Welcome to this fans’ site dedicated to NetEnt casino sites. This is not an ‘official’ site. We are not linked to NetEnt, or its current owners Evolution in any way. We are not, sponsored or supported by them, nor do we receive any financial payments from them. This is a fans’ site, pure and simple! NetEnt are responsible for the creation of hundreds of slots available on casino sites today. With their superb graphics and innovative designs, NetEnt is the name behind many of the most popular slots and casino games.
It’s true to say that a lot has happened since we first published back in 2017. It may only be a brief period in time, but during these few short years the United Kingdom has left the European Union, Donald Trump has been and gone.
Things have not been quite so momentous in the online gaming world, but it remains true that the world looks like a very different place if you’re a NetEnt fan or follower today, when compared with the viewpoint of 2017.
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A bit of background Info on NetEnt
When this site was launched in 2017 NetEnt was by far the leading provider of online slots for the European market, and was beginning to improve its coverage in the wider global market too. No self-respecting online casino could afford to be without a large selection of the company’s games being included in their portfolio. The company already had several acclaimed classics to its name, such as the ever-popular Gonzo’s Quest and Spinata Grande, plus the stone wall classic Starburst. These were supplemented by dozens of other innovative titles, such as the colourful cartoon fables Hook’s Heroes, Jack and the Beanstalk and Robin Hood, while Finn and the Swirly Spin took a more modern approach to the traditional fairy tale.
Meanwhile, fans of the darker side could choose from titles such as Blood Suckers II, the officially licenced Aliens slot, or my personal favourite, the spooky Universal Monsters version of Dracula. Talking of officially licenced, the company had also carved an impressive selection of music themed games too, with authorised releases of slots by classic rock artists including Guns ‘n’ Roses, Motorhead and the iconic Jimi Hendrix.
The hits kept coming too, with further innovative designs like Asgardian Stones, Halloween Jack, Vikings and Wild Bazaar following in 2018. There was a semi-successful attempt to follow up earlier classics too, with Berryburst adding a tangy citrus flavour to its super-successful predecessor Starburst.
The following year saw a number of further superb releases to keep the company at the forefront of the industry. Finn returned once again with his Golden Tavern, and there were also sequels for previous hit releases Dead or Alive and Reel Rush. It wasn’t all about reboots though, with some impressive new designs hitting the online virtual reels. Amongst an impressive total of more than twenty entirely new releases was the particularly successful horse racing themed Scudamore’s Super Stakes, and the zany yuletide caper Santa Vs Rudolf: a heart-warming tale of traditional Christmas spirit, it was not. The reputedly bat eating Ozzy Osborne was also added to the ever-growing roster of officially licenced classic rock themed games.
This consistent record of market leading releases led NetEnt to a position which was firmly at the pinnacle of the online casino software industry. Its position as the foremost gaming software provider was unassailable, and the company produced financial figures to match.
NetEnt’s Corporate Performance
NetEnt’s success in terms of both popular and critical acclaim meant that it could boast stunning financial performance figures which far exceeded that of any of its rivals. Founded in 1998 in Sweden’s capital city, the company had developed from a tiny start-up to an industry leading international organisation in barely two decades.
Whilst the company headquarters remained in Stockholm, it had opened satellite offices based throughout Europe, including the United Kingdom, Poland and Ukraine, plus two more in two of the foremost territories of the gaming industry: Gibraltar and Malta. Further afield, there were also additional outposts in New Jersey in the United States and in Hyderabad in India. The company was responsible for the employment of well over a thousand employees, located all across the world.
By 2019, the company had already developed over two hundred different games. Most of these were online slots, but there was also a good selection of more traditional table games, plus the company’s impressive live gaming operation.
This creative success meant that the company was also in a position to post some impressive financial performance figures too. The financial report for the year ending December 2019 showed total revenues exceeding SEK 1800 million (over £140 million) with total earnings before tax of around SEK 600 million (just under £48 million).
Although revenue growth over the previous year was unspectacular at 0.6%, this was broadly in line with sluggish growth in the gaming industry generally at the time. Indeed, then NetEnt CEO Therese Hillman was very upbeat, pointing to the more buoyant 10% increase in revenues over the final three months of the year. She was particularly confident about the company’s new live gaming operation, which was showing firm signs of growth, having broken records for player numbers that year.
2020 – The Turning Point For NetEnt
2020 was a turning point for all of us. The unprecedented pandemic completely transformed the world, and was utterly unexpected, taking the whole planet by surprise. For NetEnt, the New Year brought a different kind of upheaval – one that, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, was more predictable.
Growth was indeed impressive during the first three quarters of 2020, aided by the strong performance of the gaming industry in general while much of the European population was under lock down. Being largely confined to the home and with real world casinos and other venues temporarily closed, the only real alternative for gamblers was to move online.
As a result, NetEnt revenues were up more than 25% on the corresponding nine months of 2019, with earnings before tax up more than 40%. Income derived from the previous year’s acquisition of up and coming gaming software rival Red Tiger were now also coming on stream. Live casino was also doing particularly well, perhaps buoyed by customers sat at home craving the excitement of a real casino experience.
Arguably, it was this aspect of the company’s performance which drew it to the attention of its previously unchallenged live streaming rival, Evolution Gaming. Evolution was by far the dominant force in the live gaming market – their position in live casino was even more pre-eminent than that of NetEnt in online slot design.
NetEnt’s live gaming operation’s spectacular performance was on a far smaller scale than Evolution’s, which was a massive worldwide operation. Nevertheless, its rapid increase in revenue represented a vast increase in market share, albeit from a very low base. This clear potential for NetEnt to become an emerging competitor to Evolution’s dominant market position was perhaps a primary motivating factor in Evolution’s decision to mount a takeover bid for the Swedish company in June 2020.
Although the well-judged offer was swiftly accepted by NetEnt’s board and shareholders, the takeover itself was not a straightforward process. The size and market share of the two companies within the online gaming industry triggered a merger enquiry by the UK Government’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). This was launched in September, with a provisional judgement in favour announced two months later. Only when the final decision to approve the takeover was published on December 8th was the acquisition finally able to be completed.
As a result, NetEnt became a wholly owned subsidiary of its new owners, with Evolution paying an initial SEK 19.6 billion (equivalent to around £1.6 billion, €2 billion or $2.3 billion). By December 12th, Evolution announced that it had already acquired almost 97% of the company’s shares, and had begun a compulsory buy-out process to purchase the remainder. NetEnt shares were therefore removed from the Stockholm stock exchange on December 16th. The company’s shares’ final trading price was SEK 86 (around £7, €8 or $10).
NetEnt under Evolution Ownership
Founded in 2006, Evolution is a far larger organisation than its new acquisition. Although it too is headquartered in Sweden and listed on the Stockholm stock exchange, it is even more of an international operation, with around 8,000 employees based around live studios across Europe and North America. Its main studio is based in Riga in the Baltic state of Latvia, but it has many others situated in locations such as Belgium, Spain, Tbilisi in Georgia and on the Mediterranean island of Malta. It is also keen to exploit the increasingly liberalised gaming market in North America, with studios in New Jersey in the United States and British Columbia in Canada.
This wide distribution of locations enables the company to provide live streamed casino games in more than twenty different languages. It also promises to provide native speakers in whatever language any potential online casino operator requires.
Evolution is a far larger operator in the live streamed casino gaming market than relative newcomer NetEnt, and it is not difficult to see its takeover move as an attempt to snuff out a possible future competitor. Indeed, the acquisition quickly became controversial, making even mainstream national news headlines, as it immediately closed down NetEnt’s own live gaming operations in Qormi in Malta and began a swingeing round of redundancy announcements.
These job losses were spread far and wide. In addition to Malta, NetEnt locations in Gibraltar and elsewhere were affected, with the entire operation in Krakow in Poland closed down. Even the company’s headquarters in Stockholm were affected, with hundreds of staff advised to stay at home and subsequently released. CEO Therese Hillman was among them – her departure was pre-announced, taking place at the end of the transition period in the spring of 2021.
In total, hundreds of NetEnt employees lost their jobs, some within minutes of the takeover becoming official. This resulted in considerable unwelcome media coverage, and some firm union retaliation. The General Workers’ Union (GWU) in Malta took immediate legal action to stop the process on the island. This was partially successful, with around forty of the threatened jobs being saved when the matter was settled out of court.
It was particularly unfortunate timing for hundreds of employees to lose their jobs, particularly during a pandemic with fewer alternative opportunities. Needless to say the financial world showed no such sympathy. On the contrary, these massive mergers tend to result in increases in share value, with market sentiment usually supporting such moves.
So it was that Evolution was proud to announce starkly optimistic first quarter financial results for 2021. Revenues more than doubled from the equivalent period in 2019 to more than €235 million, largely as a result of the acquisition of NetEnt. Profits also more than doubled to €132 million.
Evolution CEO Jens von Bahr was particularly impressed by his company’s performance, commenting that “…we can already see good results from this work in the first quarter and I believe that we are well set to continue to capitalize on the growing interest in online casino world-wide.” He was also impressed by the increase in Live Gaming revenues, which improved 60% on the same quarter in 2019.
The Future Of NetEnt
The demise of NetEnt’s live gaming operation is bad news for more than just the hundreds of loyal employees who worked there. It’s not great for the millions of regular players of live streamed games either. Although the vast majority of live casino gamers have always played on games streamed from Evolution’s extensive network of studios, the loss of a quality competitor leaves Evolution with even more of a monopoly of the market than before. The competitive incentive to improve its service is no longer there. It’s little wonder that the company’s income and profitability is already on the rise.
The truth is though, that NetEnt’s reputation is built upon its online slot designs, rather than its live gaming. Its millions of fans are more interested in the next incarnations of Gonzo, Finn and NetEnt’s world class game design operation than the fate of a redundant studio in Malta. So the real question is what effect, if any, the advent of new owners Evolution’s stewardship will have on the company’s slot output?
As ever with corporate takeovers of this kind, there are advantages and disadvantages for the acquired company and its customers and players. On the plus side, the increased financial power and market muscle of the new owner offers potentially larger and more diverse markets to move into. It can also lead to an injection of investment into the newly acquired company, the additional resources sometimes leading to an expansion and improvement in quality and quantity of output.
This is clearly a good thing for a company’s customers, players and fans. It can also work in in their favour when the acquired company is ‘left to do what it does best’, with little interference from its new owners. When companies retain their autonomy and continue to function as an independent entity, things really can work out well for both customers and owners. The talents of the acquired company are after all, what attracted the takeover bid from its new owners in the first place.
On the other hand, there are disadvantages too. It is all too easy for a previously successful outfit to disappear into the black hole of its new owners’ corporate machine, micro-managed into submission. As a result, the acquired company can frequently become yet another forgotten brand within the newly merged organisation’s web of bureaucracy. The skills and originality which led to the success of a start-up brand or company can simply get lost when it becomes a mere division of a massive conglomerate.
This is a real risk in this particular case. Initial indications are not good when a whole NetEnt division is summarily closed virtually overnight to suit its new Evolution overlords. The evidence could lead a neutral observer to suggest a worrying question – was Evolution’s intention with this takeover merely to close down a competitor threatening its core market?
NetEnt – The Way Forward
Given the events of December 2020, the omens don’t look too promising. Evolution’s controversial closure of NetEnt’s Maltese live streaming studio and the announcement of further extensive redundancies caused a storm within the online gaming industry. These actions certainly demonstrated a clear commercial ruthlessness on the part of its new owners.
However, the longer term prospects for NetEnt’s core business – slots – look better. There are certainly grounds for optimism. While Evolution’s destruction of NetEnt’s live gaming operation seems clearly based on protecting its own business interests and market share, the amount of money involved in the acquisition suggests other motives are also in play.
€2 billion is a massive sum to pay just to liquidate a troublesome competitor with a tiny market share. It would certainly be a very expensive takeover if Evolution were simply to let its new acquisition’s talents wither on the vine. It is surely in the company’s interests to nurture NetEnt’s undisputed and unrivalled talent for producing great games.
Instead, it can be seen that the two company’s respective strengths are a good fit. The business speak term is ‘synergy’: Evolution will continue to concentrate on its own live gaming operation, while NetEnt will be able to focus on its core strength – its incomparable slot output.
Seen this way, the takeover can be appreciated as a win / win situation for both companies. Evolution now have a strong foot hold in a related gaming market in which they previously had no influence, while NetEnt can continue to do what they do best, whilst enjoying additional financial security under the corporate umbrella of their new owners. Indeed, early indications suggest that NetEnt’s production schedule has been unaffected, with the usual prolific rate of releases continuing through the early months and years of their new corporate partnership.
The spring and summer of 2021 saw a consistent average rate of release of around two to three games per month, with some top titles such as Parthenon: Quest for Immortality and a new MegawaysTM version of the old NetEnt classic Dazzle Me hitting online casinos worldwide.
The Dazzle Me re-boot is of particular interest, because it is a fine example of the advantages of the merger with Evolution already bearing fruit. April 2021 saw Evolution splash the cash once again, this time on the innovative Aussie gaming software outfit Big Time Gaming (BTG). This time, the value of the takeover was an initial €220 million, with the total outlay likely to amount to around €450 million.
The deal leaves Evolution as the ultimate owners of three of the most prestigious brands in slot software design: NetEnt, Red Tiger and now BTG. The specific advantage for NetEnt in this new deal is the fact that BTG’s spectacularly successful Megaways TM mechanic is now effectively ‘in-house’. It is therefore available for all new releases, and for upgrading the company’s legacy titles, without the need to pay an additional licencing fee.
Another example of the benefits NetEnt’s new owners can bring to the table is the spectacular new version of the Gonzo franchise: Gonzo’s Treasure Hunt. This unique and innovative mash up brings the familiar story of the fictional Spanish conquistador to life in a thrilling live gaming format.
Once again, the game is set in the Inca jungle, but with real live action, live game show hosts and random prize drops and multipliers added to the action. The game takes place in a kind of ‘augmented reality’, with live presenters mingling with the animated Gonzo, much like you may have seen in blockbuster movies like Avatar and Iron Man.
The good news is that despite the corporate turbulence of recent times, the future for NetEnt remains bright. Many fans of the company’s unique style will be disappointed if its distinctive Scandinavian flavour is diluted, but early indications suggest that the company is set to thrive under the stewardship of its new owners and its market muscle.
Here at netent.net, we will of course be keeping a close eye on developments, but NetEnt’s position at the forefront of innovative slot design seems assured for the foreseeable future. Gonzo’s Treasure Hunt really does take online gaming into another dimension, and seems to signal the way forward for the new commercial partnership.
Along with the acquisition of MegawaysTM inventors BTG, it is a clear demonstration of the ‘synergies’ the new partnership with Evolution is already bringing to the NetEnt locker. Casino operators, fans and online casino players alike: all are surely looking forward to seeing what spectacular new games and formats the future will bring.