First ever ESG track at NEXT.io Valletta is a great success

NEXT.io Valletta is one of the biggest events in the iGaming calendar, attracting a huge crowd of visitors from home and abroad, all descending on the Mediteranean Conference Center, located at the very tip of historical Valletta. 

This year, for the first time, the topic of ESG was given it’s own platform, in the shape of the Sustainability track, sponsored by Betsson and presenting a number of industry experts with varying perspectives on this increasingly important topic. iGEN is uniquely placed to facilitate thought leadership in ESG, and as we have a number of industry experts sitting on our core team who were also participating, it is only natural that we were there to document the day.

Things kicked off at 11:am with the opening remarks by Betsson Group’s Head of Sustainability, Jonna Danlund, who welcomed us to the track, which took place upstairs in the David Bruce Hall, and outlined the days agenda. 

First out was KPMG’s Gaming Lead and Director Russell Mifsud, with his talk ‘Steering the Future: Elevating ESG in the Online Gambling Ecosystem’, which explored the pivotal role of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors in transforming the online gambling industry. He explained how integrating ESG doesn’t only help attract and retain customers, but also enhances investor interest, whilst boosting market performance, and the challenges and opportunities of operational sustainability, social responsibility, and ethical governance within the current landscape. 

Shortly after Jonna Danlund was back on stage presenting ‘Driving the Sustainability Agenda – Why No Woman, or Man, Is an Island.’ With Betsson Group’s award winning ESG strategy as an example, she explored how a typical business could set up its sustainability efforts, where to start the journey and how to get the organisation to buy in to drive ESG across functions, teams and roles.

Next in the spotlight was Betsson Group’s CHRO Lena Nordin, who in ‘The Power of People – Gen Z and the Sustainability gene’ gave her insights into what people – the younger generations especially – look for in an employer when it comes to sustainability, and why diversity, inclusion and belonging are key for any company wanting to stay in the game long-term; employees have certain expectations on us as employers in terms of ESG, not least regarding their own work environment and setup.

Responsible gaming is a key focus area for ESG for the iGaming industry. In the fireside chat ‘Teaming up for Player Safety – Working Across Functions to Strengthen Positive Play. Betsson Group’s Head of Responsible Gaming Eduards Jakubovs and Head of Customer Service Viktorija Nikiforova explored the benefits of working cross-functionally, across teams and locations, to support customers in playing responsibly. Happy customers are key for any iGaming business. How do we support them in playing on a level that they are comfortable with, paving the way for them to continue having fun with us year in, year out?

A panel of financial heavyweights took the stage for the panel discussion ‘Why Sustainability Matters for CEOs, CFOs and Investors?’ exploring how companies can take advantage of the mounting task of presenting their sustainability standing to profitable effect, well past the box ticking exercise many consider it to be, the increasing scrutiny investors apply to performance and practices and how savvy companies and their stakeholders can benefit from going on the offensive.

They also reviewed the status quo of private companies seeking an exit and how not paying attention to sustainability best practices can adversely affect the outcomes of both companies and acquirers. Some companies feel they have made a serious investment into sustainability already – how can this investment be optimised by providing the function with a more important seat at the table?

Some of the highlights from the day, captured on video.

On the panel, moderated by Robert Montgomery, CEO, First Maximilian Associates, were Betsson Group CFO Martin Öhman, Reuben Portanier, Advisory & Compliance Partner, GTG , and Steven Myers, Managing Director, Praxis Consulting and Advisory.

After lunch there followed an exploration of how cutting-edge software solutions and AI will facilitate compliance and create value, by Mikael Sundström, Senior Advisor, Position Green. New EU directives and reporting standards are quickly reshaping the way igaming companies must address sustainability and responsible gaming, was the topic of his presentation ‘Keeping on Top of Compliance – How Proficient Data Collection and AI Can Enhance Efficiency and Informed Decision Making’

This was followed by ‘Fireside chat: The MGA ESG Code of Good practice – what’s in it for the iGaming industry?’ where Anna Grech, Manager – International Affairs and Policy Outreach, Malta Gaming Authority and Liesbeth Oost, Head of ESG, JVH Gaming & Entertainment Group discussed the benefits of joining the Code and how it can strengthen both the industry as a whole and the brand and sustainability practices of individual iGaming companies.

Philanthropy was the subject of ‘The Art of Giving Well in the Age of Instant Gratification’ by Roberta Lepre, Managing Director, Weave Consulting, who drew on insights gleaned from the Academy of Givers’ ‘Giving Report Malta’ and outlined ideas for effective giving, framed within a broader ESG strategy, and aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Rounding off the day was the ‘Panel and Q&A: Walking the Sustainability Talk’ which gave some of the thought leaders within ESG in iGaming; Liesbeth Oost, Play’n GO‘s Director of CSR Vanessa Arenram and KPMG Malta‘s Rachel Decelis, the opportunity to tell us more about why a focus on sustainability is crucial for the industry, and gave practical, hands-on tips on how to do work with this topic within your own organisation. Ably moderated by Jonna Danlund, who was our host for the whole Sustainability track, and who also gave the closing remarks.

Throughout the day, the room was consistently packed with interested listeners, who posed thoughtful questions and received important updates and insights from the experts on stage, proving that the ESG topic, although still in its infancy in iGaming, is provoking a lot of interest and already delivering some smart solutions.

You can view all of the videos from the day on our Youtube channel here https://www.youtube.com/@iGamingExecutivesNetwork

iGEN will be involved in a series of ESG events and collaborations over the course of the year, working with a lot of the major industry players and business experts, in our quest for thought leadership on this most important of topics.

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