Shimon Akad has been a top executive at Playtech, the world’s leading provider of online gaming content, for 11 years, including a one-year stint as CEO before he settled into his current position as chief operating officer in 2015.
Akad has overseen what arguably has been the most critical period in the company’s 23-year history, as Playtech has moved into North America, and specifically the U.S., where the nascent online gaming industry has given Playtech its fastest-growing new market.
“There are a lot of very good markets out there, but the U.S. as a whole is becoming, and will become, one of the biggest markets—if not the biggest market,” Akad says, noting that the three states in which Playtech iGaming content is live—New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan—each generate gaming revenue of about $1.5 billion annually. “Put together, it’s a very big number if you compare it to some of the other markets,” he says.
Playtech has more than 100 local employees in the U.S., headquartered in New York. Moreover, the company has taken the first step in establishing a long-term presence in the market by launching its first live-gaming studio in Michigan.
“Our live studio in Michigan is fantastic,” Akad says. “It’s absolutely amazing. We’ve launched something that we invite anyone and everyone to go look at; I guarantee you that you will be impressed.”
In fact, Playtech plans to open a studio for each new U.S. market in which it goes live.
“We’re implementing the same concept studio in New Jersey, and our plan is to do exactly the same in Pennsylvania for 2023,” says Akad. “We’ve put a lot of investment into our live product. Live product as a whole is a leading product in our industry, and is doing amazingly well.”
He adds that the localized studios, staffed by local dealers, engineers and other talent, will combine with the professionals at the New York headquarters to create new products adapted specifically to each market.
“You need to adapt to each and every market,” he says. “The local players and local markets each have been given their own kind of taste and flavor by the local players, and we definitely adapt the products to it. This is the reason we recruit local people to run the local business, to make sure that the product and technology and service—anything we do there—is adapted to the U.S.”
Meanwhile, Playtech continues to increase its U.S. footprint, and establish its brand in the U.S., where the company is not the household name it is in Europe.
“Sometimes these things take time, but they evolve eventually,” Akad says. “You persist in investment, you persist in how you run the business. You make sure you deliver the best-quality products, the best-quality service. You listen to the needs of your operators, and you work with them. Then, you gradually see the brand and everything around it evolving.”
He says a priority for 2023 will be to continue investing in local talent in the U.S. “We will continue to invest in bringing more and more local talent, more distribution and more business. We will introduce a whole portfolio of products to the U.S.”
Of course, Akad says there are still uncertainties in how the business will play out in 2023, due to increasing inflation and talk of an impending recession. “But the online gaming industry—and the overall industry we are in—will continue to evolve and get better. Overall, we are in the right project in the right place.”
Among the company’s strongest benefits going forward, according to Akad, is a move away from what he calls “the old rigid business rules” under which Playtech operated when he took over as COO in 2015.
“We’ve changed to much more flexible and smart business rules that will eventually allow us to do business with almost anyone in the market—not only the big operators we served before 2015,” he says. “That kind of a partner-oriented approach has put us in a place where we can work with the largest or with the smallest.”
He adds that as sports betting continues to spread, it will be a catalyst for further expansion in the online gaming industry in the U.S. And Playtech is following that progress closely.
“As long as the regulatory landscape will stay as it is now, we will definitely invest in and launch a studio in each and every one of the states,” says Akad. “I have no doubt that going a couple of years forward, our standard and our brand in the U.S. will be similar to where we are in Europe and the rest of the