Stjepko Čordaš – NSoft and BiH – (EEGReport – Magazine – Issue3 – June – September 2016)
EEGReport – Magazine: Since Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Southeastern Europe located on the Balkan Peninsula 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. What is the current status of the Bosnian market in terms of licenses for online gambling software providers and are you running into difficulties at entering new markets?
Stjepko Čordaš: Betting industry in Bosnia and Herzegovina has a somewhat strained relationship with the government. Up to last year (2015) most of the market was unregulated and the government really did not know how to approach the issues. With the current legislation in place, online gambling has been finally legalized, but with severe restrictions. Before going into details, it is important to note that the complex national system is causing fractures in how gambling (in truth, every industry) is being dealt with. First we have Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is a country, where you have the first layer of the government and laws. For example, the VAT law is regulated on the country level. Then you have two entities – Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republic of Srpska. These two entities, de facto, behave like two separate states. Most, if not all, of the legal framework is separate and these have two separate governments. One of the points where there are differences is the law on betting and gambling. While Republic of Srpska has a governing law covering this matter for a few years now, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina just approved their law last year. While both entities laws are somewhat restrictive, one in Republic of Srpska is more open, with cheaper licenses and easier procedures. The licenses are valid only on the territory of one entity, so any operator that wants to cover the entire country has to have two separate companies and two separate licensing. This can cause additional operational expenses, as well as, introduce complexities into how operators run their companies.
When we go back to the recent legal changes in Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as already mentioned, online gambling has been legalized. However, licenses are quite expensive – where the operator company has to have at least 750.000,00 EUR of founding capital, 400.000,00 EUR in guarantees and around 100.000,00 EUR in legal fees for the actual license. Also, there are renewal fees every year. In addition to this, the company has to connect to the central server of the Tax authority and send each and every ticket to the Tax authority in real time. This part of the requirement is especially troubling, since Tax authority servers and software do not have capacity to accept this amount of data in such short time and often their server is basically DDOS-ed by their own requirement.
Furthermore, RNG games are illegal online with the current legislation. Although, the idea was to limit virtual games (for example, this would be NSoft’s Lucky Six or Greyhound Races), the language of the provision makes it seem that all RNG games are illegal online. Which of course makes no sense, since most of the online casino games are RNG based.
Other than this the government introduced fees on players, where for sports betting players have to pay a 5% fee on their bets, and every prize larger than 50 EUR is taxed with a tax rate of 10%. There are plans to introduce the 5% fee for every type of game and to introduce tax rate for any prize.
So, as can be read the current legislature in Bosnia and Herzegovina is swimming against the current of the recent industry developments and at least from my perspective is severely limiting the open market economy in gambling industry. This is why NSoft is mostly focusing on gaining more international clients. A bit more than 60% of our current business is international as of this moment. The target is to have this number to at least to 80% by the end of this year.
EEGReport – Magazine: As we know you were born and raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina and your first touch with the iGaming world started back in 2013 when you took on a Project Manager role at NSoft, a company at which you are currently in the role of CEO. How much has the iGaming industry evolved in the recent 3 years, but especially have you seen significant growth in Eastern and Central Europe recently?
Stjepko Čordaš: Well, this is rather an interesting question – especially since in the last three years the iGaming industry is seeing a new renaissance. Web and web based technologies are finally enabling faster delivery to operators, easier communication with the punters, real time access do data and habits. In this sense, NSoft now has an edge. Since the start of the company some eight years ago, NSoft started all development on pure web technologies. At that point of time this was rather exhausting because other frameworks had already solved many issues and development in them was faster and easier. It didn’t help that most of the clients we had at that point were retail based. So web technologies and retail caused a lot of frustration then. However, now when the operators recognized that you have to be everywhere in order to stay competitive, web technologies are the bridge that enables this. Punters want seamless experience in retail (shop and terminal), online and mobile and the only way you can provide this are web technologies. So, a lot of issues that a lot of the software operators are now facing, have been already solved by NSoft, which can be seen in our Seven platform. Seven platform enables this seamless experience where the operator can control their entire operation from a single interface – be it retail or online environment.
When we look to the markets, Central Europe is a more conservative market with higher barriers to entry – the operators are well established, the punters have clear habits. However, Eastern Europe is just now experiencing the possibilities. One market in particular, Romanian market, is the current ‘gold rush’ setting. Romania has a lot of online infrastructure, there are a lot of people, market is being regulated, there are a lot of operators – which means that there is a lot of opportunities for us.
EEGReport – Magazine: You are a specialist in Secured Transactions Law and European Union Law. What would you change or add to the current frameworks?
Stjepko Čordaš: Unfortunately, I do not have much time to focus on these topics, but I really have to mention that reform of Secured Transactions law is my personal passion. Although, it may seem a bit boring at first – the Secured Transactions law is the one which the economy is really based around and one that enables the economy to function. Without going into legal details, I truly support the way the US has done this through their Uniform Commercial Code Article 9.
Regarding the EU law, I really don’t think anything needs to be added to this framework. For me, it is just fascinating how this supra-national framework is functioning and developing. What is currently lacking is the complete support from the different country members. But this is more of a political issue and I really try avoid to talk about politics. What I can add to this is that betting and gambling industries in the EU can really profit a lot from the principles that are set in the Treaty on the Functioning of European Union and especially on the principles of the free movement of goods, people and services. Some operators have recognized this, but I really believe that it should be used a lot more to push for more open markets.
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?
Stjepko Čordaš: Actually, at first operators are more distrustful to software providers from the Eastern Europe. It is probably in our culture to be like this, and this can be seen even on the punter side. For example, when we tried pushing localized versions of some of our products to our clients, the players would simply stop playing. Their notion was: “OK, this is local, it probably is not good at all.” And this extends further than gambling.
However, when we manage to overcome this first distrust, every client is amazed on what we have and what we have built. The real selling point for our product is when we manage to bring the client directly to our headquarters in Mostar. When they actually see a company with 150 young and motivated people, in a middle of ‘war-ravaged’ Bosnia and Herzegovina, everyone wants to use all of our products. In the last two years, this distrust is disappearing, since NSoft already has an established reputation in the market.
EEGReport – Magazine: As we know, the success story of NSoft is not something that happened by chance. A combination of great products, great people, and great culture played a key role in your growth. What are the future plans for the company?
Stjepko Čordaš: As already mentioned, one major goal is to export more services. The target is to get to 80% of exported services by the end of this fiscal year. Also, I can get into details on how we plan to grow 50% in revenues, expand to this and that market, but I will focus on something different.
The major goal for NSoft is to create 1000 workplaces. And this is how we measure our success. The key ingredients in the NSoft success story are our employees and our culture. We are trying to create opportunities in a country where youth unemployment is more than 50%. Working at NSoft is a privilege for every team member and we treat each other like family. I know it will be hard to translate this to an organization of 1000 people, but this is our goal and the most important plan for the future.
In order to facilitate our plan, we have started a start-up incubator and a programming school. The school is of major important to our goals, since it can fuel the knowledge required to have more quality employees. The school is completely free of charge and anyone can attend. The school already has around 300 active students and the incubator has 15 start-ups.
I could write essays on how we try to create and do things differently, but really, the only true way to experience this is to visit us at our Mostar headquarters. It is a bit hard to get to, but once you are there, you can understand the things I’m trying to write about. So, I am extending an open invitation to anyone who wants to come and see how we do things.
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?
Stjepko Čordaš: Yes, and yes. As already mentioned, we are trying to create this culture since there are a lot of opportunities for software developers and not just in gambling industry. For example, a few years back, the European Union declared that Eastern Europe is a strategic goal for the outsourcing of software development services. Why? Well, there are developers that are of reasonable quality, the mindset is similar to the rest of the Europe and the prices are cheaper. My personal belief is that we (Eastern Europe) should use this goal best to our abilities, but also shift this from simple outsourcing services to developing full-fledged products, as NSoft does.
EEGReport – Magazine: In your opinion, which are the most popular ways of online gambling in the Eastern and Central European region? Casino, sport betting, online poker, virtual games or maybe bingo?
Stjepko Čordaš: Traditionally, the most popular ways of online in the Eastern and Central European region is sports betting. However, if we move more to the Eastern part, online is just becoming a real trend and most of the business was focused on the retails sports betting and virtual games. From our business, I can say that countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Romania are really crazy about virtual and bingo games. These types of games are generating most of the revenues on some markets and some operators could not function without these.
EEGReport – Magazine: Looking further afield, where are the major emerging opportunities in Eastern Europe and the Balkans for operators at this moment?
Stjepko Čordaš: If we are looking in the future, online and sports betting is really the opportunity for this market. As more connectivity is introduced, more punters are becoming aware of the different approaches and more opportunities the operators have to innovate. For example, UK is a classic well established market where in order to sell your product you have to have a product which punters already know. However, in the Eastern Europe and in the Balkans, operators can innovate a lot, since punters want everything but did not experience it before. So, in the next few years we can expect a lot of rise in the online segment in these markets with a lot of innovation and turnover being tossed around.
– Born on June 1, 1987 in Metković
– Attended primary and secondary school in Mostar
– Undergraduate degree in Service Management from RIT Croatia, Croatia
– Graduate degree in Law and Economics from CEU, Hungary
– Passion for technology and innovation which pushed me to NSoft