NV.ua, the leading Ukrainian online media on business and economy, carried out a thorough investigation into new gambling licensees. According to NV’s findings, the Commission for the Regulation of Gambling and Lotteries has issued online casino licenses to two more companies – Gamedev LLC and Parimatch LLC. Although these legal entities were created only a little over a year ago, both have experienced market players behind them.
Three players have been officially licensed to operate on the Ukrainian gambling market. Following the Cosmolot brand, two other companies with an international background and experience in neighbouring markets have entered the game. So far, online only.
NV.Business carried out an in-depth investigation of the two new license holders and discovered which segments of the gambling sector they are interested apart from online casinos.
Parimatch: the Cypriots, the plans and revenue
The commission issued Parimatch LLC with an online-only casino license but declined the company’s other two license applications (for online poker and bookmaking), citing the lack of the required paperwork.
According to Ukrainian business analytical system YouControl, Parimatch LLC, with an authorized capital of 60 million hryvnias (~£1,549,557) was registered on November 22, 2019, in Kyiv, on Bazhana Avenue. The company is headed by CEO Natalia Gilevich. Over the years, the international Parimatch holding has developed a diverse corporate structure comprising dozens of companies.
The ultimate beneficial owner (controller) of Parimatch LLC is a Cypriot citizen Ekaterina Belorusskaya. In the media, Belorusskaya appears as the president and founder of the international charitable Parimatch Foundation, created by the Parimatch holding in 2019. NV.Business failed to find any information about this fund in the Ukrainian Unified State Register of Legal Entities. However, the “Applications for marks for goods and services accepted for consideration” database indicates that an application for TM Parimatch Foundation was submitted by the Cypriot legal entity of the same name in August 2020. Its director is just Ekaterina Belorusskaya – KATERINA MPILOROUSKA (ΚΑΤΕΡΙΝΑ ΜΠΙΛΟΡΟΥΣΚΑ). According to YouControl, she is also the director of – PMBL GROUP LTD, another Cypriot company.
YouControl database lists FIRST PM ENTERTAINMENT LTD from Cyprus as the founder of Parimatch LLC. According to the Opencorporates portal, FIRST PM ENTERTAINMENT LTD was founded on November 5, 2019 (almost two and a half weeks before the registration of Parimatch LLC). Sergey Portnov (ΣΕΡΓΚΙΙ ΠΟΡΤΝΟΒ) is listed as the director of the Cypriot company. A person with this name and surname appears in the media as the CEO of Parimatch. In December 2020, as CEO of the company, he received the SBC Awards 2020 Leader of the Year award, and Parimatch was recognized as the Employer of the Year. The Parimatch Tech website – the R&D center of the global holding Parimatch – also indicates that Portnov is the CEO of the Parimatch holding.
Cypriot citizens Ekaterina Belorusskaya and Sergey Portnov are also the ultimate beneficiaries of PokerMatch.UA LLC with an authorized capital of UAH 74 million (~£1,910,459). Belorusskaya and Portnov control a total of 62.38% of the Ukrainian company (26.5% and 35.88%, respectively). The founder of PokerMatch.UA LLC, registered on December 1, 2020, was the Cypriot WEPLAY MEDIA HOLDING LIMITED. The latter, according to the State Register of Certificates of Ukraine for marks for goods and services, has owned the PokerMatch brand since 2018, although another Cypriot company, ANTRUM LTD, applied for the mark.
The founder of Ukrainian PokerMatch.UA – Weplay Media Holding Limited – was previously related to the Ukrainian holding TECHIIA. The holding is known, among other things, for promising to invest $15 million in a data center in Novaya Kakhovka, which will service equipment worth $1 billion (the data center was then announced personally by the head of the Ministry of Digital Industry Mikhail Fedorov). The fact is that one direction of the TECHIIA holding is WePlay Esports – “the first esportainment company working at the intersection of e-sports, storytelling and entertainment content.” The founder of PokerMatch.UA LLC – Cypriot Weplay Media Holding Limited – applied for registration of the WePlay! trademark on June 12, 2019. In August of the same year, judging by the data of Ukrpatent (ISS Information on the status of office work on applications for marks for goods and services), the application was withdrawn. A possible connection between the leaders of the TECHIIA holding and the Parimatch holding is also indicated by the fact that JKR Investment Group, which invests the funds of the top management of Parimatch, was an investor in WePlay Esports, but withdrew from the project, selling its share to the founders of WePlay Esports.
As explained to NV.Business by WePlay Esports, today the company has no links with the Parimatch holding.
“From 2018 to 2019, WePlay Esports cooperated with the JKR investment fund, one of the five co-founders of which is Sergey Portnov. For a year, JKR owned a minority stake in WePlay (13.8%), but in 2019 this stake was bought out by the founders of the company,” said Oleg Krot, Managing Partner of WePlay Esports media holding.
He said: cooperation with the fund involved the creation of several products related to betting, but due to lack of legislative regulation, the idea was abandoned, and after the withdrawal of the fund from the founder members, all subsidiaries and products that WePlay Esports did not plan to develop were transferred to the JKR fund as part of a deal to buy out their shares. One of these companies, which Parimatch took over, was the Cypriot Weplay Media Holding Limited, which attempted to register TM WePlay! Esports until JKR’s withdrawal from the WePlay Esports shareholders.
“Since 2019, as well as until 2018, companies have no common projects, co-founders or any other common attributes and are not planning to have.” – OLEG KROT, managing partner of the WePlay Esports media holding.
The Parimatch press service told NV.Business holding that there is no corporate connection between the companies of the holding and Weplay Media Holding Limited.
The trademarks Parimatch, Parimatch Lotto, Parimatch Lotto, Parimatch Sport, as well as a number of other TMs and marks (Parimatch Tech, Parimatch – They Play – You Win !, Parimatch Lotto, Parimatch Sport, Parimatch Sport, Pari match Sport, Pari-match Sport, They play – you win, PM, PM, Pari match, PM Club, PM Club, PM Club, Fired up to win, etc.) are owned by another Cypriot company – Erisius Investments Limited (Ericius Investments Limited). The press office of the Parimatch holding confirmed that this company is part of the holding.
TM Parimatch (like TM Parimatch and TM Parimatch) was registered by this company on February 3, 2021 (the application was filed back in December 2019). The directors of Ericius Investments Limited in the YouControl system are Sergey Portnov (SERGII PORTNOV) and Ioanna Paraskeva (ΙΩΑΝΝΑ ΠΑΡΑΣΚΕΥΑ).
In 2019, Ericius Investments Limited approached the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for the casinoparimatch.com domain, which, using the PARIMATCH branding, led users to the Vulcan Casino website. The applicant indicated to WIPO that it owns a number of PARIMATCH trademarks – an international trademark, trademarks of the Russian Federation No. 536717 (registered on March 11, 2015) and No. 613353 (registered on April 18, 2017), and the Ukrainian trademark No. 178808 (registered on November 25, 2013) – and during its more than 20 years on the market “has turned into an international gaming network of more than four hundred business units, with offices in Cyprus, the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Georgia, etc.” and uses the domains parimatch.com, parimatch.ru, parimatch.kz, parimatch.by and parimatch.com.cy for its activities.
In addition, Erisius Investments Limited is a significant control entity of PARIMATCH UNITED INVESTMENTS LIMITED registered in London. The company’s correspondence address (Kemp House, 160 City Road, London, England, EC1V 2NX) is widely advertised as a virtual office address, available for £29 per year:
The domain parimatch.ua, according to Whois.net and the database of signs registered in Ukraine for goods and services, is owned by the already mentioned Ericius Investments Limited.
Context. The income of Ericius Investments Limited and PMBL GROUP LTD. According to the financial report of Ericius Investments Limited, obtained by NV.Business from the Cyprus register, the company’s net income amounted to 9.1 million euros in 2017. According to a similar report, in 2017, for the period from March 10 to December 31, PMBL GROUP LTD received 4.99 million euros in net profit, and according to the results of 2018 – 15.8 million euros in net profit.
Gamedev: online casino license, legendary Briton, and Shangri La plans
The Commission for the Regulation of Gambling and Lotteries (KRAIL) turned down Gamedev LLC’s online casino license application three times. The commission found flaws in the paperwork submitted by the company (an incomplete package of documents, lacking certain signatures, etc.) – but issued a license on the applicant’s fourth attempt.
Gamedev LLC with an authorized capital of 30 million hryvnias was registered in Kyiv in December 2019. In the state register, the founders of the company are listed as the Dutch STORM INTERNATIONAL MANAGEMENT SERVICE BV and the Ukrainian Closed Nondiversified Venture Corporate Investment Fund Descartes.
The beneficiaries of Gamedev LLC are Ukrainian Ruslan Anatolyevich Nonka (37.52%, indirect decisive influence through Descartes) and Boettcher Michael Paul (47.5%, indirect decisive influence through STORM INTERNATIONAL MANAGEMENT SERVICE BV).
Michael Boettcher is a legendary figure in the gambling market of the post-Soviet space. According to Forbes.ru, the former London taxi driver has been working as a hired manager in the development of casinos in Moscow since 1992, founded Storm International, and was able to build the largest casino chain in the capital of Russia, the most famous of which was the Shangri La casino. In 2008, Boettcher operated five Moscow casinos with 150 gaming tables, a network of 25 slot halls (more than 2,000 machines), and a chain of bars and restaurants. However, already in 2009, business in Russia had to be closed due to a law passed by the State Duma, which allowed gambling only in the relevant gambling zones. The company’s business was actually driven out of Russia.
In 2018, Storm International owned a network of slot halls in Germany, as well as four Shangri La casinos in the countries of the former USSR (in Tbilisi, Yerevan, Riga (SL), and Minsk), as well as the PlayShangriLa online casino.
Gamedev LLC has gone through several transformations during its short history. Until December 16, 2020, according to YouControl, Dutch Storm International along with Maxim Vladimirovich Kovtonyuk were listed as the ultimate beneficiaries and co-founders of the company (Kovtonyuk’s contribution was equal to the contribution of the Dutch company – UAH 15 million). However, on December 16, JSC ZNVKIF “Dekart” appeared among the founders, and already on December 18, Kovtonyuk had dropped out of the list of company founders – Michael Boettcher appeared among the founders, and Ruslan Nonka became the ultimate beneficiary. At the moment, as already mentioned, the beneficiaries of Gamedev LLC are Michael Paul Boettcher and Ruslan Nonka, and the founders are the Dekart Foundation and Storm International (UAH 15 million each). Maxim Kovtonyuk is the ultimate beneficiary and co-founder (50%) of LLC Centrheim with an authorized capital of 30 million hryvnias. The second founder of Centrheim is the same Dutch STORM INTERNATIONAL MANAGEMENT SERVICE BV.
As the ultimate beneficiary of Gamedev, Ruslan Nonka explained to NV.Business that the transformations were related to the structuring of the project. Centerheim, Nonka said, was planned as a separate project, but so far, it has been frozen.
“We have structured the group. Maxim Kovtonyuk has fulfilled his functions. This was due to the legal structuring of the project,” Nonka explained the changes in the composition of the beneficiaries and founders of Gamedev.
He also noted that Gamedev LLC has plans to apply for a license for offline activities, and Storm Ukraine (whose founder and beneficiary is also Ruslan Nonka) plans to develop a casino in Kyiv under the Shangri La brand.
“Brand processes are running,” added the Storm Ukraine founder.
Obtaining a license for an offline casino is quite a logical step because Storm International is better known as an offline market player. According to NV.Business, in Ukraine the company is also more focused on the offline segment.
A brand for online casinos from Gamedev LLC – Slots City. On January 21, 2021, Geymdev LLC applied to register the Slots City Game Clubs TM.
The domain slotscity.ua, which the company will use to operate online casinos, according to Whois data, was created in November 2020. Today, from the address slotscity.ua, the user is automatically redirected to the site slot-city.net. Judging by the Whois data and the database of trademarks registered in Ukraine for goods and services, the domain belongs to Gamedev LLC.
Several sites on the Internet use the Slots city brand – slotscity.com, slot-city.net, and slotscityshow.com. The first two invite you to register for the opening of the first official Slots City casino, and the third site is dedicated to the Slots City Show project, which tells the backstage story of the most profitable business in the world.
You can also learn about company positioning on these resources. Slots City is clearly targeting offline, as it positions itself as a network of gambling clubs in Ukraine, which unites premium land-based gambling halls and an online platform for playing on the Internet. It also emphasizes that Slots City is a Ukrainian project of an international management team with 25 years of experience in managing casinos and slot machine halls in Europe, Latin America, and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
“Our brand Shangri La is a recognized leader in Eastern Europe in terms of quality of service and services provided,” the Slots City website says.
Ruslan Nonka told NV.Business that after the launch of slotscity.ua, all the domains the company uses today (and which are associated with the brand) are likely to redirect users to the main site.
“The Slots City Show website will continue to host the entertainment content we produce,” a company spokesman added.