In part one of a European market series with Relax Gaming, Chief Commercial Officer Nadiya Attard and Regulated Markets Program Manager Hanna Johansson discuss the growing opportunities in the Spanish and Italian markets.

CasinoBeats: Thanks for taking the time to chat with CasinoBeats! To get us started, can you introduce yourselves to our readers?

NA: My name is Nadiya Attard, I’m the Chief Commercial Officer at Relax Gaming and have been proud to be part of the team for more than three years. In total, I’ve worked within the iGaming industry for more than 20 years across both B2B and B2C – so I’m able to offer a very in-depth range of knowledge spanning both the operator and supplier side. 

As well as online, I’ve also spent plenty of time working with the land-based sector, which enables me to bring a real edge when it comes to knowledge of various product verticals. In short, I love what I do, and the industry is an exciting one to be a part of. It’s really amazing to see how much it’s grown over the last decade and how it’s still evolving. 

HJ: It’s a pleasure to be here! My name is Hanna Johansson and I’m Relax Gaming’s Regulated Markets Program Manager. My role at the company is to oversee all regulated markets projects; so that covers everything from regulatory changes in existing markets to new market entries and anything in between. As you may have guessed, that’s quite a busy job given we’re live across so many major markets!

I’ve been part of the Relax team since 2021, and in that time, I’ve supported Relax’s debuts across the Netherlands, Spain, Colombia, Italy, Ontario, and most recently, Greece. Before joining Relax, I spent plenty of time working in the operator space facilitating market entries, so it makes for a stimulating new challenge to now be representing the supplier side. 

CasinoBeats: Relax Gaming has already established a strong presence in Southern Europe, most particularly in Spain and Italy. Both jurisdictions are well known for having strict legislative measures in place. What would you say have been the biggest challenges when operating in Italy and Spain?

HJ: As with any market, Spain and Italy have had their own unique sets of challenges, particularly when it comes to regulatory approvals. For both jurisdictions you need the regulator’s pre-approval for new integrations as well as to take games live. The documentation and logistics involved in obtaining the regulatory approval is more complex, necessitating greater effort and resources on our part. 

This has meant that we need to review some of our internal processes. For our Spanish operations, for example, we have had to implement an entirely separate roadmap for new game releases. Fortunately, our strong client relationships in these markets have enabled us to establish streamlined and efficient processes, which have been highly effective.  

CasinoBeats: What have been the biggest trends in terms of player preferences for these markets? And how do these differ to other European markets such as Malta and Romania, for example?

NA: Of course, European player preferences are incredibly diverse – with Italy and Spain being no exception. From a commercial perspective, if we take Romania for example, the market has been heavily influenced by the land-based gaming sector – which draws many parallels with others, especially with Italy and Spain. 

As a result, land-based themes are heavily dominant, even online. At Relax, we relish the challenge of exciting players with something new, and that means that we need to be at the top of our game to ensure audiences can become familiar with our titles. To achieve that, we need to first build brand awareness to introduce ourselves, although that’s certainly a great challenge to have! 

It goes without saying that it is much more important for us to enter the market with the right games and the right products, rather than rushing to be the first to debut. To do that, we speak with our operator partners to understand what games in their portfolio are working, what players like, what game designs and volatilities are proving to be the most popular – and then adjust delivery accordingly. 

CasinoBeats: Italy and Spain both have a very strong retail heritage, which can understandably present a unique set of challenges. Nadiya, looking at your land-based experience, how does Relax Gaming plan to capitalise on that love for retail betting? 

NA: Having worked for some of the Italian and Spanish players’ favourite brands, including NetEnt and Microgaming, I can say that plenty of studios have found it incredibly difficult to build exposure within both markets given the land-based heritage. Sometimes, it can take up to three years to build that brand awareness – it doesn’t happen overnight. Of course, being Relax, we’re well-placed to make that happen.

From experience, I can say that what many game developers attempt is to launch their top-performing titles first, but this doesn’t always work. As a result, they then try to understand why players aren’t playing these games and often need to come up with an alternative solution. Interestingly, in some cases, players may well show a preference for a game that might not have been popular previously! 

However – Spain and Italy are totally different in this regard, and that’s a key thing to understand. It’s not so much down to the players, but more down to the operators who are managing the market and their mentality. You need to build a relationship with each major operator brand, and they need to understand how your games are performing, where and how they can be promoted, and which will suit their audiences best.

An ace up our sleeve to achieve success here is our aggregation programme. We’re able to provide such a broad range of top tier games alongside our in-house titles, that we can be fully confident that we’ll have something to please everybody. 

This is a great differentiator to have, given the broad diversity of top-tier award-winning gaming content we have to offer. The pricing for this is appealing too, given the current prevailing economic climate. This difference in cost allows for much greater freedom of flexibility to test titles with land-based players without risking too much expense. 

HJ: I certainly agree – Spain and Italy are two markets where aggregation has been very popular, and with good reason. 

What we’ve seen is that there are operators that prefer to add game studios to their portfolio via the Relax aggregation platform, purely down to the simplicity of doing so. 

They don’t have to set up a raft of new integrations; it’s all done via a single API. As a result – just like Nadiya mentioned, you have far greater flexibility to adapt and evolve the content you have on offer as an operator. In many ways, markets such as Italy, where land-based gaming still takes up around 75 per cent of the market share, it’s imperative that you have the flexibility to try as many different options as possible.