Erik Skarp came to Malta with a small team and a big dream. Now, the CEO and founder of Bethard is planning to create further value.
When he first came to Malta, back in 2005, little did Erik Skarp, CEO and founder of Bethard, know that the island would eventually become his home.
“In 2011, I moved to Malta permanently. All I had was a small team and a big dream, but from there, things started moving fast.”
Skarp has been working in the gaming industry since an early age, when he was introduced to the affiliate business. Then he decided to become a professional online poker player.
“That was also my entry point to the iGaming business. With a passion for gambling, technology, and business I guess I can say that I’m exactly where I wanted to be in life.”
Skarp is nowadays very active in the iGaming value chain.
“We started off with three companies in our portfolio of services – Raketech Group, Together Gaming and Bethard Group. The former – which was set up with the same founders of the Bethard Group – offers affiliate services in the iGaming sector. This company was listed on the Swedish Nasdaq stock exchange last year at a net valuation of circa €80m and today is a standalone group.”
Bethard Group’s flagship brand is Bethard.com, with a clear focus on sports betting. The company has various licences in the EU, including in Malta, Sweden, Denmark, the UK and Ireland. Another two applications – in Spain and Germany – are in the process. The Malta Gaming Authority licence has also helped Bethard gain access to more markets, including Finland, Canada and Norway.
Bethard is also synonymous with football star Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
“Zlatan is one of our main shareholders and star ambassador,” Skarp said. “We partnered up with this icon to create long-term, sustainable value. There are endless gaming operators today and they´re spending insane amounts of money every year to strengthen their brands. Zlatan gives us the competitive advantage of keeping our brand awareness with the top marketing spenders in the industry.
“Moreover, we have a very good business relationship. Zlatan is a gentle guy and I must say that I’m impressed with his way of doing things. He moves fast, is always open to new ideas and is extremely professional.
“It’s just a great fit and I think Zlatan realised quickly that we share the same values: to work hard, stay committed and dare to do things in your own way, not paying too much attention to what others do or say. It’s simple: focus on your own game, never be satisfied and sooner or later, great things will happen.”
Together Gaming is the technology and platform company.
Malta is still a very good country to do business in
“Together with our talented tech team, who are also shareholders in the group, and we've developed a state-of-the-art iGaming platform,” Skarp said.
“One can say that this is the heart of every online gaming company. The platform is a dedicated iGaming e-commerce platform that caters for basically everything, from registering customers, allowing them to deposit and withdraw money, as well as letting them play their favourite games. I would say this is the group´s most valued asset with a great future ahead of us, given that only about 10 per cent of the global gambling takes place online – and at this point, I think we all agree that a great deal of digitalising is happening in all businesses.”
There are various challenges in the industry.
“One of these is that over the years, the value of the Maltese licence is being diluted, with EU countries applying for local licence systems. That said, Malta is still a very good country to do business in and now is the time to take the next step and expand the ecosystem in order to keep the gaming industry anchored in Malta. I believe that the government and the authorities are coming up with various initiatives to facilitate this.”
Commenting on Malta’s current gaming ecosystem, Skarp said it is functional but things can improve.
“The form and shape of the industry is not what it was 10 years ago so it’s important that Malta grows together with the gaming industry, always looking at new areas that can be mutually beneficial. The lack of local financing access is one area that I´ve highlighted a lot. There are so many amazing journeys of gaming companies set up in Malta and went on to achieve massive growth.”
Having been in Malta for almost eight years, Skarp considers the island as his home and has now settled down with his family, including his children Charlie, three and Einar, six.
“Various elements make Malta my home – all the great people I've got to know and the convenience of nowhere being far. Sometimes, my friends even tell me that I’ve started to adopt the Maltese lifestyle.
“All and all I just have great things to say about Malta, the business-friendly country where entrepreneurs can give maximum ability to deliver on their dreams.”
Business-wise, Skarp is now preparing to tap into the local bond market.
“We went through the challenging process of an IPO and even though all the credit should go to our management, I personally learned a lot, given my participation on the board, where I am still active.
“Now, we are extremely proud to be the first gaming company to tap the local bond market. To me, this is a clear signal that Malta is making huge progress in the financial sector and in addressing the challenges that are being imposed by the European gaming legislation scenario. It has been a long process but finally, we obtained the green light from the Malta Financial Services Authority to list on the local retail bond market. We are now in the process of meeting with local institutional investors and all that needs to be known is explained in our prospectus. We look forward to creating value not only for ourselves but also for Malta and prospective investors.”
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