State of the Offshore Gaming Industry
Q & A with
Dalton Wagner, Founder V.O. Group, S.A.
As Founder and Proprietor of V.O. Group, S.A., Dalton Wagner has the reputation of making one-dollar work like three in online marketing. With formidable competition, Mr. Wagner founded V.O. Group, S.A. in 1998 and has quickly risen to be one of the largest offshore operators in the world with over 50,000 active clients. We had an opportunity to catch up with Dalton Wagner on his last visit to Antigua.
Vegas Offshore: This year has been interesting for V.O. Group, S.A. and the offshore industry as a whole (advertising changes, etc.). How do you feel about the industry at the current time?
Wagner: I feel the industry is as strong as it has ever been. We are still finding that our advertising is bringing us new clients at an ever-growing rate. Some competitors are complaining that the crimp on advertising is affecting the industry, but we are not seeing this trend. Consolidation within the industry has begun, and I am sure you will continue to see smaller competitors gobbled up, and medium to larger companies merging. The weaker will go by the wayside.
Vegas Offshore: What about the rumors of V.O. Group, S.A. being bought?
Wagner: I am glad you used the term 'rumors'. The fact is that in July 2004 three suitors approached V.O. Group, S.A. because of our record-breaking profit year. In two of the cases we did see 'value' in a merger/relationship. However, at the end of the day, we could not come to terms that were agreeable on both sides. At this time V.O. Group, S.A. stands independent. And, we are happy being independent, profitable and growing.
Vegas Offshore: It is rumored that Bet On Sports (PLC; BSS.L) was one of the suitors. Is that true?
Wagner: There were three suitors that approached V.O. Group, S.A. And, in all cases confidentiality agreements were signed. For this reason, I cannot confirm or deny who any of the potential suitors were. What I can tell you is that one was a major sportsbook player, one was a major casino player and two were PLCs. I doubt that helps.
Vegas Offshore: Well, if Bet On Sports was involved, I bet you are happy you weren't involved in their November 24, 2004 stock debacle.
Wagner: The Bet On Sports stock debacle was an over-reaction by the market in my opinion. In one day you saw their stock drop 50% in value. And, the reason was poor performance in a very short period. If you looked at the other publicly held offshore gaming companies, you saw the same thing, just not as drastic as with BSS.L. Simply put, I know the founder of Bet On Sports, I know the management of Bet On Sports, I know the staff at Bet On Sports and I would not hesitate to invest in Bet On Sports. They were, and still are, undervalued in my opinion. They are a great competitor and a great company. I wish I had some of their stock at the new adjusted price. I just don't see how you can lose.
Vegas Offshore: It is rare to hear the 'competition' speaking so highly of a major competitor. Why would you do so?
Wagner: Simple. Bet On Sports is a great company. And, I am sure they would tell you the same about V.O. Group, S.A. The fact is, that there are companies out there that make our industry stronger. And, ones that make it weaker. Bet On Sports and V.O.Group, S.A. strive to make our industry stronger and more legitimate on a daily basis (as do BetCris.com; BoDog.com; etc.). What kind of ambassador for the industry would I be if I downplayed a 'good' competitor like Bet On Sports for my own benefit?
Vegas Offshore: If Bet On Sports did approach you, would you consider a merger?
Wagner: I like being independent. But, simply put, NEVER say NEVER.
Vegas Offshore: What of the rumors that you are looking at Panama as a potential relocation site?
Wagner: Our operation currently has offices in Costa Rica, Antigua and Belize. In Costa Rica we currently have over 400 employees. With employment costs in Costa Rica on the rise, the burden of Caja and the ever-changing political climate, we have looked at several alternative locations. One of the most desirable is/was Panama. However, due to the massive failure of BetPanAm.com and the political debacle involving their past gaming commission, we have decided to stay put for the current time. I think it is very safe to say that our primary location will be Costa Rica for the next 5 years. Pending any crazy licensing or governmental changes.
Vegas Offshore: I have visited your office in Antigua, however had no idea that you employed 400 individuals in Costa Rica. Why do you need such a large staff?
Wagner: Our industry has a reputation for being lazy and getting by on a shoestring budget. Most sportsbooks, casinos, racebooks and poker rooms answer phones when it is convenient and buy computers when the ones they are operating blow-up. Most are simply embarrassing to the legitimate operators. To run an operation like ours, servicing 50,000 bettors, you need lots of space, a 1 st rate phone system, fiber and satellite phone and Internet backups, IT professionals, accounting professionals, etc. V.O. Group, S.A. is currently located in 35,000 square feet of space, operating 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, and we are busting at the seems. At the current time, we are negotiating to buy the building next to us for future expansion. I think we will employ 600 people come this same time next year.
Vegas Offshore: I have noticed that you are still branching into other products. How has this strategy worked for V.O. Group, S.A.?
Wagner: In 1998 we started with our sports product. We then branched into the casino product. In 2001 and 2002 we opened several major race books and poker rooms. The fact is that we are profitable in all products. However, our core product, and hub for our advertising, is focused on the sports product. The strategy has worked, but we will not desert our core product. You can look for our re-launch of interactive betting in early 2005 and bingo in mid 2005.
Vegas Offshore: What other changes do you see in 2005 for V.O. Group, S.A.
Wagner: I think you will see V.O. Group, S.A. work more on our Internet interface to make it more gamer-friendly; you will see our company move into land-based gaming; and you will see us acquire two or three smaller competitors. Rather, you will see what you have always seen, expansion.
Vegas Offshore: What other changes do you see in 2005 for the industry as a whole?
Wagner: The strong will get stronger. The weak will get weaker. And, the acquisition race will be on.