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Magic in Malta

Glyn Thomas chats to Madis Jääger CEO Olympic Entertainment Group about the company’s expansion

Madis, February saw the opening of your new casino on Malta – did everything go to plan?

Our aim was to open the new casino by the end of last year and we did have a soft opening already in December. Now in February we had the official casino opening and it was huge with close to 1,500 visitors during the first night. So yes, even though the active tourism season has not started in Malta, our launch has been really successful and things are looking very promising.

Can you tell us more about the Malta development?

Well, the new Casino Malta has been set up in partnership with the leading Maltese tourism and entertainment company Eden Leisure Group and we will be managing the casino on the basis of an operating contract. We’ve invested up to 7 million Euros in the new venture that will comprise nearly 3,000 square metres, has more than 285 slot machines and nearly 30 casino and tournament poker tables in addition to a sports betting area – being the largest casino we have operated.

We had been looking for a good chance to expand to a popular holiday destination and this is a huge step toward carrying out our expansion plans with the benefit of a strong cooperation partner. We have great faith in Eden Leisure Group who is investing more than 30 million Euros to create two more floors of luxury “6 star” suites, a Holiday Inn Express hotel with 100 rooms and a conference centre of 3,600 square metres. As a result of the ambitious extension plan the accommodation complex will have 652 rooms in all. I really believe that the hotels with their dining and conference facilities will provide a great synergy with the casino for everyone visiting and organising events in Malta.

So why Malta?

Malta is a member of the European Union, it has nearly 450,000 inhabitants but more importantly over 1.6 million tourists visiting annually. The country has a stable casino market with an annual volume of about 44 to 45 million Euros. So far, the market has been divided between three casinos, but I am convinced that we will be able to provide stiff competition to them. I also think that with the growth of high-quality supply the market will grow as well.

Are any other casinos for holiday destinations planned for the future or is that information under wraps?

As a publicly listed company we cannot talk about our plans in detail but as you probably know we are always on the lookout for good expansion possibilities. Although Malta is our first resort market as such, several other casinos also benefit from heavy tourist traffic. Tallinn, for example, with its remarkable medieval Old Town is also a busy holiday destination, especially popular among tourists from Finland and Sweden. Therefore, our local flagship casinos have always been located in hotels as well.

As if that were not enough this Summer you will also be opening your Flagship Casino in Tallinn. Can you tell us more?

Sure. The new Olympic Park Casino will be opened in the centre of Estonia’s capital Tallinn together with the Baltic’s first Hilton in a few months – we are busy working hard to get it complete. The casino will be 1,600 square metres and will have separate areas for slot machines, gaming tables, tournament poker and VIP players. A large bar area and stage at the casino allows for high-quality entertainment program and an OlyBet sports bar offering a comfortable sports betting experience.

I understand you are pleased to have Heikki Rinta- Panttila on board as the GM. We’ve interviewed him in the past and he has a wealth of gaming experience.

Yes, Heikki was former GM of Finland’s state-owned Casino Helsinki and also worked at a senior level in Casino RAY so we are very pleased to have him on board for the new venture. With more than 20 years of international experience in casino operations, he will definitely have the skills and know-how we expect from the General Manager of our flagship Olympic Casino. We are working to open simply the best casino in the region and with Heikki on board I’m confident that we can provide successful operations and unprecedented gaming experience for our guests from day one.

We have talked in the past about your online and sports bar brand OlyBet – how is that progressing?

The progress of OlyBet has been great. Recently, we had a strong entrance to the Lithuanian market and also became the general sponsors of the top Euroleague basketball club BC Žalgiris. Basketball is huge is Lithuania and supporting the most successful club of the country will help bringing technologically advanced sports betting closer to all Lithuanian sports fans. We see great synergy between our land-based and online operations, not just with sports betting but also with poker. Connecting our online and land-based opportunities we just had a record-breaking international poker festival called OlyBet Kings of Tallinn with 27 tournaments scheduled and hundreds of world-class poker players travelling to Estonia for a whole week worth of great poker action. As with the opening of bigger premises in Olympic Park Casino in Hilton Tallinn Park I am convinced that integrated casino and hotel will bring even more poker enthusiasts in Estonia next year making Olybet Kings of Tallinn the most prominent and biggest poker event in the Baltics and Scandinavia.

You attended the recent Game ON event in Ukraine as a speaker and expressed interest in expanding there if the conditions were right. Has anything changed with that regard?

That’s absolutely right. We have previous experience from Ukraine where Olympic quickly became a symbol of quality and a role model in the market. If Ukraine decides to take very clear steps to adjust their legislation creating a proper gaming regulation and opening the market for high-quality casino entertainment, then we would be indeed interested in returning to the market.

We had the chance to chat at ICE with you and your senior management team who looked remarkably relaxed after a hectic few days at the show. How do you keep your team working together - how do you bring out the best in them and in their staff?

As a service enterprise, people are our most valuable resource so we put a great effort into making them happy and working together. Our main strength is our goal-oriented approach. Everyone at the management team knows what we want to achieve together and how we want to do it, also clearly knowing their role and responsibilities in the process. Most of our senior management team has been with the company for many years and they are highly experienced and confident doing what they do. As we never rest, we always have new interesting ventures to work on and being part of something new and exciting all the time keeps the team together and well-motivated.

Many years ago I remember being introduced to your SMILES programme and was impressed with how it lead to greater staff and customer interaction. Is the scheme still going strong?

Yes, of course. The SMILES programme is still the very foundation of our service. Keeping the staff motivated to make each and every customer enjoy their stay has been behind our success in all Olympic Casinos.

OEG – The facts

With more than 3,000 employees, Olympic Entertainment Group is the largest provider of casino entertainment in its region. OEG is a full member of the European Casino Association (ECA). Today, the Group operates casinos in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Belarus, Italy and Malta. OEG shares are traded on the main list of Tallinn Stock Exchange and Warsaw Stock Exchange. All casino operators of Olympic Entertainment Group are responsible enterprises that notify their clients of the dangers associated with gambling.