Perhaps like no other subject in the world of technology right now, the emergence of Bitcoin polarizes opinion and within the gambling sector it is no different. While the new frontiers of VR and AR surely lie ahead – and the full impact of innovations in AI are yet to truly impact the sector – the reality of Bitcoin and the blockchain technology that supports it are already with us. Bitcoin and blockchain challenge the industry for a number of reasons – the disruptive nature of the technology and the potential offered when it comes to payments being only the most obvious – but as can be seen from the regulatory responses to date, these are developments come with their own controversies. To get an idea of the landscape of Bitcoin gambling as it stands, particularly with regard to Bitcoin-only casinos, we spoke to one of the major suppliers in the field, SoftSwiss. The company began as a provider of online auction software back in 2008 before turning its attention to online casino software and in 2013 it began offering Bitcoin-powered casinos. Since then a host of companies have moved to launch Bitcoin-enabled operations on the platform, including Bitcoin.com, BitStarz, mBit, BetChain Bitcoin Casino and Oshi Casino, run by 90Digital’s Nick Garner. Chief executive and founder Ivan Montik is the man in charge of the operation and we spoke to him about the appeal of cryptocurrencies over fiat currency when it comes to gambling and why he thinks the door has been left open for pioneers such as SoftSwiss to stake a claim at the bleeding-edge of gambling technology.
GamCrowd: How far has Bitcoin-casino travelled in the past few years? Do you think there is a growing acceptance of Bitcoin when it comes to payments?
Ivan Montik: In the past few years Bitcoin, which in the beginning was used by just a small group of believers, has turned into a popular payment alternative. It is now a real electronic chip and the number of casinos accepting Bitcoin or working solely with Bitcoin is significant. What is more, gaming authorities are starting to look deeper into acknowledging Bitcoin when it comes to casino payments and this is really good news.
GamCrowd: Do you think the gambling industry is particularly receptive to Bitcoin initiatives?
Ivan Montik: For sure it is. Bitcoin is particularly convenient to use as a payment method in a casino, as it has all qualities of a traditional casino chip. There’s no need for exchange; you take it, you play for it and you use the Bitcoin you win for any other online purchases. Besides, it is very secure. There are no chargebacks for an operator, no risks for the player, no delays in deposits and withdrawals and in case of using a trusted platform and the most advanced technologies, fraud is close to impossible. So, the introduction of Bitcoin helped to solve many issues that the gambling industry was facing with fiat currency payments.
GamCrowd: Do you think conversely that the gambling industry is not very good at innovation and that it is a ripe opportunity for a company such as yourselves?
Ivan Montik: Indeed, when SoftSwiss started looking deeper into the opportunities of Bitcoin (back in 2013) and developing its Bitcoin payment technology, other companies in the market were very conservative. The industry leaders were sceptical towards the new technology and didn't believe it was worth learning and adopting. This gave our company a great chance to become a pioneer in Bitcoin casino. While others were debating the future of cryptocurrencies, we used this time to develop a technology which would work smoothly and most securely. A unique anti-fraud system was created to overcome the threats of payment irreversibility. We could also adapt our games to make them look Bitcoin-friendly and provably fair. By the time when other companies finally started realizing the potential of cryptocurrencies, SoftSwiss had a ready product to offer and a number of Bitcoin casinos to show as a proof of quality.
GamCrowd: What have been the biggest hurdles for SoftSwiss in launching?
Ivan Montik: Starting as a pure IT company, SoftSwiss had a very strong team of programmers, so technology was never an issue. However, having the technology wasn't enough in starting a successful gaming product. The key factor was understanding of gambling itself, the psychology of players, the needs of operators. That was missing and we just learned by doing. We were lucky to start working with a number of experienced operators who provided valuable advice and cooperated on polishing the platform. Today we are sure SoftSwiss has one of the most developed and stable gaming platforms on the market. The gaming factor is no longer a challenge for us but the Bitcoin experience is our additional advantage.
GamCrowd: What do you think are the issues with gambling regulators?
Ivan Montik: In my opinion, gambling regulators don't want to take too much responsibility and make their judgements over cryptocurrencies until the world financial institutions come up with theirs. They are waiting for official statements of the governments and then decide if they accept Bitcoin or not. In reality, I think the commissions have not yet fully evaluated all advantages of Bitcoin for gambling. And with plenty of controversial information coming from all parts, they can't get to the essence. So, it is natural to deny something new and something that we don't completely understand. This is unfortunate because it slows down the development of the industry as a whole. When I look at payment system fees and compare them to bitcoin ‘fees’ I want to cry.
GamCrowd: What did you think of the latest thoughts from the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) with regard to crypto-currencies? Do you agree with their approach?
Ivan Montik: We truly welcome the decision of the UKGC to acknowledge Bitcoin as digital cash. It's an important step for the gaming industry which should lead to significant positive changes. Our forecast is that the large market players who are not yet working with Bitcoin will finally realise that they need to move in this direction to stay competitive. I wonder if they come for a piece of advice to those who are more experienced in crypto-currencies and start learning the technology to finally include it into their products. Two years ago I consulted for Quickfire (Microgaming) and helped its management to present Bitcoin to the management board. According to the feedback I've received, this was very interesting and the will to work with Bitcoin was there. For some reason, I believe because of the lack of regulation, Bitcoin wasn't launched as a currency at Quickfire but I hope that now this will come to the market also with big players.