With several successful businesses to his name before having been appointed CEO of PressEnter Group, Lahcene Merzoug knows what it will take for the company to achieve its ambitions of becoming a true power player in the gaming industry. In November last year, it was announced that PressEnter Group will undertake a management buyout, with Lahcene appointed Executive Chairman of the Board. Therefore, having already overseen massive growth since taking on the role, he is relishing the challenges ahead.

Lahcene Merzoug loves building businesses. For him, it is all about the thrill of seeing “strategies and ambitions become reality”. The emphasis is on the journey rather than the destination. Lahcene’s passion has driven him through a career marked by successful businesses in a variety of fields, including restaurants and green tech. He entered the gaming sector in 2013 and then took on his current role as CEO of PressEnter Group in 2021.

At the time, Lahcene had just taken a sabbatical and was eager to kickstart a new challenge. “My fiancée and I visited Italy before deciding to move to Malta for a new way of life,” Lahcene recalls. “Not long after arriving, I was contacted by a friend who needed help with marketing – an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. I’ve been working in the sector and living in Malta ever since.

PressEnter Group started life as BetPoint Group in 2018 when the team behind 21.com took over business operations. Since then, the company has made tremendous strides, transitioning from a small, singlebrand operator to a sizeable organisation that runs multiple online casino assets, including JustSpin, Neon Vegas, Nitro Casino and Ultra Casino. “With tremendous momentum behind the business, we decided to rebrand to PressEnter Group as it better aligns with our ambitions to become an industry power player over the coming years,” the CEO explains.

Lahcene was recruited as CEO in 2021 to scale the business. “Together with my team, we built a very strong management team and now have a really powerful C-suite in place,” he says. “I also developed and deployed a strategy to expand into new markets, turning PressEnter into a multi-licensed, multijurisdictional entity.”

In managing these impressive and rapid developments, Lahcene has relied on what he describes as a modern leadership style based on soft values, which include creating a good working environment and making employees feel valued and appreciated, while focusing on good communication with clear goals.

“Employees that enjoy their time at work are more creative and productive,” Lahcene asserts. “At PressEnter, our managers provide our employees with the tools and environment they need to fulfil tasks to the best of their abilities. Managers must get to know each team member on an individual level because everyone is different. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, goals and motivations.”

Lahcene also takes a similar approach to his own well-being. “Over the years, I have learnt that to thrive, and not only survive, in high-pressure work environments, you must find inner balance,” he says. “This really needs to be seen as a personal project within oneself. I ground myself through exercise and meditation, and I source energy from time spent with friends and family. I’m also a big believer in nurturing a growth mindset; I constantly strive to become a better version of myself.”

It is precisely this mentality that fuels Lahcene’s vision for PressEnter Group as the company continues its rapid growth trajectory. Since unveiling its new corporate identity, PressEnter has expanded its portfolio with the launch of Rapid Casino. And, it has also entered three new markets in Peru, Chile and Romania, and secured a licence for Ontario, Canada.

Despite this growth, Lahcene’s vision stands firm. “We’re building a dynamic organisation and fostering a culture that attracts the best talent the industry has to offer and offers the environment needed for people to reach their full potential. This is what enables us to deliver a superior player experience across all our brands and in each of our target markets.”

In 2022, PressEnter Group moved into a new office facility, occupying six floors of a state-of-the-art building in Sliema. “It has beautiful views over Valletta and the space has been specifically designed to provide the optimal working environment. Here, team members can push boundaries while also being able to take a break and switch off when they need to.”

PressEnter Group is perfectly positioned to push onwards to new and exciting developments in 2023, especially in light of the Management Buyout. First on the horizon is its hotly anticipated debut in the highly competitive online sportsbook market. The company has teamed up with Sportradar, a leading sports technology company, to deliver the cutting-edge solution that will power PressEnter’s first sportsbook brand, XLbet.

“XLbet is being positioned as a challenger online sportsbook brand that will provide a seamless player experience,” Lahcene explains. “This includes the sports, markets and odds offered to players. We’ve also applied our magic touch to other key areas, such as player onboarding, bonusing, payments and customer support. This is where XLbet will stand out from the crowd and our competitors, thereby driving acquisition at scale and taking customer retention to the next level.”

As exciting as the year ahead looks, Lahcene is keenly aware that “the need to constantly adapt to ever-changing regulations around the world is an ever-evolving challenge.”

But of course, where there are challenges, Lahcene also sees opportunities. “We are an agile organisation, so we can react to changes quickly and easily. This also means that we can launch more brands in more markets and move fast when we spot acquisition opportunities that will enable us to scale the business,” he adds.

It is with this in mind that PressEnter strengthened its management team last year with a series of major hires, including Qurban Hussain as Chief Financial Officer, Hampus Eriksson as Chief Product Officer and Terese Thagaard as Chief Legal Officer.

Lahcene knows, however, that while recruiting talent is one thing, keeping hold of it is another. Overcoming the challenge of retention takes Lahcene back to his most fundamental business values. “We want our people to love what they do, which is why we have worked hard to develop a culture that ensures colleagues are motivated, happy and healthy at all times,” he says. “We have a mantra that the only thing more important than our product is our people, and we make sure they never forget that.”

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2023 – the sister brand to MaltaCEOs.mt and an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders

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