Casino Executive, Oleg Usenko chats to Peter White
With extensive experience and gaming industry expertise, Oleg Usenko discusses the benefits he can bring to companies in Ukraine. Well-travelled, well-versed and multi-cultural, his skills and experience are ideal given the geographic location of Ukraine.
Can you provide brief background on yourself?
Of course. I have worked for many years in the gaming business in Europe (especially Ukraine) and in Africa. These markets have a lot of similarities. Take the African market; this is extremely complex — and at the same time extremely interesting. I was the CEO for Ritzio Ghana.
What were your main responsibilities in the last role of CEO Ritzio Ghana in their casino in Accra?
I worked in Ghana for almost three years. The main responsibilities and tasks set for me were common to any business. Among them are to increase revenue, profit, capitalization, customer flow and prevent theft by staff. But the most interesting ones were those demanded directly by Ghana market and multicultural employees - from all over the world and local ones. Now it’s trend to call this challenge working conditions VUCA ;). I might aid, this is where the markets of Ukraine and Ghana have something in common. Therefore, having worked in Ukraine (it`s from Oleg`s answer in Ukrainian) at the managerial positions for more than 20 years and having gone through several crises, adaptation in Ghana was not very difficult for me in African conditions. It was more difficult for the local workers to adapt to my working rhythm 24/7 and to my requirements, especially for those who are accustomed to laziness or depict “stormy” activities.
Since during the day I usually worked at the office, and at night I went around the shops, which amount varied at different times from 15 to 25.
What is on your wish list for the recovery of the gaming market in Ukraine over the next five years?
First of all, we want to see transparent conditions for the functioning of the market and suitable state regulation. Secondly, I would like to wish the leaders of the gambling business in Ukraine to treat business not only from the fiscal point of view, as a source of filling the budget, but also from the point of view of business support. It is no secret that there is a kind of competition between countries in the struggle for investors. There is a myth that the gambling business makes huge profits. Therefore, when taxing the gambling industry, deputies usually proceed from this rule, and not from the position of attracting investors, making a profit, and then taxing. It is usually easiest to criticize, but licensing in Ukraine is quite burdensome for the companies’ budgets and does not encourage companies to come out from the black market. I would like to wish the market operators not to forget that the gaming industry is first of all entertainment for people, instead of extortion. Therefore, it is very important to direct the company’s PR to maintain an entertaining image.
What advice would you give to new entrants to the Ukrainian market?
Not only participants of the Ukrainian market, but all operators wishing to be high-tech, socially responsible and creative. Expand consciousness and develop. Nowdays it`s no longer something extraordinary for the betting companies to have both online casino and betting on e-sports. Content for gamers, VR technology or storytelling with a well-thought-out storyline is not commonly found on classic online casino. It is difficult to surprise an experienced customer with only the traditional jackpots and congratulatory bonuses.
How do you see the mix of skills and experience gained through this Ritzio role in Ghana that you can provide to organizations looking for partners with casino and gaming operators in Ukraine?
As I mentioned above, the so-called “wild” markets are similar. First of all, they are similar to the underestimation of risks and the attitude of some investors that obsolete equipment can be brought to such markets, deal with untested partners, ignore new technologies, bring specialists who are accustomed to working in stable markets. I strongly believe that the African markets the countries of the former Soviet Union and South America are among the most promising today for the gambling industry. But at the same time such markets have higher requirements for staff, as well as need for managers with crisis experience, fast and non-standard thinking and ability to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. These are markets where the same business rules apply as in the rest of the world, and sometimes they are even more stringent. That is why it is important to create effective team principles of work, a team focused on the result and ready to follow their leader.
What are some of the unexpected challenges you faced when starting a role with Ritzio Ghana?
Everyone who comes to Africa is faced with a huge difference in mentality, culture and traditions that also affect business and relationships. And often foreign employees do not pay due attention to these differences. In Ghana, the local kings, who exists in every region, have a great influence. One of the most revered and oldest of them is King Ashanti, who lives in central Ghana with its center in the city of Kumasi.
I came across one of the traditions when the king’s mother died and mourning was declared, just at the same time our company opened a new location in Kumasi. Thus, according to tradition, during mourning, ordinary people cannot leave their homes after sunset at the risk of being killed even by the king’s relatives who patrol the streets of towns and villages. As a result, we opened a new location with a delay of two weeks, as the local employees refused to go to work. Also, one of the weaknesses of the Ghanaians is the lack of to exact sciences such as mathematics. The simplest calculations in the head cause a problem in people even with higher education. When the hiring managers during the interview mathematical tests at the elementary school level is the norm. Therefore, recruitment, selection and training were an important part of my work and a huge challenge. I found an effective way to hire really strong professionals in the local labour market by myself. One such case occurred in one of the most criminal and poorest areas of Accra, Teshi, where was one of the company’s location. During the next inspection of that gaming shop, I came across a young employee who did not stand out with anything special, but who balanced money and calculated the proceeds per shift faster than me. The boy’s name is Emmanuel Dzre and he was a regular attendant at that time. The next day I appointed him to the supervisor of that shop, and as a result he opened new markets such as Kumasi and became the branch manager. He also turned out to be a crystal honest man, which is also a rarity among local employees. I think that the topic of theft by ordinary employees is always relevant in our industry.
Which are among your main goals when considering your next career move?
The few basic criteria I would name are: the new challenges, the company’s ambitious goals to develop, entering to the new markets, constant development of the products and the teams.
Responsible gambling is important if you don’t agree?
I completely agree. As I mentioned, I see the gaming industry primarily as entertainment, an opportunity to relax and have fun with friends. Remember the movie Hangover in Vegas? Why Americans go to Las Vegas? Relax, have fun and spend money designated and planned solely for this, not to spend the last money. And, of course, there is a strict rule in any country to cross the threshold of a gambling establishment or visit an online casino website for children under 18.
In the recovery of the gaming industry in Ukraine what worries you the most?
If the operators and the state regulator build truly transparent rules, trust and are based on a win-win principle, then the industry will benefit not only business owners but also society and the state. Otherwise, the business will remain in the shadow where it has been for the last 10 years.
From a purely business point of view, what lessons have you learned from your experience since this pandemic hit, and what impact will it have and will have in the future on plans to rebuild the gaming industry phisical or virtual?
It’s no secret that the whole world has gone online. Any crisis has both negative and positive consequences. Many traditional businesses have remained in the past, but many new businesses have been born, many transformations have taken place. Which in turn has led to increased demands on the quality of the Internet, IT infrastructure, etc. The computer games are an active way of learning and in separate cases show abilities better than any tests. Knowledge is acquired more deeply and immediately applied in practice, a person reveals its essence, which is impossible to hide from algorithms. Albert Einstein said a hundred years ago, “Game is the highest form of research.” E-sports, crypto currencies, cyber wars, virtual reality, artificial intelligence became a part of new reality. There has been a boom in online gaming not only at the entertainment level, but also at the scientific and educational level. Therefore, the consumer will make demands on the semantic load of content, digital graphics, design, 3-D and VR image, the speed of the online payments and the ability to pay in crypto currencies, the ability to visit a land-based casino with a virtual tour, etc. It will be difficult to survive for offline business without digital transformation and the latest technologies.
Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of?
It is possible to list at length how much profit, income and benefits I have brought to this or that company, but the most important achievements I consider are creating of effective and cohesive teams. I treat my team like a pilot of Formula 1. No matter how talented a pilot is, he will not be able to win the F-1 Cup alone. Only with a team of the designers, mechanics, analysts a victory is possible. For me everyone in the team is important, even the glass wiper on the pilot’s helmet and the one who pours fuel into the tank. Therefore, I am proud first of all of the teams I have worked with and created, inspired and motivated.
Do you want to add anything else?
I would like to wish all colleagues, including people working in your magazine, success and the most important, health in the new 2021. Mankind has experienced many pandemics and crises. Therefore, first of all it is necessary to learn the lessons, adapt to the new working and living conditions and see the positive sides in any critical situation.