Have you ever wondered what it takes to get an online casino off the ground and make it a success? Well, ponder no more! In this article, we have BitStarz’s Jack-of-all-trades Olle Dickson in the crosshairs. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be inspired to start your own casino one day.
Mr. Dickson, thank you for agreeing to be interrogated today! Let’s start off by getting to know you a bit better before we get into the casino side of things.
Hey, thank you so much for having me and making me feel way more important than I probably am 😃
Please tell us about your background. Where do you originate from, what did you study, or what industries did you work in prior to coming to BitStarz?
So, to make a long story short, I grew up in Sweden which means that most people associate us with IKEA, ABBA, Spotify, and Minecraft! In the casino industry, I think we’re known for the big casino boom in Malta in the early 2000s with brands such as Unibet, Betsson, LeoVegas, Mr. Green, Expekt, etc.
I’ve been in the casino industry since I left high school. It was supposed to be a temporary thing until I figured out what to do with my life. At one point, I wanted to be an engineer like my dad, but I also realized my attention span can be measured in milliseconds and that I’ve got the mental capacity of a chimp in comparison to other people in that field. Needless to say, I’m no Elon Musk.
Prior to BitStarz, I was lucky enough to gain quite a bit of experience working with very talented people at companies such as bet365, BetClic, William Hill, and LeoVegas.
When you got to BitStarz, did you start off as the Marketing Manager, or is that a position you grew into?
Funny story actually – I wasn’t hired for a specific position. The owner of BitStarz reached out to me as he needed the website translated into Swedish. He needed someone with casino and content experience and I felt I had done my part at LeoVegas at that point.
We met up for breakfast in Malta and after that, he asked if I wanted to join the project on a permanent basis, and I gladly accepted. I don’t think Marketing Manager is an accurate description of what I do, but at BitStarz we’re not really big on titles and we put more emphasis on what people do as opposed to fancy titles.
What does your average day consist of?
This is what I appreciate most about the job – variety. I wouldn’t call myself an expert in any given area, but rather I’ve been in the business long enough to have a good understanding of the operation as a whole (besides tech, where I’m a complete moron).
Most of my time is dedicated to taking care of our high rollers, but I also assist in anti-fraud, some content, dealings in forums, handling complaints, monitoring main KPIs among other things.
What do you enjoy the most, and the least, about the online gambling scene?
I appreciate the variety and the fact that it’s ever-changing. I’m sure this is the case in many industries but I feel that the competition among casinos is insane and it puts a lot of pressure on you as an operator to constantly improve. That’s also what makes this industry very exciting to work in.
To answer your second part of the question, it’s going to be a similar answer as to the first. After all, what makes it competitive and exciting also makes it a challenge. So as much as it’s thrilling, it’s also very demanding. With that said, I think this kind of environment caters to a specific type of personality, especially if you’re in my role. So to all you masochistic people out there who don’t have a calling in life, this might be your thing.
You have the most kick-ass sense of humor; does that help you deal with the stress of dealing with complaints, or do you have to go home and kick the pet hamster a few times?
Haha, thank you! As much as I love kicking hamsters, I do use humor to cope with the stress of complaints instead. I think humor can have the effect of disarming a situation without necessarily taking away from the seriousness of it.
I’m a firm believer in putting all of the facts on the table and letting people make up their own minds. When a complaint is posted it’s just one side of the story, because it rarely includes the reason that we gave to the player for taking action. Casinos care about their reputation, so if they took some extreme action towards an account, it certainly wasn’t for the heck of it.
I also have to confess that my way of writing is just an accurate representation of who I am as a person. I’m lucky enough to work for a company where I have the liberty to reply freely, without having to go through 823 pages of company guidelines. Very grateful for that.
Do you gamble? If so, what games do you play? Do you bet in crypto or fiat (which one and why)?
I rarely gamble these days, I have to admit. I think I spend so much time in the industry that I prefer to not gamble in my free time. As to what I play, it depends on whether I do it online or at a land-based casino.
I have to confess that when I’m in Vegas, I play Blackjack at the Hooters Hotel and Casino – obviously because they have the lowest table limits and totally no other reason whatsoever. Really. I swear.
When it’s online, I do like the old NetEnt Games such as Mega Fortune and Jack and the Beanstalk; there’s just something nostalgic about them. Unfortunately, NetEnt doesn’t allow for wagering in crypto so on that note, I prefer holding onto my crypto instead of gambling with it (which I guess is gambling too in its own right, haha).
BitStarz has been around since 2014. What was the impetus for starting it off?
That would be a question for the founder of the casino, but as far as I understand, he saw the potential in crypto very early on. He’s got a background in tech and casino start-ups, so he decided to merge the two.
In the beginning, only crypto was accepted at BitStarz so it would be a complete lie to say it was an overnight success. I mean, people hadn’t even heard of crypto back then. With that said, it eventually took off and we’ve been banking on crypto since that day.
BitStarz is clearly quite a complicated set-up with many moving parts. How on earth does someone come in from the cold and set something like this up? Do you have to know people or have deep pockets?
Well, it’s definitely not for free, I can tell you that much. However, there are a few different routes one could take.
I think everyone starts with the white label route where there’s an existing platform you lease that has all the fundamentals in place such as game suppliers, payment providers, etc, and you just pay them a fee for leasing their platform.
There are some companies out there that eventually develop their own platform to achieve more autonomy over what they can and cannot do, but it’s often reserved for the really big players in the business such as Betsson, Unibet, LeoVegas, etc.
But without getting ahead of ourselves, it’s not cheap to start a casino regardless and there’s absolutely no certainty that yours will be a success. Everyone knows there’s pretty much one casino for every child in China, so opening up a casino is not going to result in people coming from near and far to gamble at yours.
You also have the option to grow slowly and organically or try your best to acquire funds from potential investors. As we want to maintain quality and control, we prefer the first option instead of pumping out millions of investors’ money on branding and a ball pit for the rec room.
Is it easier or more difficult to offer crypto as an option for an online casino?
That’s a very good question. It’s difficult in the sense that many players and new employees are quite new to cryptocurrencies in general. This means there’s an obvious learning curve for everyone involved.
Once you’ve gotten past that, however, I’d say that crypto is clearly the better option for both the casino and the player. It’s way cheaper, more transparent, and faster than any other option which makes it mutually beneficial for everyone.
How popular is crypto betting at BitStarz? Do you think it will increase, given that some countries are clamping down on the use of this form of currency?
As much as I’d love to give away a clear split between each currency, I also don’t want to risk getting strangled by the owner of the casino (jokes aside, he’s the nicest guy). But it is a big part of our business, to say the least.
I think it’s going to be virtually impossible to ban the use of crypto. It’s decentralized and unregulated anyway, so it operates outside the realm of traditional finance. So banning something that doesn’t adhere to any legislation isn’t really doing anything.
I rather think that crypto prompts a return to sound monetary policy. People are starting to question if their money is worth the paper it’s printed on, which is a good thing. I think that the use of crypto will significantly increase in the future, and so will its share at BitStarz, too.
When it comes to licensing a casino, how does that work? In other words, how do you choose between a Maltese one or a license from Curacao? And how long does it take to get a license?
It’s going to be hard to answer without writing a complete essay, but I promise to give it the old college try.
So, at the beginning of online casinos, there were very few jurisdictions that were offering licenses. Some noteworthy places would be Malta, Curacao, and Kahnawake among others.
By having a license issued by a certain jurisdiction, you’d have to follow the rules and legislation of the gambling commission of that country, but you could operate freely in many different markets. Some license issuers might be more restrictive for both the operator and the player and dictate what both can and cannot do.
Lately, we’ve seen a rise in local licenses where you will need a specialized license to operate in a specific country, such as Sweden, UK, France, Spain, etc. This means that you will need to apply, and be granted, a license from that country to operate there.
If we go back to the Malta and Curacao examples, Malta might have more rules, regulations, and restrictions than Curacao, and as a player and an investor, that might seem to indicate stability and reliability.
The reason we choose Curacao is that they allow crypto use, and losing crypto would not just be a blow to us financially, but it would also go against the founding principles of BitStarz. We also have “Bit” in the name, so we would have to go back to the drawing board.
If I may also speak freely, as much as one might say that Malta is a more prestigious and better license on paper than Curacao, I think a casino is only as good as the manner in which they operate. The foundation of the casino is still to do our KYC (Know Your Customer), to ensure responsible gambling, to help problem gamblers, and facilitate multiple self-help tools and limits.
Just because you have what is deemed to be a fancier license doesn’t guarantee the success of a casino or the likability thereof. I think the feedback we get, and the loyalty of the customers, speaks for itself. We think the proof is in the pudding, and one thing that helped us gain trust with our player base is the fact that we cash them out within 10 minutes on average and there are no limits.
How does a fledgling casino convince game studios to get into bed with them? Is it a bit of a struggle?
Well, some you have to wine and dine (to answer your question specifically) and some are a bit easier.
If there’s a game studio out there that’s been around for years, creates popular games, and is well-liked at every casino, you – as a new casino – will have to approach them and strike a deal to place their games in your casino. If it’s a new game studio with a small catalog, simply trying to get a foothold in the market, they will most certainly approach the casino instead of the other way around.
It’s the same as if you were opening a sneakers store. Nike is not going to come to you, so perhaps you have to contact them to get their shoes in, but if there’s some hillbilly dude making running shoes out of old tires in West Virginia, he’s probably the ones who’s gonna come to you to get his product in.
Is there revenue share with the game studios, or are games licensed – how does that work?
Yes, it’s on a revenue share basis. Casinos pay a certain percentage of the revenue from those games to the game studio, and the fee depends on a few factors.
If you generate big volumes, such as the major casinos out there, they have more bargaining power to lower that fee as opposed to us. After all, it’s simple economics.
Some games from the same providers might also carry a higher fee than others, and here I’m thinking mainly about games that are branded with a trademark. An example would be if you’re basing a game on South Park or Jurassic Park where they will charge you a premium rate on top of the regular fee for use of the trademark.
When I win at BitStarz, whose pocket am I taking that money out of? The casinos or the game providers?
I don’t think I’ve gotten that question before, haha. But to be fair, it’s both. If we’re talking about a really really big win here, the biggest damage will be done to the casino, but the game studio will of course lose out on revenue as well.
With that said, I don’t think any game studio has a negative carryover for the revenue (which means that everything re-sets every month and any minus in revenue on their games is not rolled over), so they just take a temporary hit, while the damage to the casino’s pocket can be longer-lasting.
To put it simply, if a player wins big, the casino loses and the game studio potentially loses out on revenue for the short term.
What, in your opinion, is the most important part of running a successful online casino? Is it the number of games offered, customer support…
Perhaps this is a question better directed at our players because as much as I, as a casino operator, can sit here and say what’s important to other people, I find it way more productive and interesting to listen to our players to hear what they have to say.
After all, they’re all experts in the realm of user experience as they use the product regularly. We monitor, check, look at numbers, while they are the ones playing, wagering, taking bonuses, cashing out, dealing with support, pressing all kinds of buttons, experiencing how fast or slow the site is, and so on.
But from what I’ve understood from listening to our players, fast withdrawals and customer support are the most important things. As you may understand, there are a lot of factors that are important, such as games, reputation, etc, but if I’ve understood things correctly, I’d say those two are the main ones.
To add to the fast withdrawal point mentioned above, I think payments, in general, are one of the most neglected, yet absolutely vital, aspects of the business (hint: crypto). If you don’t have reliable payment options, it doesn’t matter how many games you have or which promotions you run. People need fast, reliable, and secure payments.
BitStarz has won a host of awards. Which one are you most proud of and why?
I’m proud of every single one of them but if you were to put me on the spot and make me choose, I think the Player’s Choice Casino of the Year by AskGamblers made me the proudest.
The reason, of course, is that it was voted by the players themselves, which means that out of all of these big brands that are 20x the size of us, the players picked us. There’s no greater honor than that, in my opinion.
What’s it like working in a fully remote business? What are the challenges?
To be honest, I think working remotely is going to be the norm going forward. There has always been a huge amount of hostility from old, well-established companies (regardless of the industry) that remote work will never be realistic.
Then, Corona happened and suddenly remote work became not just possible, but essential. I also believe that when these conglomerates realize how much money they spend on overheads to lease a massive office in prime real estate areas (where employees can’t even afford to live), it’s better to downsize to be more cost-efficient. If you’re a publicly listed company in the US and have to abide by fiduciary duty, there’s no reason to not do this already.
Sure it was cool to have an office in Silicon Valley with craft beer on tap and free pizzas on Fridays (about 15 years ago), but people prioritize differently today.
At BitStarz, we’re lucky enough to have been remote since the beginning, so we didn’t experience an overnight transition of like 100 people going from an office environment to working from home.
We also have a major advantage in the sense that we’ve always hired people for 100% remote roles, meaning we’ve already picked people that in our judgment, can handle the responsibility of remote working.
I can honestly say that we’ve been very lucky in the sense that there are no major challenges, company-wise, when it comes to remote work. There might be individuals who struggle a bit with the transition but thankfully we always share tips and tricks on how to improve 🙂
And lastly, what do you think has helped make BitStarz a success?
I think it’s a combination of things. The founder of BitStarz saw a massive opportunity and he didn’t just think about it, but he went for it. When he started the casino he wasn’t just one of those founders who sat back and hired people to do the work for him. Rather, he did everything on his own.
When I say that he did everything, I’m talking customer support, payments, KYC, affiliation, marketing, anything you can think of. I personally haven’t come across a founder who is so dedicated and unafraid of getting his hands dirty.
To this day, he’s as dedicated as he always was and is always there to help. He’s also a very humble, kind, and generous person who puts all of us first. I think being that type of inspirational character attracted some good people to BitStarz and due to us being well taken care of, he’s got a team of very talented and loyal professionals from all over the world.
So I think that his original idea, constant dedication, offering remote work so we can attract people who are tired of living on a small island somewhere, slow organic growth, and very loyal players has led to the success that BitStarz is today.