Vahe Baloulian Interview – (EEGReport Magazine – Issue 1 – October 2015 – January 2016)

EEGReport Magazine: Since Armenia, a Transcaucasian state is included in definitions of Eastern Europe or histories of Eastern Europe, we would like to know more about the developments of the online gambling in the country and neighbouring countries. What is in your opinion the way these countries need to consider issuing online gambling licenses for foreign operators?(if you could answer per country it would be great).

Vahe Baloulian:Although our largest development and service center is located in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, BetConstruct is not involved in a licensable activities in Armenia or neighboring countries. However, we do have partners who operate in Armenia. As an operator in Armenia, you have to register a local company and get licensed by the government. It is quite an expensive exercise. Casino and poker license is different from the betting license. Armenia is one of the so-called grey markets where some foreign companies, even publicly traded ones, illegally operate without obtaining a license. Online gaming is quite popular with sports betting prevalence as it is legal to operate betting shops in the capital, while land-based casinos, with one exception, are relegated to four resort areas.

EEGReport Magazine: As we know, you are from the USA and your first contact with the igaming world happened back in 1999. How much has the igaming industry evolved in the recent 15 years around the world, but especially have you seen significant growth in Eastern and Central Europe recently?

Vahe Baloulian:– The iGaming industry during the last 15-20 years has changed dramatically in positive and negative sense. It is more regulated, which is beneficial if regulation is focused on guaranteeing safe and fair environment for the players. If regulation is simply about creating a new revenue source for the governments, the players are rarely protected.
The entrepreneurial spirit of the early years, the can-do attitude of the pioneers is replaced with corporate politics of public companies.
As to Eastern and Central Europe, it is now experiencing the growth with the benefit of knowing what has been done right and wrong by those who lead the way. Those who are capable of learning from the mistakes and achievements of others will be a lot more successful than those who think they know everything and don’t need the lessons of the past.

EEGReport Magazine: How big is the impact of having gaming software providers being present in Eastern Europe? Do operators feel “at home” by knowing they are entering markets where certain igaming software providers have offices?

Vahe Baloulian:– Suppliers should be responsive and reachable regardless of them having an office in the operator’s market. Of course, having your supplier nearby gives you comfort but it is not a recipe for success. When picking suppliers, aside from the quality of their technology and services, it would be very important for me to know if they, regardless of the physical presence in the area, are willing to understand my market, speak my language, know what my customers want, visit me to learn how they can help me reach and go beyond my goals and invite me to their offices to meet their people and see how they operate. If I was an operator, this is how I would want a supplier to make me feel at home.

EEGReport Magazine: Do you see an opportunity for young software developers, which are at a rather high number in Eastern Europe, to start new companies and maybe innovate the already known platforms?

Vahe Baloulian:– BetConstruct has two development centers in Eastern Europe – in Armenia and Ukraine, where we work with many young developers. Also, our Game Store gives young independent developers an opportunity to see their games in action, distributed through our platform.  Young software developers, especially from the up and coming regions such Eastern Europe, have an enormous role to play in the development of iGaming. They will succeed and drive us all forward as long as they figure out how to learn, without blindly following, from those who came before them and how to believe in their own ability to create better things while avoiding the trap of arrogance.

EEGReport Magazine: In your opinion, which are the most popular ways of online gambling in the Eastern and Central European region? Casino, sportbetting, online poker or maybe bingo?

Vahe Baloulian:– While Eastern and Central Europe is not a monotonous region where players have the same interests, sportsbetting and casino remain the most popular. However, the online sector is much smaller than the land-based one and represents a huge opportunity in every vertical.

EEGReport Magazine: We have seen an increased activity in the Russian region that may indicate moving towards a regulated market. Do you think that this is something to likely happen in the next 2 years?

Vahe Baloulian:– Russia is struggling and the government is looking for new revenue sources, however insignificant. As recent media reports suggest, the return of legislated online poker in Russia could be eminent. The proceeds will be used to fund the Russian National Chess team and other sports. At one point poker was considered a sport in Russia, so if this u-turn is successful, I hope and expect the other forms of online gaming to get Mr.Putin’s nod as well.

EEGReport Magazine: Which are the countries operators should look forward to welcome foreign companies to get licensed in online gambling?

Vahe Baloulian:– The prediction game is never been one of my favorites, especially when it comes to such unpredictable and illogical entities as governments are. For example, it never made sense to me that the Eastern European countries, which are so well positioned geographically and politically, didn’t go the route of Malta, when it came to online gaming. They missed such a great opportunity to create jobs and become a hub of new technologies.

 

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Vahe Baloulian is an award-winning industry veteran with over 16 years of experience in the online gaming sphere.
Prior to joining BetConstruct as its Chief Executive Officer, Vahe has worked as a Director of Gaming and Industry Relations for 888, COO of LVFH, Managing Partner of eEgaming Partners and executive consultant to BetConstruct.