Paruyr Shahbazyan was a professional sports arbitrage player for 10 years before he started Bookmaker Ratings, the biggest online media about sports betting in Eastern Europe. With six million unique monthly users, we are the most prominent lead generator for the sports betting industry in the region. We are breaking down the role of a betting operator into several smaller roles, making it available to anyone who wants to benefit from liquidity and data provision, front end development and operation, and decentralized governance.
Ishan Pandey: Hi Paruyr, welcome to our series “Behind the Startup.” Please tell us about yourself and the story behind Azuro?
Paruyr Shahbazyan: Hi Ishan! Thank you for reaching out. I was a professional sports arbitrage player for 10 years before I started Bookmaker Ratings, the biggest online media about sports betting in Eastern Europe. With six million unique monthly users, we are the most prominent lead generator for the sports betting industry in the region. We also act as an intermediary between players and betting operators whenever those two have a dispute. We have returned more than 11 mln USD to players through mediation.
So, even though betting has been around for more than 2000 years, being one of humanity’s first forms of contract, it is broken.
The betting industry lacks fairness and transparency. The reason is that the system is built on negative incentives which put bookmakers and players against each other. Players and betting operators do not trust each other. This problem has created a niche for my own business – Bookmaker Ratings. If players and sportsbooks trusted each other, the company wouldn’t exist.
Needless to say that smart contracts are solving the issue of trust, thus disrupting not only the betting industry but the ratings/review industry as well, in which Bookmaker Ratings itself is.
Understanding the problems of the industry and the threat to our own business, we decided to lead the disruption and create a decentralized protocol for betting. Users can bet in a trustless way. No one can influence how the platform’s smart contracts will resolve.
Plus, we are democratizing the business of betting as a whole. It is well known that the betting industry is very capital and know-how intensive with high barriers to entry. We are breaking down the role of a betting operator into several smaller roles, making it available to anyone who wants to benefit from liquidity and data provision, front-end development and operation, and decentralized governance.
Ishan Pandey: Please tell us about how blockchain technology and NFTs can disrupt the betting industry?
Paruyr Shahbazyan: One of the main problems in the current betting industry is that nearly 100% of the control is in the betting operator’s hands. This brings us to a situation where operators ban smart players, lower payouts for winning bets, do artificial KYC checks to freeze the funds on players’ accounts, and much more.
Therefore, it is critical to use smart contracts technology to build a decentralized betting protocol. Thus, it brings full transparency and fairness to the betting process. Other solutions utilize smart contracts, but we differentiate from those by providing service and user experience that matches the traditional betting operators. By that, I mean fixed odds with competitive prices, various betting markets and outcomes, and high liquidity – all traits that current blockchain solutions do not have. This is truly unique.
In regards to NFT’s, each bet on the platform is an NFT. It has two functions. Until the moment of settlement of the bet, it is a financial NFT. It can be traded on our marketplace. Let’s say you have placed a bet, and for whatever reason, you decide that you do not want it to play out (you want to cash out before the event is played). You can sell it on our marketplace. Furthermore, the buyer gets your bet with a bit of a discount, thus getting an edge in terms of the price vs. probability of the outcome. After the bet is settled, it stops having value as a financial NFT, but it can still have value!
By being an internet media, we know very well which kind of stories bettors are interested in. The most popular formats are either some crazy winnings or some very upsetting losses. Both types of stories are actively shared and discussed in bettor’s communities. And our NFTs are 100% proof of those stories. I often refer to Maradona’s “hand of God” moment to describe the historical value of an NFT bet. Imagine someone had lost or won a large amount because of that crazy goal. I think such an NFT would have had massive value as a collectible.
Besides that, users can be rewarded with NFTs for a variety of achievements while placing bets on the platform (e.g., the longest winning line, awkward losses, highest odds won, and so on – the possibilities are virtually infinite).
To summarize, NFT technology allows for true innovation that will enrich the betting experience dramatically in a positive way. We create the opportunity for secondary markets (bet cash-out or purchase with a discount, markets for memorable bets as collectibles) and lots of engaging gamification that turn the usual betting experience into something more engaging and exciting.
Ishan Pandey: The rise in popularity of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, has had a significant impact on the betting industry, allowing for secondary markets and engaging gamification. In your opinion, what has led to this shift in the industry from the traditional ecosystem towards a more DeFi approach?
Paruyr Shahbazyan: I am not aware of any betting protocols or platforms that have begun using NFTs as a feature for betting. Yes, online gaming projects work closely with NFTs to add more gamification into the process. However, our market analysis shows, the idea of implementing NFTs into betting is unique so far.
Ishan Pandey: The blockchain technology’s foundations offer a lot of potential for adding a sense of confidence to online gambling. In what ways can an online betting platform that employs this technology ensure transactional transparency?
Paruyr Shahbazyan: Well, all transactions are visible on the blockchain. You can simply look in the transaction explorer and find what you are looking for.
This brings us to another critical issue present in the industry. People who work in betting are familiar with a term called “affiliate shaving.” It means that betting operators stop paying commissions for part of the players they have received from an affiliate. Often they would just say: “this account has stopped betting.” Furthermore, there is nothing affiliates can do – the data is a black box, under the operator’s control. This is another example of how there is zero control in affiliates’ hands and 100% control in the operator’s hands. Essentially – it all comes down to operators’ decency, which is quite naive if you speak to the experienced people in the industry.
Blockchain is solving this issue. A crypto address represents the bettor. Moreover, you can easily see whether a given address is interacting with the platform’s smart contracts or not. Plus, the affiliate commission is set in the smart contract and cannot be changed. This means that the affiliate will get a guaranteed lifetime commission for all of the bettors’ activities that he provides to the platform. No more “affiliate shaving”!
Ishan Pandey: Individual pieces of crypto known as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are at least partly to blame for the massive volumes of climate-warming carbon pollution released by the cryptocurrencies used to buy and exchange them. What are your thoughts on the negative influence of NFTs on the environment?
Paruyr Shahbazyan: With regards to NFTs, I think it is not fair to blame NFTs, but rather the environmental impact of the chains they are on because NFTs can be deployed in many ways. To be honest, I always tell all my friends that bitcoin is a useless thing. Thus, I have recently sold all my BTC holdings and bought Ethereum and BNB. In addition, as everyone knows, Ethereum goes from PoW to PoS as a protocol and will no longer negatively affect the environment. Also, we are planning to launch the platform on the Ethereum blockchain, and in this regard, our conscience is clear.
However, the fact that so much energy is spent on PoW is awful, especially because bitcoin does not carry any value itself. It was conceived as money, but it did not and never will become such because of its volatility. Then, looking at Bitcoin as digital gold because it has a limited emission makes some sense. Perhaps this is logical, but I’m not a supporter of keeping gold either. Gold does not pay dividends, and it just lies there in your portfolio with almost zero profit.
These assets are usually used to escape/hedge during crises, but gold has a practical use, too, as a metal. Bitcoin, unfortunately, does not even have that. It’s only used for speculation. Institutional purchases support the price of bitcoin. However, these institutions do not buy bitcoin because they think it is a useful thing. They buy it because of their own stakeholders’ pressure and to ride the wave of speculation. So Bitcoin is the pioneer who, however, should die naturally. That does not mean I am not happy when bitcoin grows – of course. I am because everything else grows with it, but at a certain point, the rest of the industry will be able to grow on its own, and this process is already starting.
Ishan Pandey: In your opinion, will a decentralized infrastructure promote and uphold better transparency, efficiency, responsibility, and fairness while also sharing more value with more betting participants?
Paruyr Shahbazyan: Absolutely, the usage of blockchain as a base infrastructure for betting will add more value and fairness to the betting industry. We can see how other traditional industries like finance, data storage, content generation, etc. got promoted and improved through blockchain decentralization. In the case of betting, the traditional betting market we have right now (including the billions of bettors) might need some time to adapt and migrate onto the blockchain.
As this happens, though – the full power of decentralization will completely disrupt the betting industry and provide transparent and efficient betting to everyone. Initially, the biggest portion of users will be a mix of traditional bettors who are more tech-savvy and have tried or are open to trying blockchain applications and crypto native users who are enjoying new ways to benefit from blockchain betting like farming, liquidity provision, and staking, as will be possible when the Platforms Protocol’s main net is live.
Ishan Pandey: DeFi is rapidly growing in scale as more inventive apps continue to push the boundaries of how customers can get utility from their digital assets. However, there are a few roadblocks in the way, such as volatility, that have been holding down DeFi. What can be done to address these issues?
Paruyr Shahbazyan: We already see how much more attractive DeFi for stablecoins is, with options for yield that are dozens of times better than what is possible in traditional banking. As of today, banks do not give you any interest for a deposit in dollars and euros, and some even take negative interest to keep your money.
In DeFi, you can put USDT in liquidity pools and earn 10 percent or often – much more. As for volatility, yes, it is an issue. For example, if you bought crypto and earn some yield in it, there is a risk that the coin will depreciate, but there is also the option to provide liquidity in stablecoins. In that regard, liquidity pool farming is susceptible to volatility, but the impact is somewhat mitigated because of the adjustment of the pools in terms of the weight of the stablecoin and the weight of the other cryptocurrency in the pool.
Innovation in that regard is fast, and I am sure there will be safer and easier products to use, which will be a massive boost to the sector.
Ishan Pandey: Elon Musk has repeatedly promoted memes and has even endorsed meme cryptocurrency Dogecoin in several ways. How do you think the ‘meme culture’ will assist cryptocurrencies, particularly in terms of engaging today’s youth?
Paruyr Shahbazyan: I do not see any benefit in Dogecoin, except for speculation. But, what makes Elon Musk, in general, very positive and helpful for the crypto industry is that he introduces the general public to the industry. This is a good way to communicate new information, in general. Because, if he was to write some boring posts with e.g., financial data, or any technically heavy details, the audience of these posts would be ten times lower. So, what he does for the industry as a whole is very cool. He acts as a great driver of cultural interest, which is very positive on one side, as I mentioned, but can cost many people money if they get burnt by Dogecoin or Bitcoin speculation.
In the end, though, I believe such tectonic changes in development and disruption always come with some sacrifices. Some people will make bad choices, some people will make good choices, but net-net – more people will educate themselves about crypto markets and trends. Moreover, we can thank meme culture for that.
Ishan Pandey: Ethereum recently broke the $4,000 barrier, marking a new high in a stunning surge that has outpaced bitcoin. Do you believe Ethereum will become more important in a future decentralized banking system?
Paruyr Shahbazyan: One hundred percent, I think that Ethereum will be the main cryptocurrency and the core blockchain infrastructure because it has a lot of momentum and it doesn’t stand still. They are evolving, and there is a leader, Vitalik Buterin, who reacts to the challenges of change, and I think that Ether will dominate and will be more valuable than Bitcoin, for sure. I recently sold all my BTC holdings for Ethereum, and it’s going pretty well for me so far.
Ishan Pandey: Officials in China recently said that they will adopt stricter cryptocurrency rules, prompting bitcoin prices to drop. What effect will Chinese legislation have on the global economy?
Paruyr Shahbazyan: China wants to promote its digital yuan, so they introduce new regulations. They see the pressure on other digital assets as a good thing helping them make the yuan more popular. At the end of the day, they are hoping to challenge the dollar as a reserve currency on crypto/digital rails. I understand this attempt. However, I cannot predict if it will be successful or not.
Ishan Pandey: What new patterns will we see in the cryptocurrency market, particularly in the post-Covid-19 era?
Paruyr Shahbazyan: Savvy people quickly realized that keeping your savings in stablecoins in DeFi, which will still grow.
Though people need to acknowledge that stablecoins can be centralized, I have a Tether account, and it got frozen with a 100K in it for more than a month. Then I said, okay, please send the money back to the crypto wallet that it came from. Moreover, when I asked when can I get my money back, they just said, “be patient” … This reminded me that if one depends on people making decisions, it can get ugly at any moment.
Also, it can get surprisingly stupid… After waiting for a month to get my money back, I received an email that they had transferred 72K more than they should! After all that is waiting, I was tempted not to send it back, but I assumed that the person who made the error was different from the one who had frozen my account, so I sent the 72k back.
Getting back to the subject of patterns, it also seems to me that cross-border payments, e.g., for salaries and so on, are a bigger and bigger thing in crypto. In the digital realm, a lot of companies will be paying freelancers or employees who work in other countries with stablecoins.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to remove informational asymmetry existing today in our digital markets by performing due diligence by asking the right questions and equipping readers with better opinions to make informed decisions. The material does not constitute any investment, financial, or legal advice. Please do your research before investing in any digital assets or tokens, etc. The writer does not have any vested interest in the company. Ishan Pandey.
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