A writeup of the podcast on iGamingnNext can be found here.

Todd Haushalter is the CPO of Evolution Gaming (7 years in).

Todd: “Business is good” (with a huge smile)

“The stock price zig-zags all over the place, but you know, we’ve been steady for 25 quarters or so…”

Apparently, Evolution has some kind of cult following. The podcast host said that Todd gave a keynote speech in 2019 that was by far the most-watched keynote in the igaming industry.

I was surprised to learn that Todd became friends with the host after their 2nd interview. They just clicked, went for drinks…and formed a friendship. Probably doesn’t happen a lot at these levels.

The host said something interesting: being put on the spot and forced to talk about a company really pushes you to do real work on it. It gives you great motivation to learn and develop. He said that even if you have 5 listeners a month, doing a podcast like his accelerates growth in a way he had never experienced before.

Todd seems to have always been passionate about games, since his childhood. While in high school, he was aware of conventions called “Gaming, Lodging, and Leisure Summit”. The price of a ticket was $1500, and he was 17 at the time. He would write to them begging them to let him come in exchange for work, he didn’t need the food/cocktails or any of that stuff. Some fellow high in the hierarchy took a liking to him and would let him come to all the conferences for free.

Out of college, he moved straight to Las Vegas. As he was interviewing for a job, some boss picked up his resume and convinced him to become a card dealer, on the strip. He was reluctant at first because he wanted to do graduate studies in finance, but he ended up accepting. He still went to grad school though (during the day, dealing cards at night).

While in grad school, he would write letters to all the gaming bosses. “I want to be like you someday, what advice do you have?”

One day, he got a call from the CEO of MGM Resorts. At 23 years old, he goes and meets with him for an hour. They keep in touch, Todd would send him Christmas cards, and the CEO would reply. Finally, when he finished grad school, he gets hooked up with some people through this relationship and gets offered a job.

But all he wanted to do is work for Steve Wynn. So he wrote them letters (to the organization). “I want to work with you guys, I want to work with Mr. Wynn”. His letters were being ignored. So he wrote a letter directly to Mr. Wynn.

“Dear Mr Wynn,

It is obvious to me that my letters are being ignored. I’ve got two master’s degrees and I’m willing to work for you for free, and no one in your organization is paying any attention to me. I doubt you have many offers like that Sir. You’re my idol and I want to work for you.”

As the story goes, Mr. Wynn got the letter and said: “Hire the kid.”

They offered him a job in slots or tables, and he chose tables, which were run by all these gritty old veterans of the industry. He drilled them with questions. He must have asked 200,000 questions to these guys, on every single lunch and dinner! He read every single book about gaming in the library. He had, and still has, endless energy for the subject.

You don’t have to be brilliant. It helps sure, but if you have endless energy and passion, that’s the secret sauce. That’s what’s gonna carry you through. You’ll think about everything more deeply. Especially in the product world, where it takes so little for something to fail.

If you could only ask one question to somebody in an interview, ask him: “What do you love about this industry?” The more animated they get, the longer they talk, and the more likely they are to be good at the job.

A good proportion of the professionals in the industry are not gamblers at heart. It doesn’t matter much if they are Head of Accounts Receivable for example, but in the product realm, it is critical. Particularly in live casino, where it’s important to understand the players and to keep the gaming experience balanced, there are so many little things that are baked into the product that you would never catch unless you understand the gaming world at a deep level.

Todd loves his job. He has complete freedom for his roadmap. He has the trust of the CEO, Martin Carlesund, who he admires tremendously. But he prefers his job - working in the lab, creating products. Martin is apparently a very operational CEO.

Todd:

“If the earth shifted from underneath us (e.g. the world going to VR, or increasingly difficult compliance), that would even be useful for EVO, assuming that we could eyeball it, and jump on it. Because we could throw 500 or 1000 developers at it. Something like that favors EVO. These sort of things favor the big.”

The complexity of this live-casino product (regulatory, infrastructure, etc.) is the moat. It appears pretty straightforward on the surface. Put a camera in front of a roulette wheel and stream it. It’s pretty easy to do that one time on a desktop. Then you get out there in the real world and you have 500 integrations, and they all want to break. And then you’re doing multiple currencies, multiple languages, you have a customer support team that has to block chat if it gets nasty, you have new versions of Chrome and iOS constantly coming out that just want to break your entire system, and you have to throw 150 people at it to just fix bug when they happen.

If you’re a small provider, you’ll be able to optimize for one or two versions of iPhone let’s say…and that’s about it. You need hundreds of people to support and maintain all your games across all devices and operating systems. Super low latency video makes it super hard.

All sort of shit happens in this space. Live gaming is HARD. I’m seeing a moat here. As a casino operator, if I have Evo as my provider, and some small joint wants to take their spot, why in the hell would I risk going through all that trouble again, all the possible shit that could happen? No way. I’m sticking with the big, tried, and tested solution.

Todd called it an “accidental barrier”.

Life after EVO for Todd: he has zero interest in working for some other operator. At EVO, he can have the most impact on the industry. He has insane freedom. So he’s not going anywhere in gaming. The only thing that would make him leave is if Martin the CEO left and was replaced by someone he didn’t like.

Outside of gaming? He’d like to make an actual incremental impact that isn’t gonna naturally happen. Maybe politics.


Until next time, stay cool & stay invested!