GameCo Hopes for a Second Chance in the US After Green Jade Merger

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On October 10, Las Vegas-based games developer GameCo LLC announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to merge with Green Jade Games.

The combined entity will be known as Green Jade Group. Once the merger is complete, current Green Jade chairman Jesper Kärrbrink will serve as CEO, while current GameCo chair Robert Montgomery will become chairman.

The two game studios have a similar approach, both believing that the future of casino gaming lies in skill-based products that feel like video games. By combining, they hope to create “the next generation of slots and player-engagement features” and become a dominant force in that innovative segment.

As of March 2022, Green Jade has a new head of development, Mattias Lindahl. His resumé includes previous positions at Evoke Gaming, Mr. Green, William Hill and ComeOn. At the time of the appointment, the company said of Lindahl:

His experience comes at a pivotal time as we go to the market with an innovative and game-changing product. I really look forward to the incredible games and experiences we will build together.

GameCo’s focus is likewise on “new land-based and online arcade-style gaming,” as well as esports betting. It hopes these products will help it reach a younger audience than traditional casino games.

GameCo, Green Jade Paint a Rosy Picture

GameCo’s efforts in the US haven’t found much traction to date. However, both companies have expressed optimism about their potential post-merger. On the proposed deal, Green Jade Games said in a statement:

The combined entity is set to dominate the differentiated games category and will offer the most comprehensive portfolio of content focused on higher LTV [higher lifetime value] and new players that includes slots, table games, crash games and arcade games. The merger will also enable the company to scale rapidly in order to meet the growing demand for its content from the global igaming market – particularly in North America and Europe.

Montgomery, meanwhile, described the deal this way:

This is a great strategic fit. Both companies have ‘trailblazed’ a new way of looking at casino games and have established a strong reputation for producing really amazing content.

The companies have five internal game-production teams between the two of them, a proprietary RGS, and the ability to offer access to more than 600 casinos. They plan to target the North American and European markets.

Kärrbrink said:

We have followed GameCo for quite some time and we’re big fans of what the company has achieved to date. I’m confident that together we will create unstoppable momentum with some very exciting times ahead.

GameCo is poised for expansion, having executed its latest fundraising round in spring 2021.

Can GameCo Flip the Script?

There’s no guarantee, however, that these big promises will pan out.

Millennials and Gen Z have proven to be a tricky market for gambling companies to tap outside sports betting. GameCo and Jade Gaming aren’t alone in concluding that arcade-style, skill-based casino games are the answer. To date, however, no one has found the magic recipe.

These games blend traditional chance-based gameplay with usually minor skill elements. These allow players to potentially improve their payouts by demonstrating a certain level of ability. For instance, if the game has a fighting theme, a bonus round may require a player to win fights against fictional characters, with odds and payouts improving with wins in these bonus rounds. Other skill games pit players against one another while the house collects a fee.

So far, these games have failed to gain any more traction than the ones they’re designed to supplant. In 2015, Nevada adjusted its regulations to permit such games, while New Jersey followed suit the next year. Casinos in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City trialed a small number of skill-based games from GameCo and another company, Gamblit. The casinos had all deemed it a failed experiment and removed the machines within a year.

Caesars Entertainment’s SVP of Global Gaming Operations, Melissa Price, referred to the failure as “a big learning experience.”

GameCo’s Leadership Troubles

In addition to the failure of the 2016 experiment, GameCo’s reputation took a blow due to the controversy surrounding its CEO at the time, Blaine Graboyes. In 2017, in the aftermath of that initial foray into US casinos, Graboyes had his gaming license application rejected by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. As a result, he had to step down and distance himself from the company.

The NGCB’s decision stemmed from Graboyes’ previous tenure with Ohio-based Beyond Gaming. He began working for the company as a consultant before becoming its CEO.

Graboyes has been accused of purposely bankrupting Beyond before exploiting its intellectual property to create GameCo. He denies the allegations, which were never tested in court.

Nonetheless, NGCB members stated that there “appears to have been self-dealing” throughout Graboyes’ tenure and expressed doubts about whether he was being entirely truthful in the hearing.

Will Online Fare Better Than Retail?

Despite its past lack of success, GameCo may have better prospects now that it’s seemingly less focused on arcade-like retail devices.

Under its new leadership, the company now seems more interested in creating online casino content. Novel games with meaningful decisions have had more success in that arena. For instance, both GameCo and Green Jade now include “crash games” among their lineup of offerings. Such games have been increasingly popular, first appearing at unregulated cryptocasinos before making the mainstream at sites like DraftKings Casino.

In these games, the player’s potential winnings – often represented by a plane, space ship or the like – keep rising until the player cashes out or a “crash” occurs. So long as the crash hasn’t happened, the player can cash out at any time and keep the money they’ve accumulated. However, if they wait too long, the crash will cause them to lose their bet.

Strictly speaking, there’s no “skill” to a crash game, as the return-to-player remains constant. However, those who wait longer are playing a higher volatility game than those who cash out early, so the decision is meaningful.

At the end of the day, one massive question remains about Green Jade Group’s potential in the US. Does adding GreenJade create enough value that US operators can ignore GameCo’s spotty track record?

About the Author

Emile Avanessian

Emile is a one-time banker turned freelance writer. He previously worked in equity research and as a member of the Financial Sponsors Group with Goldman Sachs, where he worked on numerous casino- and gaming-related projects. His written work has focused largely on sports (NBA basketball and European soccer) and sports betting. Emile currently also writes for Squawka and Urban Pitch. His work has also been published in The Los Angeles Times, The Blizzard, Yahoo Sports, SI.com, and ESPN.

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