February 24 2012, by Alexandre Dreyfus
Interview: The man who made Bally smile:) (GamingIntelligence.com)
Gaming Intelligence speaks exclusively to Chiligaming founder Alexandre Dreyfus about what he brings to Bally Technologies
Bally Technologies has found an unlikely hero in the shape of 34-year-old French entrepreneur Alexandre Dreyfus. The founder and CEO of Chiligaming has just sold his creation (minus the relatively small B2C bit) to Bally, one of the biggest US technology suppliers to the casino industry.
The addition of Chiligaming’s online gaming platform and its 20 staff represents the final piece in the Bally Interactive jigsaw (bar some recruitment and partnership deals, which are still to come). Bally’s acquisition of mobile app provider Macroview Labs, a remote gaming server from Irish company ComTrade and Chiligaming’s B2B business came in at less than £20m. It is a ridiculous bargain for what it claims will be the most complete and, crucially, the most flexible online product for land-based US casinos.
That flexibility is a very strong USP – almost. Aristocrat’s GameAccount platform also gives customers the flexibility to plug in any software. Their flexibility provides a real challenge to the business and indeed the fundamental business model of competitors such as IGT, which are wedded to their own poker network.
“The solution we offer is freedom of content,” says Dreyfus. “We have a neutral i-gaming platform on which you can plug any product in.”
If Chiligaming’s platform is as good as Dreyfus says it is then Bally now has the most convincing land-to-online/mobile technology solution of any gaming supplier.
“We arrived too late,” admits the Frenchman. “We were one of the last poker rooms to launch that are still alive today. We made it. We are still here but all our competitors, from Titan to Everest, were two or three years ahead of us.”
In Dreyfus’s homeland, where Chiligaming is the B2B technology and brand supplier to telecoms and internet group Iliad, it has had very little impact on a market that has been sewn up by Everest Poker, PartyPoker, PokerStars and Winamax, another company Dreyfus founded and sold, which we will return to later.
“Alors,” he says with a sigh, “it could have been better. The other companies were very aggressive and we suffered.”
He is not the first gaming executive to despair about his company’s travails in France. Both are fair excuses and it is not as if Dreyfus has had no impact. He is an engaging, if quirky, personality, who has built a profile on the European scene that is arguably much higher than his status (as the founder and CEO of a moderately successful French gaming company) deserves.
He is a successful entrepreneur in the fields of gaming and beyond. Dreyfus’ honesty is refreshing. He is happy to admit mistakes but talks common sense when it comes to technology. He is normally a few steps ahead of the curve when it comes to embracing new technology.
His ChiliConnect product, which allows players to share their results on facebook and twitter and challenge their friends with side bets, was launched in April last year. The majority of the established online gaming industry has been fretting loudly about how best to exploit the incredible potential offered by Facebook’s 500m users but few have done anything about it. That said, Chilconnect has yet to challenge the might of Zynga.
“We had the best idea with ChiliConnect but it was wrongly executed,” says the ever-honest Dreyfus. “ChiliPoker is too small a B2C company for us to innovate with this product. We need to develop the product for bigger brands and bigger audiences.”
Life as a B2B supplier should suit Dreyfus. Bally CEO Dick Haddrill picked business development VP John Connelly to launch the Bally Interactive brand. He is one of the most respected executives working in online gaming with a shrewd, inquisitive mind and a convincing strategic vision.
“Alex is the ideas person and the visionary,” says Connelly. “He has very good sales skills but he is not the kinda guy I would consider running a company on a day-to-day basis. His attention span is not suited to that. He has built a robust team around him to execute his vision.”
Dreyfus is ballsy and cheeky but his patter is bullshit-free. When American casino executives and owners hear his strong French accent, they might be sceptical initially, given the entrenched American scepticism towards anything French, but he seems capable of winning them over.
“The initial feedback from the customers that Alex has approached is good,” says Connelly. “They like him and he is very successful at overcoming those barriers.”
“I am an entrepreneur,” says Dreyfus. “It is the excitement of developing stuff. It is never, never about the money.”
He founded a web agency called Mediartis in 1995 and sold it two years later to multinational advertising and communications group Publicis. He then launched Webcity, a Time Out-style guide to France, which he built up over the course of six years before it merged with Cityvox.com. The serial entrepreneur then spent seven months working for somebody else – search engine Lycos – before quitting to launch Winamax, his first online gaming venture.
He left Winamax in 2006 for personal reasons he does not want to explain before launching Chiligaming the same year. Connelly has naturally locked him into Bally for “years and years”, he says, to make sure all integration issues are dealt with and knowledge is transferred.
Nuggets and smileys
Landry CEO and chairman Tilman Fertitta could have chosen his cousins’ Fertitta Interactive, which was formed following Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta’s acquisition of CyberArts from Intralot. Tilman Fertitta’s gushing press release provides great PR and unusually singles out the young Frenchman for praise: “We started an intensive process approximately nine months ago and looked at more than a dozen internet gaming companies and selected Alex and Chiligaming because they were experienced in online gaming in Europe and demonstrated incredible passion, talent and knowledge which our team found to far exceed their competitors.”
As Nugget is also a Bally customer, running Bally systems in its casino, the Golden Nugget will be the first Bally customer to see how the company links up its land-based and online back ends.
“The immediate priority is to provide our customers with a platform for the future,” says Connelly. “The second priority is for them to choose which applications they need.”
Connelly goes on to explain the strategic rationale, pointing out that no systems provider tells land-based casinos what software they can use in their restaurants or on their casino floors, why would they do that for online poker. Bally is in talks with a number of poker suppliers, who will enter a commercial relationship with Bally and the customer.
A source reveals that after winning the Golden Nugget contract, Dreyfus emailed New Jersey Senator Lesniak to make him aware of the deal. Lesniak then forwarded it to his advisers and others working on i-gaming legislation asking why New Jersey is not doing this yet, to which Dreyfus replied to all: “Join our initiative:)”
He admits it is a true story but claims his email was not out of the blue as he is in regular contact with Lesniak. This reminds him to forward the Gaming Intelligence news story on the Bally-Chili deal to the Senator. And he does just that – no doubt with smiley face attached.
His penchant for putting a smiley face on just about every email – sometimes several with a variety of different facial expressions – invites raised eyebrows from anyone over the age of 35 but it is just another quirk to this engaging character. While his exact role is yet to be defined, he will be a senior executive in the Bally Interactive team.
His recruitment is a crucial part of Connelly’s plans for Bally Interactive. Alexandre Dreyfus might not seem like the most obvious executive for a large American corporate but after two years checking out every credible online gaming company in the world, Connelly is quite sure he has found the right man.
About the author