On today’s show, the CEO of NEL Advisory Dan Phillips joins Ryan to talk about his near 25-years of experience in the iGaming space. He also shares a bit about his new podcast Big Betting Balagan.

 

Video from Dan Phillips Interview

 

 
 

Show notes from Dan Phillips Interview

Ryan Knuppel: All right. Welcome back to another episode of the Knup Sports Show. I’m your host, Ryan Knuppel, here with you each and every episode. We appreciate you taking a little bit of your time tuning in. As you guys know, we like to talk anything in the iGaming space. We like to talk to different people. We like to hear different stories. We like to talk about different trends and things that are coming up. So, hopefully you’ll enjoy this episode today. We have another special guest, as we always do, but today’s very special. We have Dan Phillips, the CEO at NEL, N-E-L, Advisory, co-host of the Big Betting Balagan podcast. Dan, are you with me?

Dan Phillips: I am. Thank you, Ryan. Thank you for that intro. Yeah. So, NEL Advisory, it was named after my kids’ initials, originally. It was called a few other things, but then I changed it to NEL Advisory. So, that’s my platform for offering advisory and consulting work. I guess we’ll come onto that, but just, maybe, just a little bit of background for your listeners.

Dan Phillips: I mean, I’ve been around the industry for 25 years, believe it or not. I started in retail casinos, dealing cards, roulette, craps, actually in a basement in Soho in London, if any of you guys know that. So, kind of interesting times, but moved online very early when it was all starting, so that was great timing for me, in 2001, and launched the first online casino with a company called Eurobet who are an Italian-facing brand. Just a quick story, going through the history of it, but they were bought soon after that by Coral, who are the major UK bookie, and we launched their online sports book and then we launched casino and then poker and soft games and school games following on after that. Coral then merged with Gala, and Gala, a major retail casino and bingo operator, so we built and launched bingo for them. So, I had a role as digital gaming director.

Dan Phillips: Actually, all of those brands are all now part of GVC, part of the GVC empire. So, there was all kind of mergers and acquisitions along the way. I then wanted to get into social gaming, and I did two or three years splitting my time between California, West Coast Canada, and Europe. I then moved… I was introduced to Playtech, and I’m sure many of your listeners know Playtech, in 2012, where I was VP of operations. So, running, there, one of the UK subsidiaries, mainly, which included some of the game studios, commercial relationships, product, and third parties. And actually, during that time, we launched the products across all of the dot-country European regulated markets and into LATAM and into Asia, as well. So, certainly really fun and exciting times.

Dan Phillips: But for the last two years, as you said at the start, I’m with my own advisory, and now I work on projects by myself, but I have a small group of associates that are people that I and trust across the industry, and we’ve worked launching people into North America. So, what’s been happening [inaudible 00:00:03:06], I’m sure that we’ll come on to that, as things have opened up. So, from a… whether it be licensing, whether it be product, software, regulatory, but also across Africa, as well, which has been really, really interesting. So, east and west coast Africa. I had lots of challenge there, but it’s been really, really exciting, and also LATAM. So, yeah, so that’s what I’ve been up to. That was 25 years in three minutes.

Ryan Knuppel: I tell you what, man. You’ve had some experiences, and what’s amazing is, you’ve been kind of around the world. You’ve been in a lot of different areas and a lot of different pieces of gaming, as well, which is amazing. And I’m sure that that helps… In any advisory role now, I mean, all that different experience helps that type of role, so I’m sure you’re just thriving in your advisory role now. And are you enjoying that role? Is that something that you’re really enjoying?

Dan Phillips:

Yeah. No, for sure. I mean, having been in corporate roles at what is now GVC and at Playtech, you can be very much head down and sometimes you can’t look up and see what’s out there. So, two years ago, when I moved into this space, all of the sudden, I looked up. I thought, “Wow, there’s all these opportunities out there,” and obviously the US is one of those, but now I’ve self-educated myself into new areas. So, the reason that I kept my career moving on partly was due to where the industry was going and timing was right, which I think is probably the same for lots of people. But for me, it was to learn something new.

Dan Phillips: So, recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work around the esports area, in terms of looking at the market, looking at the major players, looking how betting can leverage this, and there’s been some big numbers pushed out there from esports, obviously off the back of COVID and the back of a lack of sports, but I think that will continue, but other areas as well, which are taking me away from gaming a little bit, but into the areas around fintech and mobile pay and contactless pay. Again, areas, maybe, where new markets like the US and North America are maybe a little bit behind, maybe, where we are in Europe on that. So, that’s been really, really, exciting, so if I can keep educating myself, then I find that’s the way that I motivate, as well.

Ryan Knuppel: 100%. So, let’s expand a little bit on this whole era that we’re in right now, because one thing I like to talk to people like yourself about is, we had quite a bit… especially in North America, the US market for betting, we had quite a bit of momentum going in the industry until COVID hit, right? And then COVID hit and it seemed like everything shut down or stopped or transitioned into, like you said, esports, and maybe some more online casino talk, and things like that. But my question is, once we come out of this COVID shutdown or pandemic, do you think we’ll pick right back up where we were as an industry, or do you think it’s going to take some time, now, to get that ball rolling downhill again?

Dan Phillips: Well, I think if there was a vaccine that was working tomorrow and everyone was clear, then I think sports would go back to where they were, and give it a month and everyone would have moved on from this. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t think anyone thinks that that’s going to happen, but what will happen is that we’ll get to a scenario where stadia are opening up, even if they’re at partial capacity, but there’ll be at, maybe, one third of capacity. So, that will get people back into the stands. Obviously that will then drive more betting opportunities.

Dan Phillips: But actually, what I think will come out of this… And it isn’t the nice part of the industry, but it is around the responsible gaming elements of it. So, what we’ve seen, as I mentioned, with the growth in esports, and people have been banging on table tennis, and they’ve been betting on Belarusian soccer because it’s the only thing which is there, and everyone’s saying, “Well, this is fantastic. This is amazing.” I think what it shows is that people are at least as much focused on betting and gaming as they are around following their team. So, if you follow your team, maybe a few years ago, you would place your bet because you want to support your team, but actually, now, it feels like it’s actually more about, “Okay, I need to play.” So, we’re seeing a lot of that, certainly, in the UK.

Dan Phillips: I’m sure that your listeners have been following what’s been going on with the UK parliamentary committees looking to potentially shut down marketing or significantly reduce it. We have, here… I don’t know whether you have it in the US, actually, but you can’t advertise cigarettes, tobacco, at all, and if you go into a store in the UK, it’s behind a shutter and that’s the kind of thing where we’re going to get to. So, I think that will progress into other markets.

Dan Phillips: Now, what will happen after this is that if markets don’t regulate quickly enough or they don’t take these factors into consideration, then you’ll see, maybe, a potential further growth in offshore and people moving to that because they have maybe a wider offering and they’re able to advertise that, whereas some others aren’t. So, this new world that we’re talking about, I think won’t be what it was, but I think the revenue will still be there, and that growth will return. I guess… I mean, a question for you, being Stateside, whereas I’m in Europe. You’ve only got, right now, three or four states that offer iGaming online.

Ryan Knuppel: Sure.

Dan Phillips: Obviously, you got 15, 16 now with sports, and several talking about it. But if that doesn’t catch up, then I think you are going to see more being pushed offshore, and actually, when they go offshore, then there’s less protection for the end consumer. So, that’s a roundabout way to answer your question, I think.

Ryan Knuppel: No. I mean, that whole discussion is fascinating to me, especially… A lot of things I do are with different affiliates and affiliate groups and things of that nature, and there’s this whole promotion of offshores and promotion of legal US operators, and things of that nature, and the one question that always comes into my mind is, “When are these offshores going to be completely phased out of the United States?” And I don’t even think we’re close to that yet. I mean, we’re just not. Unfortunately we’re not close to that point yet, simply because of the fact you just said. There’s only three or four states that are truly iGaming capable. Do you have any thoughts on, I guess, that transition from offshore to this, and how quickly it could go, or how quickly offshores could go away for the US market?

Dan Phillips: Well, we had the offshore operations in Europe and globally. Actually, I’ve even worked with some of them a few years ago, but what we need to get to is a position where the onshore, where the legalized areas, have a comparable product set, right? And until you have a comparable product set, people will continue to go and find the best offers. That doesn’t have to be an offer in terms of a bonus offer or a VIP offer. It’s in terms of the betting, the betting options, the bets in play, the best wallet options. You know, “Why can’t I use certain payment solutions?” How quickly money is being returned to users. What are the KYC processes? We have a scenario now where KYC is 100% needed, for the obvious reasons, but now you have to prove where your funds have come from. Now, if you’re playing offshore, you don’t need to do that.

Dan Phillips: Can you imagine now, Ryan… So, so you’re playing on a UK or a European operation, and then you get a phone call from the customer service. They said, “Hey, Ryan, you just spent, like, 500 bucks. Can you tell me where your money came from?” And you’re going to be like, “No. Why am I telling you [crosstalk 00:10:48]?”

Ryan Knuppel: “None of your business.”

Dan Phillips: Exactly. Exactly. And if they can’t prove where their money comes from, the operator has to suspend their account. Now, what they did behind the scenes, before they make that phone call, is that they’ll do the research, that they check you out on the electoral register, they check you out, even on social media. They might even do a Google Globe view of your house. “Can this guy afford this? What car has he got parked in his driveway?”

Dan Phillips: So, these are all for the right reasons that these protections are in place, but actually, what we need to do is to have a dialogue, and at the moment, what you have is… What will come out of COVID is probably an increase in proper gaming statistics. The governments and then the media, especially, will jump on this, and they will haul us, as an industry, over the coals, and then knee-jerk changes will happen, probably to the detriment of the end user, ultimately, and to the revenue of the operators, or ultimately, you just create a poor experience for the end user. So, again, they will go offshore.

Dan Phillips: So, if we have dialogue as an industry with the end consumer, I’ll ask them what they want, and actually, in some cases, they don’t know what they want, but anyway. We have to help them evolve into a safe way of playing, and I think when you look at GVC and Gamesys and Flutter, and some of the big groups are out there doing this, and now they’re promoting their safety features rather than the odds, something… I think that’s a good thing, but actually coming out of it, again, how we do this, I think one of the biggest things is going to be digital transformation.

Dan Phillips: So, you have people, now, who maybe were big retail operations who also had a digital arm, a digital division, and the people in those companies… I mean, one company probably didn’t talk to each other, right? They were probably competing with each other, actually. I’ve certainly come across that. But actually, now, what they need to do is to leverage their retail brand, to leverage, maybe, the loyalty that comes with that, and help them do that, help them have a single wallet across retail and online, which comes back to the fintech. Can you have a balance in your Apple Wallet that you can use in the store and you can use online? And I think that’s where I think we will get there. Will it happen in one year? Almost certainly not. Maybe two to three years, maybe, but, yeah. It’s a bit of a crystal ball thing.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, yeah. Some great points there, and you can tell, for the listeners out there, you can tell Dan Phillips, one of the most knowledgeable people in this industry, definitely has a lot of experiences. Man. So, good stuff. Hey, I got a question for you. Big Betting Bala… I keep saying that wrong.

Dan Phillips: [crosstalk 00:13:46].

Ryan Knuppel: Big Betting Balagan podcast.

Dan Phillips: Okay. So, Big Betting Balagan [crosstalk 00:13:49] –

Ryan Knuppel: You’ve got to tell me what this is, what you guys talk about, and I’m hoping to join you here soon on your podcast, as well, but give the audience a little bit about the podcast, how they can get ahold of you on that.

Dan Phillips: Thank you for that. So, it’s the Big Betting Balagan, and we’re only 10 episodes into our podcast, so we’re not as established as you are, but the word balagan is actually a Hebrew Yiddish word, and the literal translation is… It’s difficult to give a literal translation, but it means, kind of, craziness, maybe unpredictability, maybe things are up in the air, and it was a phrase that we used a lot during my time at Playtech, balagan. “What’s going on?” “It’s a balagan.” In fact, even someplace our customers, if any are listening, will recognize that.

Dan Phillips: So, yeah. So, I co-host it with two industry colleagues, Lee Richardson, who’s a sports specialist, been around the industry for a long time as well, and Vigne Kozacek, who’s our tech and cybersecurity specialist. And, yeah. So, we started back in January, and the idea being that there’s three of us, we talk about the hot topics of the day, and to give it some kind of insight between our experiences from, probably, between us, 60, 70 years of experience between us from different perspectives, and then discuss it, and we keep it light. There’s quite a bit of banter in there. And then we add topics. We’ve had speakers on, even focused just on compliance and regulation. We’ve had a couple of US specials. We had Joe Asher, who’s the CEO of William Hill USA, on there. We’ve had technology. We’ve spoken about compliance. We’ve spoken about AI and the importance of that. And actually, recently, we’ve looked at, maybe, some industry veterans as well. So, we had Neil Goulden, who’s the current chairman of Gamesys Group, and we had Richard Flint, who’s the previous CEO of Sky Bet, now a non-exec at Flutter.

Dan Phillips: So, yeah. So, yeah. Be interested if your viewers and listeners will want to check it out. Bigbettingbalagan.com. We’re in all the podcast places, and yeah. Yeah. Happy to have you on, certainly, Ryan, and you can give us your views from running a podcast. How many years out? Five years, six years? [crosstalk 00:16:11] all right?

Ryan Knuppel: We have been doing it for quite a while. Actually, this will be episode number 101, so we’re in the three digits now. So, that’s a good thing.

Dan Phillips: Wow. [crosstalk 00:16:19] together.

Ryan Knuppel: Oh, you will. You will. You will. You guys are doing-

Dan Phillips:

[crosstalk 00:16:23] episode 11, [crosstalk 00:16:24] 11, so we’re still finding our feet, and I think, actually, what I realized quite early on was that we’re not professional broadcasters, but actually, I don’t think anyone really cares. I mean, maybe we don’t have the highest production value, but hopefully it’s a good quality listen, and able to get something out of it.

Ryan Knuppel: A good piece of advice for the people listening, for the longest time, I was crippled by the fact that I didn’t think it was good enough of a podcast, or my production value wasn’t good enough, or something, and so I just didn’t act. I didn’t do it. I didn’t take action on making it happen, even though I kept, like, “Oh, man, I got to do this. I got to do this.” And I think that’s just one lesson for any entrepreneur, any business owner. Look. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Go out there, make your idea happen, and then it will transform, as you go, into something bigger, better, and then you’ll look back and be like, “Man, why didn’t I start that 10 years ago, when I was really thinking about it and was scared of what people thought?” And so, I think that’s just something that… It’s not always about the production value. Of course there’s some value in having really good production, but get out there and just make it happen. That’s just a good piece of advice, I think.

Dan Phillips: Yeah, no, absolutely. And what we were finding, as well, and actually still do, is that the industry has lots of news outlets, and I think now I get something like 10, 15, maybe 20 newsletters a day, and they’re all kind of the similar story. So, it’s just trying to give it a different angle, exactly as you’re doing, getting people on and asking them for their views.

Ryan Knuppel: Sure. Sure, sure. So, let’s talk a little bit about sports real quick. I know you’re a busy man. I’ll get you off here soon, but I’m curious. So, US sports. As of this recording, baseball’s coming back tonight, MBA’s coming back next week. We’ve got all sorts of sports coming back here in the US. Do you have a team? Do you watch any of this or care about any of these teams here in the US? I’m curious.

Dan Phillips: Well, actually I wasn’t sure where you were going with that. [crosstalk 00:18:22]-

Ryan Knuppel: Oh, no, it’s more of a fan question-

Dan Phillips: [crosstalk 00:18:23] fan thing. So, okay. So, listen. I’m a Tottenham Hotspur supporter, right? I don’t know if that means anything to you.

Ryan Knuppel: No, it does.

Dan Phillips: Proper football, as we call it, from the English Premier League. However, when it comes to your sport, I never really got my head around NFL as a sport. Well, I understand the [crosstalk 00:18:48]-

Ryan Knuppel: The real football? Or, wait. No.

Dan Phillips: Okay. Okay. [crosstalk 00:18:50]-

Ryan Knuppel: The proper football, real football?

Dan Phillips: That one where you only use your hands, right? Yeah.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, yeah. That one.

Dan Phillips: That one. Okay. But I understand the complexity of it and the strategy of it. But actually, I do like baseball. I’ve got a soft spot, having spent some time in California, San Francisco, so there’s some teams there, and also the New York guys, but I know that that’s kind of like saying that you support both sides of something. But actually, some time I spent up in Canada, I was in Calgary quite a bit, and I was following the Flames in the hockey. So, yeah. I found that… They’re sports that move a little bit quicker. I appreciate that baseball isn’t the quickest sport, but certainly, [inaudible 00:19:40] saying that, but yourself? What’s your team?

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. One other question. So, and we talked about this a little bit off the air, but I’m curious your take on the events in this space. So, we have all sorts of events. We have live events, we have virtual events. Have you been enjoying the virtual event format? I know, like I said, we talked a little bit about this, but I’m curious if you could give your input on how these virtual events are going and if they’re truly serving a purpose here during this pandemic, or maybe… Are we going to stick to these going forward, or will we get back to live events once things settle down?

Dan Phillips: I think they’re serving a purpose right now. I did something like 20 trips last year, most of which included some kind of conference, and some are great and some weren’t so great. So, if they are… Even the retail ones are kind of hit and miss. But actually having this, the ability now to still connect with people, still physically see them and hear people’s views is vitally important. However, for me, what I struggle with a little bit is being able to chat offline with people, to be able to grab… If I saw someone at a trade show, I want to speak to this guy because I want to sell something or maybe I want to buy something from them. That’s a little bit of a struggle.

Dan Phillips: But actually, there are a lot of people, maybe, that couldn’t necessarily afford to go to all of these trade shows. And, I mean, it’s a big commitment if you want to get to the US and you want to go to Asia and you want to go to LATAM. I was at ICE Africa the last two years, actually. It’s been, obviously, moved this year to a digital event. That’s in Johannesburg, and there are people within Africa, within the continent of Africa, that couldn’t go because they weren’t able to get visas because one country doesn’t talk to another country, so they couldn’t physically go.

Dan Phillips: And so, I think what we’ll see after this is probably hybrid events. So, there’ll be a physical element and there’ll be a digital element, so people who are offline and who can’t make it can still watch what’s going on and still participate. So, I would imagine that that will be the case.

Dan Phillips: I heard that ICE London, which has now been moved from February to April… I think that may have some element of virtual and digital, and I’m interested to see what the GTV guys do, come October, when [inaudible 00:22:00] that’s now been moved to a digital conference. So, I think, yeah, the answer is right now, it serves a purpose, but I think it will evolve, but I think we will get back to physical events again.

Ryan Knuppel:

Yeah. I love the idea of a hybrid model, for sure, because there are times you just cannot make a trip, but you still want to be a part of it. So, I love that idea, but hopefully you and I will be able to sit down at one of these, physically say hello over a coffee or a beer or something, and that would be a… Man. We all love the live events. We just love the social piece on top of the learning and the connecting, and there’s nothing like connecting in person and just making business happen. Nothing like that.

Dan Phillips: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Ryan Knuppel: Awesome. Awesome. Well, this is Dan Phillips, CEO of N-E-L, NEL Advisory, co-host of the Big Betting Balagan podcast. Dan, any final thoughts for the audience here before we get off here? Anything you’d like to say?

Dan Phillips: Well, just really, just great to see sport coming back globally, now. Great to see people getting out and about and hopefully staying safe, and people who are looking to invest, I think now is the time to invest in their technology, to invest in their platforms. We’re looking at new markets, and I think some people have said, “You know what? We’re going to hunker down whilst we’re having these tough times,” but I think, actually, now there’s opportunity to say, when we come out of this, to be on the front foot. So, yeah. Definitely open to people who want a contact in terms of new market entry and things like that. I think now is the time to be investing.

Ryan Knuppel: Sure. Sure. So, how would anybody get ahold of you personally or your business if they wanted to reach out or possibly get your advisory services?

Dan Phillips: Yeah, for sure. So, they can do it through the podcast. So, it’s the bigbettingbalagan.com. You can contact me and my co-host there. My email is [email protected] That’s N-E-L-A-D-V-I-S-O-R-Y.com. And actually, I have a group of associates, as well, so I have my skills, as we spoke about earlier, but through the networks, we have compliance people, we have marketing, we have operations, and so on and so forth. So, we have areas to help and cover most projects.

Ryan Knuppel: Awesome. Well, cool. Well, we’ll put all those links in the show notes, so that everybody doesn’t have to scramble, write them down. We’ll get them in the show notes.

Dan Phillips: Appreciate it. Appreciate it.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah. Dan, super nice to have you on the show. Thank you for taking a little bit of time and giving some of your insight into this industry from your so much vast experience that you’ve had. So, thank you again.

Dan Phillips: Thank you, Ryan. Appreciate it. I appreciate your time. [crosstalk 00:24:31]-

Ryan Knuppel: All right, everyone. Thank you for tuning in. That was Dan Phillips. We appreciate him being here. We appreciate you listening, tuning in, or watching, if you’re watching on YouTube or LinkedIn. We’ll have plenty more to come, and in the meantime, head out, out to the Big Betting Balagan podcast and check out Dan’s podcast as well. All right. Take care, everyone. Have a great day, and we’ll talk soon. Stay safe.

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