JD Duarte, CEO of Latin American sports betting operator Betcris, took time out to talk with SBC Americas this week ahead of a high-profile appearance this coming September at SBC Events‘ Betting on Sports Conference in London.

Having taken over the Betcris brand circa 12 years ago, Duarte is well placed to articulate the big issues and intricacies of operating in the rapidly developing LatAm betting space.

Tracking his introduction to the sports betting market and his early Betcris days, he told us: “I started in sports betting back 1997, fresh out of high school. It was meant to be a temporary job that would carry me for a couple of months while I waited to start my university studies (business major). Needless to say, I ended up staying as I started to climb up the ladder of the company and quickly developed a liking for the highly dynamic world of gaming.”

The sportsbook he was working for was eventually absorbed by Betcris in 2001-2002. In late 2006, with Duarte in the role of Business Development Executive, the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed in the United States. “This pushed the Betcris owners to take the decision to close down,” he said. “It was in that moment that I saw an opportunity and made a bold move to acquire the rights over the brand.” 

The rest, remarked Duarte is history, with Betcris since becoming active in Panama, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Argentina, Honduras, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and the Philippines.

“While Betcris has been around for a very long time, it’s been over 12 years since I took the brand over and focused on Latin America, a region in which we have a very strong physical presence,” he noted. “Over time, I have been very lucky to find great people and build an amazing team that truly cares about the company, its goals and more importantly its customers.”

Talking specifically about the firm’s Mexico operation, Duarte said: “Betcris entered Mexico back in 2006 and since then we have worked to position ourselves as the smart option for bettors of all types. Sports betting is what Betcris is known for, and it is by far our main product. We cater to the big bettor as well as the price-sensitive one. Our latest deal, with the Mexico National Football Team is proof of how much we value this market.”

Staying on the topic of the Mexico business and focusing on some of the market specifics, he commented: “The quality of our service is our main focus. We aim to develop a long term relationship with our customers. This, coupled with our commitment towards fast payouts, seals the deal with our customers. Once they confirm they can get their winnings without difficulty they know they only have to worry about picking winners. 

“Lately, we have been improving on our casino product, adding a good number of new games from top shelf game providers. We don’t want to be another cookie-cutter sports book, we want to be the sportsbook customers bet with because they have no time for nonsense.”

Speaking more generally about LatAm, Duarte evidently harbors high aspirations for expansion across existing and new jurisdictions within the region. “We already have a healthy footprint in LatAm, the strongest in fact,” he offered. “My goal is now to defend this position and strengthen our presence in existing markets while looking to add the ones we were missing due to lack of local regulation. Brazil and Argentina represent big opportunities for us and we are ready to seize them when the time comes.”

By way of a parting shot, Duarte balanced out his obvious enthusiasm for the region and its myriad opportunities with a note of caution. “LatAm is a big region where, despite the large use of a common language, people experience gaming and especially sports betting in a different way from country to country,” he said.

“Operators need to understand how to communicate effectively and deliver what people want. In LatAm, applying a European approach can only take operators so far.”

Duarte will share his experience and deep working knowledge of the LatAm sports betting space during the Emerging Markets track at Betting on Sports 2019, as part of the event’s growing international outlook. It is being staged on the second full day (19 September) of the leading international sports betting event, which takes place at Olympia London from 17-20 September.