Devon Dalbock, General Manager of GLI Africa, offers his insights into the opportunities in the African gaming industry through GLI’s ‘matrix-like’ business structure and the eye-watering potential of India.
Since opening a new state-of-the-art laboratory in Midrand in 2017, GLI Africa has expanded its premises, celebrated 20 years of continuous ISO 17025 accreditation, and established a team of math analysts to keep up with customer demand. Now, the lab has found further cause for celebration after reaching a landmark of 100 employees.
“It is a significant milestone for us,” explains General Manager for Africa, Devon Dalbock, who has been with the company for over five years. “I was employee #25 when I joined! We have grown in leaps and bounds, particularly last year when we employed 58 people at a challenging time for the industry.
“Much of our growth is due to the rapid rise of internet gaming and sports betting across Africa. We have ramped up our delivery team to better serve our clients and exceed their expectations.”
It’s been over 25 years since GLI established its third international lab in Pretoria, South Africa, in conjunction with its then joint-venture partner, the South African Bureau of Standards. However, the company guise of GLI Africa is a slight misnomer these days.
“Our matrix-like business structure means that we don’t solely do work for the African market,” explains Devon. “Of course, it’s a big part of what we do, but we also service clients across the globe, including for many of our clients in Johannesburg and across the African continent who are looking into other markets such as Europe, South America, and the U.S.”
Part of GLI Africa’s prerogative is to expand capacity across labs worldwide and meet global demand rather than rigidly serve as specialists in one area. The lab offers a means to test and certify at a faster rate and could be described as more of a generalised asset to a global company.
“The way our business is structured means there are pockets of excellence focused on certain jurisdictions and markets. GLI Africa is here to complement the global team and help them meet their objectives.”
Devon reports daily to Martin Britton, Managing Director EMEA, and communicates regularly with Chris Davies and James Illingworth from a sales perspective. As well as all these and other members of the management team from the European office in Holland, GLI Africa works closely with the U.S. office.
“We are such a globally integrated company that I found myself dealing with people in Las Vegas and New Jersey. That interaction isn’t just at a management level either. Teams in the South African office can report into management from Colorado. Essentially, we are global teams working on global projects.
Today, GLI has 24 test labs across six continents – in or near to every regulated jurisdiction. The company has adopted an integrated compliance approach with its compliance and engineering teams working together to meet customer demand and time-to-market requests.
“However, it’s important to note that whilst we have 24-hour capacity, we don’t pass projects around the globe, but hand projects to specialist teams for the specific market in question.
“Using land-based as an example, a land-based manufacturer might bring out a new game, send it to us and say they want it tested for 350 different jurisdictions. We would split this across several teams where we have relevant expertise and equipment. From an online perspective, it is much easier as there are no hardware or slot machines to consider.”
AFRICA – THE STATE OF PLAY
“Africa has seen huge growth in the last few years and is largely still an unregulated market. However, there are many regulators across the continent who are now reaching out to GLI to assist them in implementing their regulatory framework.
“We are engaged in projects with various regulators to draf technical standards for them. GLI plays a role in working with regulators through training and drafting technical standards – often adopting the GLI technical standards.
“Outside of East and West Africa, I’m hoping to visit Ethiopia in the next few months, which is starting to come to fruition after passing its gaming legislation. Elsewhere, Rwanda is growing, and Botswana is well regulated. Then there’s Namibia and Mozambique – where there is plenty of work to be done and opportunities to be had through working with regulators to get them to adopt the GLI standards and, ultimately, having a better regulated African market.”
As would be presumed, Africa’s big growth markets are online gaming and sports betting, particularly the latter. Pre-Covid, sports betting was a retail-based operation with ubiquitous small stores wherever you go. Juxtaposed to this is South Africa’s retail sports betting market.
“A retail operation in South Africa looks like a sports bar where you can watch matches and have something to eat, whereas in the rest of Africa they are literally a tiny little shop with a counter, someone taking bets, and one, maybe two, TV screens. It’s a place you go to place your bets, not a destination to hang out.
“Covid saw a lot of those places close following government restrictions, pushing players into the online space. The problem is that regulators are often behind the curve from a tech perspective and lack understanding.”
Outside of South Africa, regulatory focus lingers on land-based slot machines, despite the fact the market has largely moved into the online and sports betting space. As a result, regulators are continually on the back foot.
In South Africa, there has been a huge shift towards online sports betting. Two provinces, Mpumalanga and Western Cape, are starting to allow online fixed odds games via sports betting operators. In the last month, GLI has experienced a “massive rise” in inquiries from major global customers looking to test and certify their games.
INDIA – THE LAND OF OPPORTUNITY
Devon is heavily involved in biz dev and managing client relationships across the African continent, often travelling to meet with regulators and source new business. However, Devon’s air miles have recently skyrocketed after being tasked with exploring new and emerging markets, namely India.
To describe India as a market with huge growth potential would be a drastic understatement. Home to a population of 1.2 billion, give or take a few million, there are circa 400 software companies known to be offering online games – and the actual figure is likely ten times that figure. Several states have legalised online games of skill, and one, Meghalaya, has legalised games of skill and games of chance.
“India is a big opportunity in India for GLI. It is largely an unregulated market in the states that have begun to legalise gambling, and even in those markets, those regulations are loose, with no set structure for testing standards or requirements. Part of my role encompasses working with regulators to help them understand the importance of having good regulations and technical standards in place.”
Devon’s most recent visit was to talk to regulators about bringing in technical standards, and to meet operators, potential suppliers, and manufacturers. Sports betting in India is still illegal, but recent estimates value the market at $150bn a year.
Because of this illegality, a lot of sports betting operators are operating with licences in jurisdictions such as Curacao and Malta with Indian domain addresses. “These sites are clearly addressed towards the Indian market in terms of their look and feel. Regulators need to understand how they can take advantage of online gaming rather than have these companies based on offshore profit.
“How they leverage the opportunity of online gaming comes down to how they regulate it and protect their players. Ultimately, the work we are doing in India is to position ourselves as a test lab for the market. We will continue to monitor and explore the opportunities for us in India.”