Picking up in 2020 where it left off the previous year, Habanero wasted little time in maintaining a strategic expansion strategy across a number of global markets.

Italy and Croatia became key targets towards the culmination of 2019 before Romania and Winbet ensured further European growth this month, but which markets across the region have the most potential for growth?

Arcangelo Lonoce, European head of business development at Habanero, addresses this as well as key challenges to consider for operators in a selection of global markets and what the year has in store for the firm.

CasinoBeats: 2019 was quite the year for Habanero – any particular moments stand out?  

Arcangelo Lonoce: When it comes to product launches, there’s certainly plenty I could mention. Our Jackpot Race solution, which combines a must-drop functionality with a full-configurable poker-style shared pot has been a fantastic hit, or of course our 100th slot; Colossal Gems, which we’re very proud about. 

However, for me, 2019 as a whole stands out as a fantastic moment in our relatively short history as a company. We started out with a clear target, to expand across the continent, with extensive groundwork set the year before to facilitate our advance (especially from a production, technological and regulatory viewpoint).

How far we’ve come in that time, compared to ICE 2019 and SiGMA 2019 at the end of last year, has been absolutely mind-blowing. We’ve signed a raft of commercial deals with the likes of Playtech, GAN, Sisal, BetVictor, further established ourselves in Italy, and most importantly, entered a wealth of new markets; including the Baltics, the Balkans, the UK, Portugal and the LatAm region. 

A leading provider should always able to second-guess the needs of its clients before they need them”

Of course, supporting such expansion has taken a significant amount of thinking, planning and execution, and the level of service we’ve been able to provide over the past 12 months has been key to our success. Supporting our clients (and delivering exactly what they need) is one of our strongest selling points, and one that I fully intend to see us maintain; no matter how unprecedented our level of organisation and effectiveness will need to be. 

CB: What’s Habanero got in store for the year ahead?  

AL: Our eye is very much firmly fixed on new markets, as well as capitalising on existing territories we’re already live in. Our RNG games are our calling card, and team Habanero will be doing what we do best; focusing on developing our fantastic range of slot variables, as well as boosting player engagement for our operators via our extensive toolset of free spins, coupons, tournaments and jackpots. 

Of course, all of this comes under the service umbrella I’ve already mentioned, and at the heart of this is our dedication to not only the constant improvement of services we deliver, but also in creating a European hub from which we can fully support our fast-growing list of leading operators on the continent. 

CB: Which European markets do you see having the most potential for growth? How does Europe’s varied regulatory regime affect your plans for expanding into new markets? 

AL: From a supplier’s perspective, regulatory developments offer as much in opportunity as it does in challenges! A leading provider should always able to second-guess the needs of its clients before they need them – and Europe’s patchwork regime is a real chance for us to think outside of the box and maximise partnerships rather than simply adapting passively to the status quo.

Italy is an excellent case for this. The advertising ban has produced a renewed interest in product and product specifics from operators. While it may seem paradoxical, these developments have not only helped us to improve our existing relations with our operator partners, but also enable us to put our money where our mouth is; showing our partners that we’re here and ready to respond to challenges at the drop of a hat. 

As always in our industry, challenges vary dramatically from market to market”

As to Europe’s patchwork regulatory regime; the real issue here is, in my view, the fragmentation itself. One has to wonder what the EU is there to deliver in terms of being a unifying force. Put simply, the fragmentation of requirements results in the fragmentation of solutions, which is not only detrimental to running an operation; but also risks being problematic in delivering quality and security, which should be (by far), at the top of everybody’s priority list. From a supplier’s standpoint, a pan-EU licence would be a dream come true for the industry, and the ability to operate under such a unified framework would have countless benefits. 

CB: What do you consider to be the main challenges for operators in these markets – and what difference can Habanero make? 

AL: As always in our industry, challenges vary dramatically from market to market. From advertising bans to bonus restrictions, taxation and tech requirements to gameplay, every regulator has a different approach and a different list of requirements to be complied with. 

Habanero can (and does) make a difference by delivering solutions to our operator partners that can be immediately integrated into their operations. For example; an advertising ban will require us to support product development with everything from increased synergy with the retail market, to the flexibility of RTPs which can be used on either end of the spectrum. 

One of our driving principles as a team is to offer our partners the widest array of solutions via the industry’s simplest, fastest and most secure configuration interface available. I’m particularly proud of what we can do when it comes to RTP support, with four certified ranges of RTP for each slot game.

Bonus restrictions by regulators will of course energise the use of jackpots, and with our flexible toolset, we’re able to make our slots easily configurable as linked or stand-alone local jackpot games via a couple of clicks in our back office, no matter what the regulatory requirements. 

The majority of trends point towards increased mobile penetration”

CB: What about further afield; how are you progressing with your expansion plans in LatAm?

AL: We see LatAm as a key target for 2020 and beyond. The region’s rapid tech advancement tied in with Colombia’s pioneering remote gaming regulation have been well received by the industry, and we’re currently entering a fantastic growth period for the market. 

We began Habanero’s LatAm adventure in 2019, notching up our first attendances at Gaming Colombia and SAGSE, where we established those all-crucial introductory relations that soon gave way to initial deals, which I am sure will bear plenty of fruit in 2020. We also have plans to exhibit at GAT in Cartagena this year, with plenty of resources also devoted to raising our profile across the region’s wealth of local shows. 

CB: In terms of product and tech development for the industry – what do you see being big this year? 

AL: The majority of trends point towards increased mobile penetration – and as a consequence, the ability to deliver a seamless, mobile-first approach will be key to success in the year head. Disruption is also set to be on the menu and looking at the recent developments in the remote live casino space, I expect to see plenty more key verticals turned on its head. This is none more so the case than when it comes to slot design. 

Alongside, the ability to deliver scalable solutions across the world’s increasingly fragmented group of regulatory regimes will also continue to be a driver in global expansion, which is more necessary than ever given the current squeezing of operating margins and ever fiercer competition. I predict those that can adapt fastest will be soon be on to a winner in 2020.