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One year later: Ukraine's igaming industry in the midst of conflict

It has been one year since the Ukrainian war began. And as we've all seen photographs and heard accounts from the battle, our thoughts have turned to those we know are still in the nation.

There are several igaming enterprises in Ukraine that employ a huge number of Ukrainians. We wanted to meet with such enterprises in a five-part roundtable series in cooperation with Bet On Good Foundation to examine how the conflict has impacted them and how the betting and gaming sector can best support those still based there.

The conflict in Ukraine has grabbed headlines in recent months, but we know little about how it has affected domestic gaming suppliers. What is your interpretation of the situation?

CEO of the Bet on Good Foundation, Vlad Slyusarenko: First and foremost, in my opinion, this is a terrible and absolutely unfair elimination of Ukrainians that impacts not only Ukraine but the entire world. Additionally, this war has become a litmus test for democracy, for countries seeking freedom and progress, and for countries that value individuals as subjects with the ability to affect processes.

At the moment, we can see how inflation is rising, food shortages are hitting Ukraine, food prices are rising, and cities are periodically facing blackouts as a result of regular huge rocket attacks from Russian and Belarusian territory.

All of these concerns are interconnected, and they all have an impact on the gambling industry. Players' solvency is deteriorating, and they have less access to energy, which restricts their involvement in the industry's products and services.

Despite this, it is interesting that, as a result of exhaustion, Ukrainians have begun to allow themselves greater expenses intended at pleasure and relaxation, such as watching sports events and putting little wagers on the outcomes to warm up the emotional component of watching the game.

We were happy with certain significant sporting events, such as the rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua, the current world champion in professional boxing according to the WBA, WBO, IBF, and IBO. This event not only boosted our spirits but also sparked our excitement, bringing us back to the interfaces of betting sites and drawing a large amount of attention from the general public to the sector as a whole.

The impact of the war on the Ukrainian economy cannot be overstated, and the igaming business is no exception, especially for enterprises based in Ukraine. Businesses are currently finding it more difficult to function because to the numerous problems associated with military activity, particularly when it comes to day-to-day operations.

At the same time, we are witnessing an undeniable resilience of Ukrainian igaming suppliers, which has meant that we have continued to serve the sector as we always have, demonstrating how robust we have been in the face of such adversity.

Because their offices were in areas of conflict activity, some organisations were forced to relocate completely. Nonetheless, they are now back to full capacity, assuring that they can be a truly dependable partner.

Looking at Evoplay this year and previous has shown how adaptable we are and how quickly we can adapt to any situation. We were able to not only stay afloat since the war began, but also to move forward and make this a successful growth phase for our firm.

Since then, we've scaled new heights, introduced new products, and won some of the industry's most distinguished honours. I can't express how proud I am of our team. They are wonderful.

Igor Terebinov, PokerMatch's Deputy CEO: February 24, 2022. The start of Russia's full-fledged invasion of Ukraine. Every Ukrainian awoke to explosions and was temporarily removed from normal life. Each of us needed time to understand how this was conceivable in the twenty-first century and what to do next, including how to protect ourselves, our families, and our country, as well as how to keep our business and support our employees.

We needed time to mobilise and figure out "what happens next?" However, the shock wore off, and we realised that every Ukrainian can help their nation by staying where they are and assisting in the regions that they are most familiar with.

At the beginning of the full-fledged invasion, the PokerMatch staff refused to work with Russian players and terminated all advertising arrangements with Russian partners.

Then we joined the Ukrainian poker community's campaign, which appealed to the worldwide poker community. The players called for a boycott of games at Russian poker rooms as well as the severing of all links with the Russian poker community in their statement. After all, Russia's aggression affects the entire world, not just Ukraine. As the largest Ukrainian poker community platform, we fully endorse the idea that "poker is a sport" and the campaign to isolate Russian sports until the military aggression ceases.

Speaking of PokerMatch, the company was and continues to be created as a long-term enterprise that must be prepared for volatility. While no one was ready for a full-fledged war, the corporation had enough reserves to keep its operations running in the event of a catastrophe. And we made advantage of them. We temporarily halted hiring new staff, modifying compensation, giving incentives, and acquiring equipment during the first several months.

But, as early as April, players began to return to the game more often, and by the end of April, PokerMatch had nearly fully returned the pre-war volume of play. PokerMatch has now adopted a significant strategic development plan for the coming years. Two key foreign markets where the brand aims to establish a presence have been identified.

Evgen Belousov, CEO of GR8 Tech: The war in Ukraine affected everyone, and everything turned upside down.

Concerning employees, the burden has been distributed so that blackouts, rocket assaults, and other similar events have as minimal impact on the work process and employee well-being as possible. In Ukraine, we provided offices with continuous power and internet access, as well as bomb shelters with basic amenities - everything so that employees could work in a comfortable and safe environment. We created several offices in Kyiv and other Ukrainian locations to ensure that as many staff as possible had access to energy, internet, and heat. Employees were welcome to stay in the workplaces with their families during the most terrible moments, when living at home was extremely tough.

Simultaneously, we continued to work in a hybrid remote manner, allowing everyone to do what works best for them. In addition, in May 2022, we created an office in Prague that served as a centre for all employees who were compelled to leave their home nation temporarily. Everyone who had the ability and desire to leave Ukraine due to hostilities received our full support in temporary or permanent relocation, as well as the option to work in our offices in Prague or Limassol.

In terms of business, we place a greater focus on asset diversification. As you may be aware, we changed our name from Parimatch Tech to GR8 Tech in early 2023 to represent our journey into the B2B business. This change had been planned for some time, but the invasion compelled us to act more quickly and aggressively.

Adjustments that would normally take time were accelerated and implemented in less than a year, requiring a great deal of flexibility, internal resources, and resilience. Diversification also enabled the organisation to provide the necessary backups for its core services outside of Ukraine. This helped to alleviate the strain on staff who are in Ukraine and working under more severe psychological and physical conditions, as well as to ensure company continuity in all procedures.

NuxGame CEO Daniel Heywood: Due to the financial insecurity and constraints imposed by conflict, certain businesses have had difficulty with banking and payment processing. Other from that, the impact of the conflict on the igaming sector has been minimal, and the industry has endured.

In today's hyper-connected, globalised society, igaming has found ways to adapt to the limits and problems that endangered its progress. Numerous businesses have discovered alternate solutions and formed new collaborations to ensure that they can continue to grow and expand in the face of adversity. In doing so, it illustrates the region's industry's enormous force as well as the agility of its suppliers.

Ruslan Kravchuk, Playson's Human Resources Manager: The war in Ukraine disrupted corporate operations in a variety of ways, beginning with availability, productivity, and, most crucially, people's safety. War necessitates a great deal of crisis management and making quick judgements along the route.

Moreover, such terrible situations demonstrate how corporate ethics and principles are translated into actual actions from the organisation, and at Playson, we were able to quickly adapt and achieve our business objectives. This would not be possible without the courageous activities of our people, who frequently labour in bomb shelters, devise ways to operate when there is a blackout or no electricity, and work at night if they are unable to work during the day.

Most importantly, this is not a "corporate direction," but the desire of our people to work together to develop a great product and feel responsibility and ownership for the work they perform.

Our people responded to the ongoing crises, and we would not have survived if our culture had not matured and become more transparent.


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