD Trading Services – Sportradar
Darren Small manages Sportradar’s 400-person team of trading
staff across four continents and eight countries. He has been instrumental in
establishing and managing Sportradar’s bespoke, market-leading risk management
and trading solution, Managed Trading Services (MTS) since it launched in 2014
and in 2019 added 45 new clients to a list that now numbers over 150.
He has managed the product’s growth in tandem with demands
from the mushrooming client base, adding pre-match, live and premium cricket
during the last year. He is renowned for his commitment to his team across the
world and is a key player in Sportradar’s continuing success story.
Drew Svitko, Executive director – Pennsylvania Lottery
Drew Svitko began his career in the lottery industry nearly
20 years ago and is now leading one of the most innovative and top-performing lotteries
in the US. He is a visionary leader, launching one of the country’s best
performing iLotteries in May 2018. It has since gone on to generate $642m in
Svitko has positioned the Pennsylvania Lottery as an
innovation leader. It has launched a series of new products and new categories
and pioneered digital technologies, many of which were firsts for the US
lottery industry. Pennsylvania can expect to stay ahead of the pack with the
inspirational Svitko in charge.
Damian Xuereb, Global sales director – Kambi
Damian Xuereb has ensured that Kambi has had a far bigger
impact on the US market than many would have expected. His masterstroke was
signing a deal with DraftKings but he has followed that with a potentially huge
deal with Penn National and others with the likes of Ohio-based casino operator
Jack Entertainment and New York-based Seneca Gaming Corporation.
He will hope the latter deals pay off after DraftKings acquired rival supplier SBTech and promised to unwind the Kambi deal. Xuereb will not let that hitch get in his way. With Xuereb at the helm, you can expect Kambi to be operating in every US jurisdiction that matters.
The Gaming Intelligence HOT 50 2020
The Gaming Intelligence HOT 50 2020 – Acquisition Specialists (read more)
The Gaming Intelligence HOT 50 2020 – Responsible Gambling (read more)