With over 30 years of career, what does ‘being innovative’ mean to you today?
The best way to explain it, I think, is something that I was taught when I first got into the industry. I had a mentor (like a lot of us do). We had a casino company together, so we would own and operate casinos in Las Vegas and other parts of the United States. He said: “We’re never too busy to take a phone call. We’re not too busy to listen to an idea. It doesn’t matter who the person is, where they’re coming from, what they look like. They may have a great idea.” Early on, my philosophy was that I was going to be open to listening. I look at shows like this, SiGMA Europe. This is my 9th year coming to SiGMA. I go all over the world, 15 shows a year, and mostly what I’m doing is I open up a schedule and allow anybody who can find me. I don’t go and set the meetings. I let people find me because they want to talk about a new technology, a crypto wallet, a new type of crash game or game mechanic. I want them to find me. I want to listen to them. I want to ask myself “how could this idea get into the industry?” For me, it’s a very simple recipe: if you want to innovate, you have to be willing to listen. That’s been my rule for 32 years in this industry.
Another important word is ‘education.’ You have your own company, SCCG Management, and you do reports and you try to educate. How important is to educate, not only Latin America, but everywhere?
We have a global company now, so we operate in 11 countries. The way I look at it is we have over 50,000 people who follow us on social media in the industry, people who are thought leaders. What comes with that is a responsibility, and the responsibility is to share knowledge. This is a big theme for you. We’ve been discussing. For us, that comes in the form of a weekly newsletter, which is global. We cover topics that aren’t covered by the other publications, much like your thought process. We want to cover, let’s say, an emerging type of daily fantasy sports or some type of a betting exchange, peer-to-peer, new topics, things that are fresh. We want people to be writing who come from different parts of the world and from different age groups and different experiences. Some people come from the industry and some people are the customers we’re trying to reach. Our view is we have to give back. We also do it in the form of more long-form research. We take a difficult topic like e-sports or the mechanics behind sports betting. How do we set lines? How do we move lines? How do we manage risk? And what we do is we have very sophisticated, knowledgeable people write things in a long form with citation in a way that someone who is just looking for a good primer, a good background can read it and feel informed about the topic. So for us, we don’t try to hide the information, we share it. And that’s how people trust us when they need us for some particular reason.
Let’s speak a bit about markets. I was this year again at G2E Las Vegas and consider tribal gaming as a key issue. In which way you think the successful experience of Indian Natives in the U.S. can be shared with original communities in Latin America, in terms of their casino properties and the sovereignty on their lands?
It’s very analogous. We started in tribal gaming 30 years ago. We financed the tribes when they were building their first casinos. They didn’t have the resources, so we would provide resources and knowledge. We would help them get their first casinos and then they would become self-sustaining. That was our role to begin with, and then we developed trust over time. In the United States, you have 450 tribes operating 1,800 casinos, some of them big, some of them small. Every tribe is like a country. That’s the analogy to Latin America, to some of these emerging markets. They made their selves the same questions. How should we legalize gambling? What is the right way to do it? What is the right way to give respect to the different jurisdictions within a country, the local jurisdictions? How do we handle taxation? How do we handle regulation and responsible gaming? I’ve always had a special relationship with tribal gaming because I start from the premise that they need to be respect for the fact that they are a sovereign nation. Similarly, when I approach gambling in emerging markets, I start with a tremendous amount of respect. I may have knowledge from the U.S., having been a casino owner, but I don’t go with some superior knowledge. I go with knowledge that I want to share and then the issue is how does that knowledge translate into the legislation and the culture of that particular state or jurisdiction? The experience with tribes in America is very, very analogous to the emergence of new markets like Latin America, so I believe they can relate and work together in different areas of the business.
Everybody is talking about Brazil. In terms of size, it’s a continent, not even a country. I perceive it’s like we are always pushing or trying to force advancements in sports betting regulation, but local people that I spoke with told me it’s just a political issue. It’s like they thumb up or down. What’s your particular point of view about what’s going on in Brazil?
I’ve had 32 years in America. When I started, there was gambling in New Jersey and Nevada, and now there’s gambling in 43 states. There are now legalized online casinos in five states. There’s now sportsbooks in 32 states. The point is I know from experience the time it takes to open up a market. There’s nothing about the Brazilian experience that is unique. It is very difficult when you have local interests, state interests, and you have the federal Government, you have politicians. The issue is how do we divide up the pie? This is a very complicated issue to resolve. It’s taken decades in the U.S., but I think we’re very close in Brazil. Nine years ago, I started going to Brazil. I knew that it would take time. Now, there’s been a little bit of a setback for another six months while they figure out the federal versus the state licenses. But when I went to the BiS SiGMA event in Brazil this year and saw 30,000 people, I’ve never seen such energy, such momentum. There was a huge quality of platforms, of brands. This is the real deal. It’s an even bigger opportunity than the United States, in my view, because it’s more accessible to the rest. I’m totally patient about Brazil, and I think we’re going to have a thriving industry there.
What about Europe and the increasing regulatory pressure over different markets?
The impetus to begin with to regulate was to take gray casinos and people operating without proper license and bring them into the fold. Once they brought them into the fold, they liked getting the money and they said, can we get more money? So we went from no regulation to regulation, and now to over regulation. What we’re doing is pushing people back into the gray markets, the crypto casinos, the things that are harder to regulate. I think it’s a mistake, but I would say I would give credit to operators and suppliers and brands. They’re always going to find a way to do things within certain bounds. Governments will not encourage people to come in. They’ll push them away. What we hope is that regulators take a balanced approach because, in the end, it’s better to have people playing on. So we’re seeing an overregulation, but I think when the pendulum swings too far this way, we hope it comes to the middle, and it will eventually be that way.
The last question is about leadership. How would you describe yourself as a leader? What’s your leadership style? In which way you can transmit your vision to your employees and collaborators to build a strong and efficient working team?
What first comes to mind is to lead by example. I’m not above anyone. I’m willing to do anything that I ask my team members to do, and I’ve done it all. I’m in the office before everyone. I leave after everyone. I’m working on the weekend, so I just love what I do. If you have a passion for something, you’re going to do well. This is proven over time. So the best way to lead is by example. Obviously, being a good listener is also important. It is part and parcel to being a good teacher. For many years, I was the youngest person in the room. I was ahead of my time. Now, I have to be comfortable with being the oldest person in the room and become a teacher. In the early days, I was trying to learn everything, and now I find myself having to be willing to pause and have a teachable moment and put the focus on something important for the team. It’s just a different role. It’s not one I’m totally comfortable with, but I’m getting more comfortable with as I get older.
But you’re still open to learn.
Yes, I’m still open to learn. That’s why, before this interview, we started with me asking questions about your interests and focus on different markets. I’m also committed. I like the fact that you’re working hard and you’re bringing something different. If SCCG Management can be supportive in any way, we will help and do things together with G&M News.