Pontus Lindwall Exclusive: Betsson’s Wings Over The Americas

Bouyed by perhaps the best financial quarter in its storied gambling history, Betsson’s long-standing CEO, iGaming legend Pontus Lindwall, graciously offered our Editor-in-Chief André Dubronski an exclusive video tête-a-tête that flew the course over America, both North and South, talked the secrets of success and asked how–after so many years of growing a dynamic company–does one stay ahead of the chasing pack.

Betsson’s Q1, quite frankly, looks spectacular. How do you feel about that?

Yeah, I think it’s a very solid report. It’s high activity, and that’s really what we strive for, and that’s really what matters.

The important thing is that the right activity is there and that we manage to keep our customers happy.

Is this the best Q1 you’ve ever had? Where is it in the list?

In terms of profits, it’s the best quarter we’ve ever had in terms of revenue.

We’re on the right track. We’re doing the right things. We have the right drive in the business. And there are certain events coming up that will boost activity levels even more. So that’s good.

I just wanted to ask you about one of the negative elements there, which was Argentina – and the inflationary impact. Surely that’s to be expected. I mean, inflation and Argentina are almost synonymous. Are they not?

Yeah. Yeah.

So anyone entering Argentina is going to have to take on board the dragon of inflation, make allowances for this. Isn’t that correct?

Yeah, that’s correct. [But in Argentina] there was also a write-down of the currency. Currencies move back and forth and some currencies tend to move more downwards than upwards. We’ve been dealing with this before. Lucky for us, we have a well diversified portfolio. So even if it impacts one country, it doesn’t impact the major part of our revenues.

About Latin America. Why did you choose to get involved specifically in Argentina and say not Brazil, which everyone’s talking about?

And what’s your take on Brazil? Do you think it’s over-hyped? I also see that you’ve got a good new relationship with a Mexico operator. So you’re going to be launching in Mexico by the end of this year?

Brazil is going to be a massive market.

But to first answer your question on Argentina. We have, more or less, ambition for the full area of Latin America. And Argentina is obviously very much sports oriented. So we have managed to secure three licenses [for the country].

It’s always been interesting for us to go to Argentina as well as Brazil, where we acquired a company a long time ago. We’ve been waiting for regulation to happen in Brazil. It’s taken more time than we expected. And not only us, but the whole industry has been waiting for regulation in Brazil for a very, very long time. And it’s been coming and then it doesn’t happen, and then it’s happening and then it doesn’t happen.

Are you finding this a frustrating process, given the stops and starts and great promise of Brazil, this massive promise? I mean, it’s a giant of Latin America, is it not? But we’re still really waiting for it to take-off in a regulated way.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course it would’ve been easier for us if there was a more, you know, transparent route to Regulation. But it’s not, and it will happen when it happens.

Do you not think that perhaps Mexico is really the major market in Latin America, given its sophistication and its closeness to the United States?

Mexico is an interesting market as well. We’ll see when that happens. In truth we have worldwide ambitions.

Regulation doesn’t happen exactly at the same time everywhere. It happens on a country-by-country basis, and sometimes regional basis as well. We look forward to even more parts of the world regulating.

Right. So in that case do you see diversity as one of your company’s greatest strengths?

Of course it’s easier to operate in one single market than, let’s say, it is to operate in 25 to 30 markets, as we do.

But then if you manage to do it in 25, 30 markets, then you have a strong position. And yes this gives you a competitive edge in the industry. That’s how I see it. It provides an investment alternative, so we become less vulnerable to certain changes in certain markets because we’re so spread out.

What elements make up the Betsson package, the Betson strength? What elements make you a market leader?

Firstly, we have a very strong and solid balance sheet. We are in such a strong position financially so that we can make acquisitions. We are not dependent on the banks. We don’t suffer if the interest rates go up. That’s strong for us.

And we’re a knowledge-based company. Our biggest asset is our staff, our organisation, and our proven track record. We know how to operate. We know how to deal with different markets. This, I think, is the biggest strength that we have.

You are only operating in one US market, in Colorado? Is that correct? I was wondering why are you not more involved in the United States? Is it because of the cost of action there, of acquiring market share? Is it because it’s too competitive with all those big hitters, like DraftKings and ESPN BET coming to the market, BetMGM et cetera, FanDuel.

Why are you not more involved in the USA given that it’s such a dynamic and potentially, you know, super wealthy market? I don’t quite get that.

Yeah. It is. It is. The US is going to be a big market. It’s already quite a big market. But if you look at it from a technical perspective, it’s not only one market, it’s several markets because different states are regulated in different ways, and they are allowing different products.

So when we looked into the US–when they started off regulating–we saw that this was not going to be an easy market. From a technical perspective, there are all these different jurisdictions. So it’s not going to be cheap. There will be [tough] competition.

We saw other potential markets where we could get a better bang for our bucks. Yeah. We choose to go for those markets. And, looking where we stand today, we don’t regret that.

How do you see the company’s future? Do you have any fears that perhaps you might become too big, that the company might become too difficult to handle?
I mean, we’ve seen over-ambition sometimes leads to disaster.

I think it’s a very good question, and one I also get from investors.

I usually answer, and I’m sorry to be very boring, that I see more of the same. it’s not always the answer that they want to hear. But I think we have found a way to grow the company in quite a sustainable way and in a way where we grow with control.

We don’t make those major huge acquisitions, which could risk losing control or losing the culture of the company. So I think we want to continue with what we have done so far. It’ll be a good journey going forward as well.

You mentioned the word there, ‘Sustainability’, which leads me onto a very important question, what about Compliance and Responsible Gambling in Betsson?

To operate the company in a sustainable way, of course that’s important and Responsible Gambling is a big part of that, an important part. It’s an integrated part of the company and we have people working full time on this. One of our VPs is responsible for that part of the company, and we have people working full time only with these questions. It goes all the way up to the Board.

We have developed a lot in this area, and we’ll keep on developing, as will the rest of the industry. It’s a learning curve.

One last question, Pontus: You are leading this big company. You have been involved in one way or another with Betsson in its different avatars as CEO many times. You’ve been CEO, you’ve moved on, you’ve come back, et cetera. This must be your third time in the hot seat?

I think it’s the third.

Third time. And on this third occasion, you are now approaching your seventh anniversary. Are you getting itchy feet, the seven year itch?

And I would like to ask you, as a man, you look very, very fit to me. How do you maintain your fitness and your sanity handling such a massive job? I mean, you must fly hundreds of thousands of miles every year, if not millions. You must be subjected to eating countless dishes of what they call rubber chicken. How do you maintain your fitness and your focus?

Certainly, I work a lot. I travel a lot. So, from time to time, it can be quite tough.

But then again, I try to exercise a lot and I do a lot of biking. I exercise three, four, five times a week. And I try to do this on a very consistent basis. So I give that priority, and that’s important.

I stick to it. I have booked that time on the gym bicycle. And I don’t skip it. By doing this, I try to stay fit and, and that of course keeps me in pretty good shape — to handle the job as well.

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