Evolution is best known in the US for supplying live dealer studios and croupiers to online casino gambling sites. Bonus gained insight from Evolution’s North American CEO, Jacob Claesson, about being at the head of the table.
Yesterday, he talked to Bonus about the role he’s held for six months, as well as whether Evolution holds all of the cards in the live dealer business. While Evolution does have US competitors, it’s the primary partner for most US online casino operators.
Operators including BetMGM, BetRivers, DraftKings, FanDuel, and PointsBet partner with Evolution (Evolution AB (publ) 10,13 -2,17%).
Jacob Claesson Evolved with Evolution
Claesson joined Evolution in 2016, first serving in a management role in Malta. Promotions moved him away from company headquarters to the country of Georgia, then to the US in 2021.
As the head of North American operations from October 2021 to CEO in October 2022, he’s been based in Philadelphia. There, he’s steps away from one of Evolution’s largest US live dealer studios. He’s also just across the border from New Jersey, where Evolution launched a second studio in the state in Q4 2022.
Evolution’s two other US studios are in Connecticut and Michigan.
However, North American operations also include British Columbia. This is where differing regulations are displayed: Ontario’s marketplace allows Evolution partners to use the company’s live streams from Europe. That’s somewhat similar to West Virginian online casino gamblers seeing live streams from the Philadelphia studio.
2023 Will Be Busy
Adding complexity to Claesson’s role, Evolution offers more than live dealer. Its RNG games generated 5.1% more revenue in 2022 than in 2021, Evolution reported.
Evolution CEO Martin Carlesund said of Q4 2022 and 2022, as a whole:
In the quarter, top-line growth continued to be driven by strong demand for Live Casino. Live Casino revenue increased by 41.1 percent year-on-year – which is very strong.
While Carlesund doesn’t separate out the US or North America in his statement about Evolution’s 2022 live dealer growth, Claesson’s work is clearly important to the company. So is live dealer.
That means that even though Evolution added 300 live dealer tables globally during 2022 for a total of 1,300, more will arrive in 2023.
For 2023 we will continue to invest in studio expansion, both in our existing locations and I also expect 1-2 new locations.
Also, in 2023, Evolution plans to launch more than 100 games.
With this basic understanding of Claesson’s job, Bonus asks questions in bold, and Claesson’s answers below.
What have you done so far in your new role?
It’s been an exciting few months, meeting as many customers as possible and forging new relationships with our commercial team in North America. We love to build close relationships with our partners – their success is our success – and we are constantly looking to be that little bit better every day to keep our partners ahead of their competition.
The priority for me has been to get our partner’s perspective on how we can help them to serve their players better and help grow their businesses successfully and consistently.
What would you like to do, going forward?
More of the same!
We’re always looking to cultivate and build strong partnerships with our customers, and we want to keep it that way. Live Casino is still such a new phenomenon in North America. Our aim here is to introduce more and more people to live dealer, and how – for operators – it can benefit them by retaining current players and bringing in fresh faces, as well helping them to reach their overall target growth goals.
The expansion of the North America market has been an exciting process, but we’re still in a type of education phase where we’re ensuring people are aware [of] what the concept of live dealer really means – real dealers, in real time, without heading out to a brick-and-mortar casino. There are thousands of games available at player’s fingertips with Live Casino, and this level of choice is unmatched at any land-based casino. But player[s] are still looking for elements of the familiar, especially when they’re at the beginning of their online journey. Making the technology comfortable and retaining that localized approach keeps those players front of mind. Getting that blend right between innovation, novelty, and getting customers to try something new will be key to our success here.
We’ve really just started to scratch the surface, and the possibilities for the US are huge and we are prepared for continued growth and looking to increase the speed with which we introduce new games and innovations to the market. As more and more US players transition from these land-based casinos and into the online world, our goal is to make that transition as smooth and immersive as possible.
How much of what you do is about live dealer?
As North America CEO, I’m responsible for the operations of thousands of employees across the region. So naturally, live dealer takes up a lot of my focus. As a company, our focus for North America not only includes creating and launching new live dealer games, but also bringing our slots portfolio into the market and delighting players with new features and mechanics that are unique to our brand.
Evolution is best known for its live dealer products. We provide the most authentic and human gaming experiences a player can have online, but that extends far beyond live dealer games. Creating “world firsts” is a great way of describing what we do and what defines us as a company – whether that’s for live or for slots, we share that focus and drive. Within our unique game portfolio, 2023 will see us looking to focus on the rollout of our game shows. This has been a massively popular category in Europe, and we are laser-focused on bringing that same experience to US players.
On the slots product line, we’ve recently launched our Red Tiger jackpots in Michigan, Connecticut, Ontario, and Quebec, and it has been a huge success. Our unique timed jackpot mechanic creates a sense of excitement amongst players, a thrill that can only come from this countdown effect. We are constantly looking to build on our partnerships and strengthen our relationships with North American operators, and this has been a great mechanic for us in that regard. We look forward to launching these jackpots across all approved jurisdictions in North America.
What’s been your proudest moment as North American CEO so far?
There’s so much to be proud of, just on a daily basis. We’ve got a great team in North America, all working exceptionally hard to grow this market and deliver a thrilling, seamless experience for our partners and their players. Over the last few years, Evolution has focused on getting its core live casino offering into the North America market. Still in its early stages, the regulations and setup of studios in each state has been challenging, but our team has remained outstanding – and that’s been proven over and over again with events like ICE back in February and winning Best Overall Online Supplier at the EKG Awards this year.
We always look to the future at Evolution, looking for that next thing that will keep us improving, keep us growing. Operators are always looking to differentiate themselves from their competition and are goal is to provide the best tools for them to do just that.
I have questions about specific launches.
The most recent legal online casino live dealer studio opened in Connecticut before your promotion. The expanded New Jersey offerings are happening now, correct? When will that come online?
Connecticut was an exciting launch for us, and we’re already looking at expanding our offering in that state, and the same for our second New Jersey studio in November last year. We were seeing strong demand in the state, and it gave us the space we needed to continue [bringing] new games to players in New Jersey. Both these studios have continued to be a success, and we are working hard on introducing more of our award-winning live casino games – including titles from our game show category – to these and other studios.
Will you be building a studio in Indiana if that state legalizes online casino?
[Author’s note: Indiana had language in its 2023 online casino bill that required live dealer studios to be located in the state in order to serve residents. That proposed legislation appears dead for the year.]
Our plan going forward is simple. We want to be the first provider in every state as each state opens. That’s the baseline. We want fully operational live casino studios wherever they’re needed. We’ve always prided ourselves on offering state-of-the-art, live casino studios, and our experience working over in Europe has provided us an amazing foundation. We keep close eye on all potential new states where online casino could become legal, and Indiana is no exception. We look forward to seeing where the next door for our unique games starts to open and reaching a whole new group of players.
When you debut new games, do they come to every studio?
We launch our new games wherever we can, but the North America market is very different to Europe and regulation is always adapting. The process to get a game approved can be complex and time consuming, and we want to ensure that the games we bring to the US are successful for our partners and enjoyed by their players. For example, we launched our first and only live dealer Craps game in Pennsylvania and New Jersey last year – and it has performed extraordinarily well. We hope to be in the final stretch soon to launch in Michigan, but the process in each state varies, so we rarely launch new games in all states at the same time, and this applies for both live and slots.
The other side of that coin is ensuring that we are delivering the most successful games to our operators in North America, and so this process can sometimes be beneficial. Some games in our portfolio, ones that have had a huge success in Europe and that we are confident will do well across the pond, we bring to all the larger states. Others we want to do a trial run before launching them en masse. So, we launch it in one state, judge the success of the launch, and if it does well, then we start the process to bring it to other jurisdictions.
Do branded live dealer studios have any brand-specific games?
For us at Evolution, our aim is to create games that are available to as many players as possible – and so while we create branded studio environments for our partners, we don’t create brand-specific games. Our current branding possibilities still allow operators to create unique live and first-person games, where they can leverage their brand partnerships with sports teams and leagues – and this has been extremely popular in recent years.
The great thing about our live branded experience is that no two studios are alike. Our physical backgrounds can range from simple branded backdrops to complete built-and-decorated interiors. Operators can choose to use their logos and other branding elements to create their own vision, whether through 3D-rendered graphics, blue screen backgrounds and more. It offers virtually endless creative freedom by utilizing the same technology that’s used in movie and TV studios. The only real limit when it comes to our studios, is the breadth and depth of someone’s imagination.
Is your most popular game still blackjack?
Blackjack is a very popular game in the US, and it’s likely to remain so. But in this new and ever-expanding market, the key here is to have options. More than half of the players investing their time in live dealer games play more than one game, and so game variety is crucial to success. Offering a range of classic and innovative games – such as Craps, Roulette, Baccarat, Poker, variants – is what makes Evolution stand out from the crowd. We are always looking at new ideas that will make our games better; offering variants to well-known games, such as FreeBet Blackjack, Speed Blackjack, and Lightning Roulette, keeps our portfolio fresh and players coming back to our games again and again.
Forging relationships with players is one of the most challenging aspects of this industry – there’s so much choice out there. We aim to be the first choice, every time.
What else should readers know about Evolution and you?
We never slow down, and we never settle for second best. We will continue to expand our offering from all our brands, both in live and in slots, to create even more exciting and captivating games, and to offer them to as many players as possible.