Shadows Day – how I got into the business

About the expert:

Dainis Niedra is a professional betting and gambling manager. He used to be an entertainment complex director, organized some poker series and was the head of the Latvian poker federation. 

Currently, he is Enlabs managing director of Center Eastern Europe (CEE). Enlabs owns bookmaker Optibet, which is the largest betting-operator in the Baltic countries. Marketing, sales, M&A (mergers and acquisitions).

There has been a tradition of Shadow Days recently in Latvia. High school students may spend a whole working day in a company that represents an interesting business sphere for him/her. Sometimes we got some applications too. It seems that the interest in the betting is growing as the industry’s developing. The Internet is full of some betting-integrations with influencers, athletes, bloggers etc. To avoid conflicts with company values and breaking moral principles, I accept only the students of the 12th form of legal age for Shadows Day. “How did you get into the business?” – this is the most popular question they ask. Young people can hardly understand how a path to the world of betting and gambling looks like as there is no Betting University and no one writes theses about it.

I guess my way in the betting business started at the day when I first came to work in the entertainment. I was about 20 and had just finished my 2nd year at the university where I intended to be a civil engineer. A young company that was supposed to develop the largest night club in Riga made me an offer to join them. There has never been a place in thousands of kilometres that would open its doors three times a week for 2-3 thousand of guys and girls looking for some entertainment. Several years passed. A few days before the new year of 2008, all the entertainment complex that consisted of a casino and two big night clubs, burnt to the ground. That is an interesting experience. You fall asleep after a night shift and when you wake up on the next day, you learn from an SMS that there is no place to go to work anymore.

We took a strategical decision to enlarge the complex and diversify the business while maintenance works were ongoing. The complex became twice larger than it used to be. We opened a hotel, SPA, several pubs and restaurants, a gym, and a poker club with 15 tables inside. A small Las Vegas in the centre of Riga. I used to play online and offline poker with small limits back then, so I could understand what gamblers need, market potential, and the business itself.

When I was in charge of launching a poker club, I faced two challenges for the first time in my life. They still remain the main ones when we launch some other projects. These challenges are law and human resources.

The law was adopted in the 90-s. The government didn’t see a difference between a roulette table and a club poker table. It meant that we needed the full casino license and that we had to pay all the necessary tax payment. Most of the taxes were fixed. Human resources? We just didn’t have them. Those few people who could deal poker on a proper level either already worked in a casino or worked as freelancers for international series all across Europe. We couldn’t accept the law that existed. So we started a long work with the regulator with many suggestions, amendments, explanations, calculations, and so on. We created the poker federation. Soon I’d become the head of that federation. The problem with human resources was solved by opening a poker dealers school. We accepted 30 students who were trained from the ground up. Most of them became professional dealers and worked at all large series in London, Barcelona, Prague etc.

The poker club was growing quite fast with every week, depriving small clubs of their clients. Four months after the opening a common Friday tournament was abrupted by a special forces operation. They carried out searches and removed all the equipment. A criminal investigation was initiated, charges were brought with organizing illegal gambling. It all happened just two weeks before the first Latvian open poker championship. In that short period of time, we managed to negotiate with a casino. They had to get 15 tables and find someplace to install them, get extra chairs, chips and so on. We came to an agreement and managed to organize the tournament together. The championship was great. It was the beginning of a big history with almost 30 international tournaments including Russian Poker Series, Russian Poker Tour, Unibet Open, Norwegian Masters (2000 people).

Besides the criminal investigation, we had to pay a fine of 850 000 lats (about 1,3 million euro). The case was finally closed after 4 years of investigation due to the absence of a crime.

Even our lawyer stopped believing in success somewhere in the middle of the investigation. I had to prove that we were innocent only by myself.

The government was raising the taxes year after year. It made the business of organizing poker tournaments less profitable. We organized only one tournament in 2013, broke even and finished the business.

In 2015 I start working on offline marketing in Optibet. The company after two transformations is now called Enlabs. It is the largest online operator in the region. The company started its business with offline betting. There are still about 30 retail shops remaining. However, they give only 5% of the company’s profit and this number tends to lower. Enlabs has licenses of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Sweden, and Belarus in addition to the common betting licenses of Malta and Curaçao. Enlabs is working on launching an online product in Belarus where the company has an offline license.

This is what a path to the world of betting and gambling may look like. Nice to meet you.

Dainis Niedra.

Managing Director Enlabs.