Ed Ware, CEO of online casino and sports betting company 32Red, is a lucky man. Who wouldn’t like to have a career that encompasses a lifelong interest and passion?
Ed remembers as a child going on family outings to places like the Windsor Races that were held on a Monday evening because his father was interested in horse racing. Although he liked the idea of being a lawyer at school, Ed didn’t go to University but went straight into the work place after leaving College, firstly working in Central London in the Magistrates’ Court Service and then joining Ladbrokes at the age of 20. “The training and development I received at Ladbrokes was my higher education,” Ed says, going on to explain that he worked his way up from trainee shop manager through to his appointment at the young age of 34 as Regional Director of Operations in the UK. This was during the time when Ladbrokes was widely accepted as the number one operation in betting and gaming worldwide.
Moving away from a background steeped in retail betting shops, in 1999 Ed was asked to come to come to Gibraltar as MD of Ladbrokes International and moved over with his wife Mary and two young children. “When it was time to go back to the UK a couple of years later, we had formed a strong connection with Gibraltar,” Ed says. “Mary loves it here and we had formed relationships and made good links within the local community.” The germ of an idea for a new business had already begun formulating in Ed’s mind. “My father had his own business and I have always had the entrepreneurial desire to do something myself,” he explains.
“I could see that on the digital side there was a niche for an operator to focus on casino in the UK market rather than on sports.” Ed was able to put together a reasonable seed fund with the help of some wealthy friends and associates.
“We had to work extremely hard to ensure that the Gibraltar authorities had all the information they needed from a compliance perspective and were then fortunate enough to be granted a licence,” Ed states. 32Red was established in 2002 and has gone on to become an award winning casino, poker and bingo operator that was listed on the AIM in 2005. Trying to escape from the image of online casinos at the time which were heavily themed, Ed wanted to allude to something more serious without being blatantly obvious and hit upon the name 32Red which has a significant connotation that links back to his parents. “My parents flew occasionally to Monte Carlo in the 60s to play on the roulette tables – only small stakes,” he explains. “Her number was 26 and his was 32.”
When Ed bought the URL www.32red.com fifteen years ago it was unique in the market, the 888 brand for instance had not been developed and the name has held 32Red in good stead over the years. More recently the Company has had to take legal action in the High Court in the UK to protect the trade mark from infringement. With red being a lucky colour and 3 being a good number in the superstitious Asian market, is Ed looking to crack Asia?
“We are a quintessentially British casino offering and we have always thought that once we had achieved good market share in the UK we would go to the Far East, but as yet we haven’t done so as we are still trying to crack the UK market!” he says. Adding to that distinctly British feeling and the overall feel of the site is actress Patsy Kensit who provides the voiceover of the casino dealer and who helps attract the right demographic.
Ed explains: “Guys of a certain age will recognise and like her and because we are a virtual business with no physical presence whatsoever we try to associate ourselves with the UK, which is our main market, and with things that are trustworthy and credible.” Another marketing strategy has involved sponsorship of football teams, which in the past has included Aston Villa and Swansea City and more recently a three year deal with Rangers F.C. that has one more season to run. “We are not in the market to pay multiple millions of pounds for football team sponsorship, so Rangers is a good story that has turned out to be quite opportunistic for us because it is a giant club on the come back,” says Ed.
Recalling the Championship playoff final when Swansea won against Reading, his home town, Ed says that it was an amazing day at Wembley. “But I absolutely wanted Swansea to win.” Will 32Red carry on sponsoring football teams? “We have got another excellent deal coming which we will announce in a few weeks.” 32Red has a track record of success, having grown sales by 171% since 2010, which is substantially ahead of the market. “If we have got 4% of the UK online casino market then we are probably doing alright, but we have got loads to go for yet,” Ed says.
“It just shows what a big market it is and whereas William Hill might have 20%, which is great for them, it actually opens up an opportunity for us to go for it.” When the business started Ed says that the company focused on delivering a really responsive personal service. “There were no gimmicks and it was a pure online betting experience.” They achieved that by keeping the dialogue open and treating every single customer like a VIP.
“We still try to do that but it is difficult when you are servicing 100,000 customers a year,” Ed comments. “In the first ten years of the business I don’t think there is any dispute that we were the best online casino operator – although not the biggest – and we were an exemplar to others who then copied us in the market,” Ed states. Now the marketing strategy is much more sophisticated, with far more analytics, algorithmic and data-driven marketing decisions that some of the better online betting companies have been making for a while. “We are probably in our second or third year of doing that and it is showing in our numbers which are growing nicely,” Ed continues, “and the business has definitely evolved, although the employees say that it still feels like a family run business in many ways.” In the boardroom Ed holds a bi-annual session where he and his team talk to the wider team about how the business has performed. “We also announce if the annual bonus scheme is due to pay or not and, fortunately, at the end of last year there was a maximum bonus announced at which point everybody cheered,” he laughs as he says this.
The atmosphere in the 900 square metre offices at Europort is surprisingly calm. “We are pretty spread out,” Ed explains, continuing “and the reason for that is we have got enough room for growth.” “I am very proud that there are approximately 100 people that work here whose livelihood depends on a business that I started and who say they are happy to work here – and we are happy that they are happy.” With recent research into online gambling trends and the growing problem of addiction, does Ed think that 32Red is doing enough to address this issue?
“There is a lot of attention on problem gambling at the moment – but problem gambling in the UK is, generally speaking, under control.” “32Red is licensed both here and in the UK and we are heavily regulated,” he said. “We also employ people who are focused specifically on this area, because nobody wants to allow someone who has got a problem to gamble – win or lose.” “Gibraltar is a tip top jurisdiction in terms of regulation for gaming – they have got it right here, we have got it right here and I would argue that in the UK regulation is more problematic.”
“I think that we have been lucky in Gibraltar in that we haven’t needed to overly worry about licensing and regulation because both this administration and the last one understand the industry so well and are very supportive.” Ed carries on to comment on how having Peter Caruana as Chief Minister always felt very safe for the industry and how there were obviously some concerns when the Government changed, but he goes on to say that the new Government has proved themselves to be very effective and pro-active with the point of consumption tax threat.
“There are some people who thought that the e-gaming sector would be finished in Gibraltar because of the point of consumption tax, but not only are we not finished, we have actually grown our profits.” Now there is the new threat of a Brexit vote, just what would that mean for 32Red and would they have to consider pulling out of Gibraltar? “I think we would be a long way from doing that,” says Ed. “We love it in Gibraltar and I don’t see any reason why we would have to leave, but I obviously caveat that with that we wouldn’t want to see the border becoming a ridiculous situation, or closed as has been threatened.” Ed went on to confirm that for both Gibraltar and from a 32Red commercial perspective, it is clear that the status quo to remain as it is within Europe would be best.
Harking back to his roots and the days of going horse racing with his father, who was also an amateur owner rider of point-to-point horses, Ed is now fortunate to own racehorses himself. “I have got my dad’s colours; black and white quartered, scarlet sleeves and cap.” Proud of the fact that scarlet is a cherished colour for horseracing silks that can no longer be registered, Ed laughs as he says: “There are only two people that I know of who have scarlet sleeves – myself and The Queen!” Ed now has a share in three horses trained by Michael Bell in Newmarket and a share in two more horses with George Scott, also in Newmarket, and has just bought another horse (with two other investors) to go jumping with. Having always yearned to be a racehorse owner, it was a chance comment with the lawyer helping him with the flotation of 32Red over a breakfast meeting during the summer of 2005 that brought his dream to reality.
“I was explaining how I would love to own a racehorse and the next thing I know he has Michael Bell, who had just trained the winner of the Derby, on the telephone and by the time our meeting had finished I had given him the budget to buy my first racehorse,” Ed remembers. “Later that year on the 23rd September, the day we floated the company, I wasn’t in the city but I was at Haydock Park to see that horse, Rawdon ridden by Hayley Turner, win for the very first time for me.”
A highlight of his horse racing career, which he admits has been one of ups and downs, was when one of his horses won the Grand Prix de Chantilly on French Derby Day. “We couldn’t believe it – to win a race like that and competing with the likes of the Aga Khan,” he recalls. Ed stresses that above all owning racehorses has been huge fun. “The experience at Chantilly was one that I will never, ever forget,” he says. With his love for Gibraltar evident, Ed and his wife Mary are building a house from which, he says, ‘they will have to take me out feet first’. “When we land here after having been away, I look out of the aeroplane window and know that I am home,” he says.
What makes you tick?
Greatest achievement: Founding a business that is relatively successful
Idea of happiness: A really cold glass of Champagne
Biggest fear: I worry about the business all the time
Best thing about Gibraltar: Security – being able to walk around the streets safely
Hobbies: I like to play golf, however I don’t have enough opportunity to do so
Sport: Paddle tennis
Favourite place in the world: Marrakesh
Unfulfilled ambitions: I would like to go to Australia and to see the Melbourne Cup – ‘the race that stops a nation’
Something not generally known about you: I like punk music – The Clash, a group that I managed to see in my youth
Motto: Just because we can doesn’t mean to say we should!