Before he graduated from New Jersey’s Stockton University with a B.S. in finance, Brian Kraft spent more than seven years earning a living playing poker, much of it online. A Northfield, New Jersey native, his proximity to Atlantic City didn’t hurt his avocation.
“I started playing poker with friends for fun in 2002/2003,” Kraft says. “I quickly became infatuated with No Limit Texas Hold ’em and began reading poker books like Doyle Brunson’s Super System and Phil Hellmuth’s Play Poker Like the Pros.”
No Limit Texas Hold ’em expanded in popularity into the mid 2000s. By 2004, Kraft played poker full time.
“I certainly never set out to play poker professionally; it just kind of developed on its own,” he says. “But that experience certainly helped to shape my career and life.”
The Justice Department brought the hammer down on online gaming sites, including seizing PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, two of the core sites Kraft made a living from. He shifted to live poker at Borgata, but after graduation pivoted to finance.
“Poker taught me patience, calculated risk-taking and one of my favorite lessons: focusing on the process of decision-making, rather than the outcome itself,” he says. “A strong process will eventually lead to the desired results.”
At Caesars Entertainment in Atlantic City, Kraft worked as a marketing and financial analyst for little more than a year, then moved out of the gaming sphere as a financial analyst with Inspira Health. In 2014, Kraft hooked up with Amaya Gaming as a risk analyst and later with NYX Gaming Group Ltd. After moving up to different positions, he joined NetEnt in 2018, where he rose to vice president commercial, Americas.
Most recently, Kraft served as head of business development for Evolution Group North America, where he oversaw commercial decision-making across the U.S. and Canada.
“In this role I established and maintained trusting relationships with the largest online gaming operators in North America and ensured those partnerships were driving strong revenue,” he says.
One thing Kraft was never short of were mentors—beginning with Kevin Winters, who brought him onboard at Caesars after learning his background included playing poker. “Kevin taught me how to think about casino gaming in terms of analytics and was an infectious leader,” he says.
Hamish Brown served as COO for NYX Gaming Group during Kraft’s time there.
“Hamish was a tremendous leader and mentor that entrusted me in my first management role,” he says. “More recently, Erik Nyman, former managing director for NetEnt, Andy Whitworth, former CCO for NetEnt Group, and Gavin Hamilton, former CEO for Red Tiger, helped shape my career.”
Under Evolution, Kraft collaborated with and learned from Todd Haushalter, who really has an original way to think about product and business. “Todd’s great work speaks for itself. I’d like to personally thank all of the mentors that have helped me along the way. You’re appreciated.”
As states roll out sports betting, and to a lesser degree online casinos, the industry will continue to evolve. Indeed, Kraft moved on in late February to Rush Street Interactive, where he serves as vice president, commercial.
“I’d expect another handful of states to launch online casino over the next half decade, and a market value exceeding $10 billion in U.S. GGR by the time we approach 2030. Poker will have a bit of a renaissance as states form compacts to share player pools, thus adding to the liquidity drawing players in with large tournament pools.”
As for future financial analysts, Kraft as a simple word of wisdom.
“Excel will be your best friend—learn it early and keep a standard format of how you run your analyses.”