The latest editions of the CasinoBeats 100 Club’s Pathways series saw Leigh Nissim, CEO of Future Anthem, reflect on his journey into gaming as he emphasised the sector needs to keep innovating.
CasinoBeats: Could you begin by talking us through any past experiences that have been gained outside of the gambling industry? Could your career have taken any different paths?
Leigh Nissim: One of my early influences was I lived in France for a year, twice, and I also lived in Geneva. Geneva, so I could have ended up in France through my education and I started working in Paris, in Marks and Spencers actually. I’d always been stacking shelves in Marks and Spencers in my early career.
I actually got offered a job on a graduate training programme, much to the ax to my parents. I turned it down because I just didn’t want to work in retail and I’d always worked in retail. My dad owned ladies fashion shops in very unfashionable areas of London in the not so nice parts, or then not so nice parts, which are very nice parts now.
After university, my first role was in the finance and insurance market. I ended up at Deloittes in the Treasury area where you manage interesting things like currency and interest rate risk.
But I found it very technically complex and I got the job in banking, so I think I could have ended up in banking. But also to turn that down really to join the Internet. So I was at university, the guy had had a business start up, so I was an early Internet pioneer in 99.
And so, yeah, I suppose I could reach out, could have a bank, he could have been in the past and ended up in .com in 1999 and since then found my real place in technology and digital journeys. So very happy I landed like that.
CasinoBeats: What was it that eventually led you into this industry?
Was very interesting actually, because like I say, I was digital. So I’ve been in the digital area since 99. In 2005, I got introduced to a gentleman called Gary Shaw, who had a white label business. At the time I knew very little about gambling and my nearest experience is my grandfather used to gamble a lot on the horses.
Gary was setting up something that was a white label business watching Gala, Yahoo and a bingo and we got along very well so I came into the business being a digital guy coming into gambling. Garry gave me some really good advice – just play lots of poker and familiarise with the product!
I was playing about 15-20 hours of poker a week early doors and I got very familiar with the products and that was my pathway in the industry.
CasinoBeats: How would you assess your progress through the industry to date? Are there any interesting anecdotes that would interest our readers, or any standout experiences that may not have been possible without the current, or a past, role?
I think, and I say this to my kids, the key thing was people. So I’ve met just some brilliant people all the way through my 18 years. I’ve had to work with them or they’ve been my customers and I must say the vast majority, I’d be happy to go out for a beer with them on a social night as much as I would in a work capacity.
Everyone’s kind of on a mindset, and there’s quite a lot of similarity, in terms of outlook and I’ve always enjoyed that. So it is really a privilege to lead some of the industry’s biggest and best, like in IGT digital business and SG’s digital business. I’ve always supplied the industry.
As a B2B, you get the chance to work with all businesses where there’s all sorts of different people. It’s very sociable like that. I’ve had the opportunity, fortunately, to work with a lot of people and to have them as my customers as well.
I think people would be one. I think the next thing that I find really curious and interesting is its dynamism. It changes so much and a lot of people criticise it and says it’s not innovative, which I really challenge, because it has had to reinvent itself so many different times.
CasinoBeats: What would you say have been the major changes during your time working in the industry? Both for the better and worse.
I remember a time when you logged into PokerStars.com and it said this domain has been seized by the FBI. For PokerStars to recover from that and have become a global company and still be sold successfully it’s mind blowing! It wouldn’t happen in any other industry.
Also I remember when evolution was just starting in 2007 when the guys there were just kind of touting around this new technology. And now look at evolution. One of the industry’s leaders created a whole new category from almost nothing.
I can honestly point to the up to 10 monumental moments where either companies or industry have had to totally transform themselves in regulations or technologies and they have. Market shares may have been rewritten to newer entries or different leaders or parties but it absolutely has rewritten itself a number of times.
Again, I think it is one of the reasons I’ve stated, as well as the people, this ability to constantly change and innovate relatively quickly because these are really complex financial systems.
CasinoBeats: If you could ask the 100 Club any questions, or task them with tackling any issue, what would that be?
I’m going to frame it in terms of a request. We’re bringing AI to the industry, and much of this is about innovation, new ways of doing things. This is one area where I think we could all benefit from a little bit more speed because when you work with clients, they have regulatory changes that deal with new market launches or they’re going through substantial change through restructuring or acquisitions.
It’s quite a congested calendar you’re going into. My request is to make sure all of you that you need enough through on your roadmaps for innovation because those that do will be the ones that rewrite market share as evidenced by Evolution or LeoVegas.
So really, make sure you leave room for innovation is my request.