«It’s actually a myth that Bitcoin transactions are almost impossible to trace» — Interview with the CEO of Yolo Group
We continue our series of interviews with famous people from the world of casinos and gambling. This time we were able to chat with Maarja Pärt, the CEO of Yolo Group. Having started her career as a support service employee, Maarja has managed to achieve stunning success and, through her personal experience, shows us what amazing prospects the gambling industry has to offer.
How did the world’s first licensed bitcoin casino appear? What does the future hold for cryptocurrencies in the world of gambling? And how did Bitcoin go into space? Our readers will learn about this and many other interesting topics in today’s interview.
— Please introduce yourself and tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
— My name is Maarja Pärt and I’ve been in the gaming industry for more than 12 years now. I started my career in Customer Support in 2010 when we had just 6 people in the team. During these years I took on a number of different roles within finance as well as operations teams whilst eventually stepping into the CEO role in 2020 – just in the whirlwind of COVID, macroeconomic challenges and war conflicts. During these 2 years, we’ve expanded Yolo Group to nearly 850 employees with offices across the world. It’s been a rollercoaster of a journey and I can’t wait to see where we will go next.
— Äripäev, the leading Estonian financial newspaper, has included you in their list of Estonia’s top leaders as the head of a company whose decisions affect the state of the country’s economy. Please tell us how you have become the largest iGaming company in Estonia in this relatively short time frame of 8 years.
— We have never focused on becoming the largest, we’re solely operating to offer our customers the very best experience – the excitement, the personalised approach. We call it putting them at the centre of the universe, and it’s the philosophy that drives all our brands, products and services. And if the customers are happy, everything else falls into place naturally.
— Online casinos are establishments that generally enjoy very little to no trust and the same can be said about cryptocurrencies. Please share with us how you came up with the bold idea of opening a cryptocurrency casino.
— In many ways, we just took a gamble! Since day one, we saw massive opportunities in the technology that blockchain and crypto currencies brought. The transparency and independence is not just beneficial for us as an operator, but also for the customers. It’s fast, seamless and secure. Connecting this with an excellent product and VIP customer service is all you need to deliver the fun, fast and fair experience.
— You were among the first to see the potential in cryptocurrencies. In 2014, you opened the world’s first licensed Bitcoin casino and you often joke that crypto is in your DNA. How did the digital coins get your love and attention?
— Crypto is one of the key pillars of our DNA and this is not a joke. It’s something we firmly believe in. The foundations of Yolo Group are built upon this technology, because we see it as a genuine game-changer not just for this industry, but for the world.
In the early days, Bitcoin provided a neat solution to several issues which were plaguing casino operators, such as chargebacks and slow payouts. However, it is now something far greater for us. Blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies are a way for us to build global brands which are engaging, innovative and inclusive.
— Nevertheless, Bitcoin is still considered highly volatile, with sharp jumps in its rate being commonplace. In 2018, Bitcoin lost more than 50% of its value in just 16 days, and then it continued to drop. If we’re being completely honest, have you ever thought about abandoning cryptocurrencies and working with the classic, stable currencies?
— We believe in the long-term future of cryptocurrencies. Yes, Bitcoin and other coins have gone through periods of volatility, but the multi-year trend has been extremely positive. If you look over a ten year period, Bitcoin has massively outperformed every fiat currency by orders of magnitude.
The great thing is that we’re not only limited to Bitcoin. We offer a range of cryptocurrencies on our brands, including stablecoins such as USDT, which allow customers to play without exposing themselves to as much volatility.
— Together with scientists from the University of Tartu, you have decided to launch Bitcoin into space. Tell us more about this project. Were you planning to be the first to introduce cryptocurrencies to extraterrestrials?
— ESTCube-2, who we’ve partnered with, is an Estonian satellite organisation composed of space enthusiasts and students from the University of Tartu, wishing to take Estonian space tech onto the world stage.
The main pursuit of the ESTCube project is to develop, build and launch scientific nanosatellite missions. In addition to technical challenges, the project aims to promote and popularise science in schools and among the general public.
Much like Yolo Group, these brilliant young scientists are pushing the limits and want to disrupt the status quo. This resonates with what we believe in and we want to support the next generation of engineers.
This is also a great chance to make history as we’re the first crypto casino to send Bitcoin to space.
— You can now pay with cryptocurrencies in your office’s dining room, and you also managed the launching Bitcoin into space project. Are you doing this to further popularize Bitcoin?
— We absolutely see bringing Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies to a wider audience as part of our mission. We truly believe in the transformative power of this technology to make the world a better place, and we believe that building great products which encourage normal people to use cryptocurrencies is an important part of the process. This is also why we support educational initiatives such as learncrypto.com, which is educating a global community on the benefits of cryptocurrencies.
— At Bitcasino, you accept only cryptocurrencies. Tell us why you don’t want to make the casino multi-currency to attract players who prefer the good old dollars or euros.
— We do accept fiat currencies as well, but we want to educate our players by giving them a chance to play with crypto. We tend to find that when people experience first-hand the benefits of playing with crypto, they rarely want to go back to fiat. Lower fees, faster withdrawal times and other factors make it a really appealing experience.
— What is the most popular cryptocurrency at your casinos? It’s Bitcoin, isn’t it?
— In fact, we have seen a major uplift in stable coin volumes, USDT specifically.
Bitcoin remains comfortably as one of the top 3 currencies on our platform, TRX is very popular as well, but we offer more than ten other coins. There are fast-growing communities increasingly turning to altcoins and we’re always open to adding additional cryptocurrencies to our payment options in the future should the demand be there.
— In some countries, Bitcoin is illegal, in others, its use is not recommended at the government level. We know that Bitcoin transactions are almost impossible to trace and that the cryptocurrency is decentralized, but imagine that tomorrow most countries decide to ban it. What would you do in this scenario?
— It’s actually a myth that Bitcoin transactions are almost impossible to trace, and at both Bitcasino and Sportsbet.io we have been able to elevate our KYC and AML protocol standards thanks to the transparency that blockchain offers ensuring customers can enjoy our games safely and securely. Regarding a global ban of cryptocurrencies, I just can’t see that happening. This technology is increasingly entering the mainstream these days, and that’s a positive for everyone.
— What do you think is the main problem of cryptocurrency casinos at the moment? How did you manage to solve these problems?
— From the very beginning we wanted to build gaming experiences that compared favourably with the entire gaming market, not just the cryptocurrency corner of it. That’s where our commitment to ‘fun, fast and fair’ gaming began. The challenge actually is keeping it simple for the customers. Any new piece of technology can have a fairly complicated flow for the users. The crypto currency field is still very new and developing every single day. The opportunities with NFTs, Metaverse and all altcoins are endless. It’s important not to get lost in all that and define your unique selling point for your users. That’s the key to success.
— A month ago, 8 of your employees received prestigious nominations from the Women in Gaming Diversity Awards. Do you think there are enough women currently working in the industry?
Who would you rather hire a man or a woman, with more or less the same experience and competencies? About half of Estonians think that men make the best leaders, according to a study by the Institute for Public Research. Please tell us, did these stereotypes prevent you from building your career?
— We are always very honoured to receive these nominations, but again, this has never been our targeted focus. We have simply kept our eyes on building a strong team.
In terms of the situation in the industry, I feel we have made great progress, but all in all, it’s not at all about having just an equal number of men and women in the teams. It’s actually about building up sustainable, talented, superstar teams and the only way to achieve this is to have a diverse team. Diverse in terms of background, opinions, experiences and talent, so it actually does not matter what your gender, ethnicity or age is – as long as you are a great fit to the team.
Yolo is proud to have 55 different nationalities, men and women from all ages and a strong leadership team to live by the same core values.
— Would you like to meet Satoshi Nakamoto? How do you imagine meeting him?
— It would be an absolute honour to meet them, whoever they might be. They’ve begun a financial revolution that’s already had an impact beyond what any of us could have imagined. We certainly wouldn’t be where we are today without their vision. And who knows, perhaps somewhere, Satoshi is enjoying a few spins of roulette on Bitcasino.
— Thank you for your interesting answers to our questions!