CB100 pathways through
gaming and beyond,
with Ben McDonagh
The necessity of building and maintaining a strong network is a familiar construct among numerous industries, and is certainly one that is not lost in the gaming community.
However, among the multitude of strategies and expert tutorials in how best to achieve such a goal, is the question of: how much do you know you network? With this in mind, CasinoBeats is aiming to take a look under the hood, if you will, and has tasked the 100 Club to help out.
Today, we hear from Ben McDonagh, CEO of Green Jade Games, who elaborates on dashed career ambitions as a teenager and finding purpose in Malta, as well as the major changes to have been observed within the online gaming ecosystem.
CasinoBeats: Could you begin by talking us through any past experiences that have been gained outside of the gambling industry? Could your career have taken any different paths?
Ben McDonagh: It was during two weeks, one English spring when, at aged 17, my long held ambitions of becoming a police officer were dashed. It wasn’t the fitness test halfway through the first week of work experience, though the bleep test was vomit inducing, and it certainly wasn’t the exhilarating high speed chase after a stolen gold coloured 7 Series BMW that discouraged me.
It was because I was a naïve ‘alter-boy’, so shielded from the neediest in our society that my prejudices were vague. I got fearful that I’d develop the disposition I saw in the officers around me and in my immaturity, I didn’t see how I could sign-up and influence change when, I assume, the majority of the data, or what they choose to see, reinforced their position. With that dream quashed, I reverted back to what I knew – how to work hard, how to learn and how to add value.
“Great relationships in one’s personal life are key to happiness, and that is no less true in business”
With no clear direction, I drifted into retail store management, selling car parts and accessories, excelling at reversing stores fortunes through engagement with a newer consumer demographic…which in this case was the boy racer! Had I not taken a working holiday visa to Australia, I think I would have remained in retail in one form or another.
CB: What was it that eventually led you into this industry?
BM: I found myself on a flight home from Australia, 5 months earlier than planned, to spend some time with my father, who had been pronounced terminal with stomach cancer. Landing in England, I had no job and no clear ambition of what I was to do with myself.
Whilst temping as an envelope stuffer in a claustrophobic office, inserting templated letters informing customers that the fund they’d invested in had bottomed out and all their money was gone, I took a call from a friend, Ercan Mehmet, who said there was an opening in customer services at Betfair in the Stevenage office, and I was invited to apply. Prior to that call, my only experience of gambling was on the dogs and horses through the betting shops that had always been near the shops I had managed.
CB: How would you assess your progress through the industry to date? Are there any interesting anecdotes that would interest our readers, or any stand out experiences that may not have been possible without the current, or a past, role?
BM: Starting from that first interview in which I got every Moto GP and horse racing test question wrong, I have striven to learn, so kudos to Neill Thomas for seeing past my ignorance and still hiring me! Great relationships in one’s personal life are key to happiness, and that is no less true in business.
The confidence my managers had in me at Betfair, afforded the opportunity to relocate to the new office in Malta, something I was suddenly highly motivated to do as during the initial two week secondment I’d met my now wife!
This move was the significant propulsion point for the rest of my igaming career, as it was in Malta that I found purpose. I couldn’t have made that move however, had I not taken the time to listen to the customers and engage with the opportunity to understand their frustrations, and sometimes, their great ideas.
“If you don’t evolve, you will die”
So, the difficult calls with irate customers or the thousands of manual account corrections after a multi-table-tournament crashed on the poker site was the work I gravitated towards. Not because I enjoyed the ‘grunt work’, but because it was the work that positively impacted the customer that would teach me the most. I learn the most from my failings and if you only choose to do what you know you are capable of, you will never learn what you can really achieve.
So over a decade later, as I sat in the audience awaiting the prompt in my ear to go on stage to present live at a Capital Markets Day presentation for MRG Group, I thought back to what had brought me to that day. I thought of the compromises I made in leaving a grieving family behind to focus on a career in an industry I love, I thought of the challenges I’d failed to resolve satisfactorily at my previous company and how I wanted to lead differently.
Most poignantly I thought of how I now believed it would be possible to influence change in a traditional industry by being different and staying true to my beliefs. What had changed from my work experience in the police force was that I was now ready. I was ready to change igaming with Green Jade Games.
CB: What would you say have been the major changes during your time working in the industry? Both for the better and worse.
BM: We’ve all grown up! I started in igaming in the mid noughties at a time of rapid change and incredible product development. It seemed everyone was young and ambitious and business was as much social as it was commercial. My one-2-ones were held in the local and my colleagues and I would always earn a bonus no matter how influential we’d been on target achievement and it felt like we couldn’t fail.
But as with all good things, competition ramped up and there was no cruise control option anymore. If you don’t evolve, you will die. In our space evolution meant defending revenues in .com markets that had once come for free. Spain and Italy were the first to regulate after UK had shown the .country option, and if your organisation had taken on too many different projects or had become too fat, this was truly problematic.
“…how do we improve content matching to player to reduce the disappointing interactions?”
Therefore, one of the biggest changes I observed in my time in igaming was the mobilisation of technology organisations and a reduced focus on marketing being the solution.
Outside of regulatory changes, I would say the increased number of women entering gaming employment is one of the most notable positive changes. Consumer behaviour is ever evolving with an increase in female players coming through (55% increase from 2015 to 2019 in women who play weekly).
In my early years at Betfair, it was not uncommon for an account registered in a female name to be operated by a male (multiple-accounting fraud), however according to data from All-In Diversity Project last year, 43 per cent of the workforce in Malta are female, and the UK Gambling Commission’s report from 2019 states that 43 per cent of adults gambling in the year prior are women.
This has meant a change in marketing and advertising approaches too, and has also increased the complexity of written marketing materials for languages that use gender forms.
CB: If you could ask the 100 Club any questions, or task them with tackling any issue, what would that be?
BM: What metrics do you use to measure entertainment? Our businesses exist because players want entertainment with the chance to win more than they spend, some of the time. Therefore, how do we improve content matching to player to reduce the disappointing interactions?
If you would like to tell your story, or be considered for the CasinoBeats 100 Club, please email us at [email protected].
Launched to give a voice to the industry on a range of key issues, the CasinoBeats 100 Club tackles the tricky questions and shares members’ views across the CasinoBeats network. Have your say by joining the 100 Club.