Virtual Gaming Boom Makes Aussie a Billionaire

virtual gaming logo
An Australian billionaire once flipped burgers at Hungry Jack’s as a teenager and is now atop a multibillion-dollar online gaming empire.

News.com.au reports Laurence Escalante, 39, is at the helm of Australia’s latest tech success, with Virtual Gaming Worlds, headquartered in Perth, taking off in the past 12 months.

All of the company’s revenue is derived from outside Australia, mostly in North American, with customers in lockdown having plenty of time to play online games and sweepstakes the company heavily promotes via social media.

Almost all of VGW’s customers play virtual games such as its Chumba Casino suite of online poker machines, poker and blackjack table games and Luckyland Slots.

They pay real money to buy virtual “gold coins” to play, with VGW operating under a sweepstakes model that allows users the chance to win promotional sweepstakes prizes that can be redeemed for cash.

Escalante is the majority owner of VGW and plans to expand the business.

“We are still adjusting to the challenges and preparing, fingers crossed, for a post-COVID-19 world.

“We expect the broader trend towards online commerce accelerated by the pandemic will continue and consolidate.”

Escalante also has a passion for fast cars, which started when he would play arcade games such as NASCAR and Need for Speed for hours.

The first car he owned was a Mitsubishi Lancer GLI in 2001, modifying it heavily with chrome rims, three-inch exhaust and a stereo system.

His first job was working at Hungry Jacks for $5.65 per hour as a teenager and he later worked at The Reject Shop while undertaking actuarial studies and economics at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Escalante started VGW from shared office space in Perth in 2010.

His fast car passion has seen Escalante invest in a car modification business, Beyond Custom, and training and coaching business Arise Racing.

Escalante also supports the SheCodes organisation that aims to get more women to pursue technology careers.

“Getting more women to study and pursue careers in technology will help ensure the vibrancy and success of the sector,” he said.

Online gambling surge amid UK lockdown

man winning online casino game while on mobile phone

Britons stuck at home due to coronavirus are hitting the online casinos, providing a boost for operators of virtual games such as blackjack and roulette.

Bloomberg reported in February that 888 Holdings Plc said Tuesday it’s seen increased customer activity in the casino and poker operations that make up the majority of its revenue, echoing comments made on March 19 by gambling technology firm Playtech.

The “encouraging” update from 888 reinforces the view that gambling companies can mitigate losses arising from the cancellation of sporting events.

Gavin Kelleher, an analyst at broker Goodbody, said in a note.

888 got about 15 per cent of revenue from sports betting in 2018.

888 stock soared as much as 38 per cent Tuesday, the most ever, paring a plunge that followed widespread postponement of sports from soccer to horse racing as well as broader concerns about the virus’s impact on the economy.

The shares are down 33 per cent in the year, much less than the 77 per cent drop for bookmaker William Hill, which relies more on sports.

Among 888’s closest peers, Gamesys Group Plc has risen about 32 per cent since the firm said March 17 it’s seeing “good momentum across the business”.

But despite Playtech’s comments, its stock is down about 56 per cent over the past month.

Peel Hunt analysts Ivor Jones and Douglas Jack warned last week that Playtech’s live casino operation requires a large number of employees to be in the same place at the same time, operating tables that are streamed to people playing online.

The UK announced a ban on all unnecessary movement of people for at least three weeks on Monday.

William Brown

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