When Manav Bhargava learned Segev LLP was opening an office in Toronto, the gears started clicking into place. And when he discovered the firm’s clients were looking to enter the Indian market, it felt like stars were fully aligning.
Bhargava, a gaming lawyer licensed to practise in both Canada and India, is something of a gaming industry compliance veteran. He started in private practice, serving multiple gaming companies in India over a period of five years before moving to Toronto in June 2021 to join Esports Capital Corp as Director of Research.
“It was just the right time to enter the gaming space in Ontario,” Bhargava explained to Canadian Gaming Business. “On April 4 last year, Ontario announced its new framework where it allowed private players to apply for gaming licences, and single event sports betting became legal just some time before that. So the market really opened up and I was at one of the few firms where we were really involved even before this framework was being made and drafted, and we gave our inputs there.”
Bhargava’s time served at Esports Capital Corp set him up perfectly for a conversation with Ron Segev, Founding Partner of Segev LLP – a British Columbia and US-based law firm with strong expertise in the field of gaming and gambling.
“I started talking to Ron some time back and I learned that they were opening an office here [Toronto], and a lot of Ron’s clients were also looking at India – they were pretty bullish on India and opportunities there.”
Discussions between Segev and Bhargava subsequently transpired into a job offer, one which saw the latter agree to lead the firm’s Ontario Gaming Regulatory Compliance Practice and New India Desk last month.
In these dual roles, Manav actively tracks regulatory developments with respect to igaming, sports betting, and monetized competitive skill gaming in Canada and India to advise clients across the world.
Leading Segev LLP’s newly-formed India Desk, Bhargava guides a multidisciplinary team drawing from the firm’s range of gaming, M&A, securities and other practice areas to serve the needs of businesses seeking to tap the economic advantages of Canada-India business relations.
Bhargava said: “This just seemed like the right move. One, because of my interest in getting into [private] practice again, and two, being able to utilize both my licenses to practice in India and in Ontario.
“I believe that when me and Ron started talking, our approach to client service was very similar. It’s not only just providing the best legal advice, but it’s providing practical advice and also leveraging our network to bring business opportunities to clients, because we grow as they grow.”
Bhargava’s belief of sharing the same vision is echoed by Segev, who outlined the qualities that made Kaizen Gaming’s Compliance Officer an essential hire.
A shared vision
“The more I got to know him, the more I realised he has a very practical outcome focused approach,” said Segev. “The other thing I really liked about our conversations was that he’s an out-of-the-box thinker.
“We share the same approach, same values, same client centric values, and the same outcome-focused approach.”
For Segev, the appointment of Bhargava arrived at the perfect time as the firm seeks to attack two new opportunities in Canada.
“One opportunity is to better serve our Ontario-facing, or our Ontario-based, clients, because we have been in that market for several years and we’ve been very active with assisting clients entering it. But we noticed that sometimes you need a man on the ground.
“This is a project that we’ve been working on for years, but the pandemic scuttled it. It’s a mix of timing – you’ve got to get the right economics, you’ve got to get the right market opportunities, and you’ve got to get the right people in place, and the three coalesced.
“I think it’s important that we inform the market in Ontario that the AGCO registration rush isn’t the only thing that we’re interested in. We’re committed to the market there, we’re committed to the broader gaming and betting market in Ontario. We’re putting our money where our mouth is, we’re investing the resources and the time and energy, and part of that isn’t just opening an office there and starting with our first strategic lead hire – we’re going to start building a team in Toronto to serve the gaming industry better.
“We’ve increasingly been doing a lot more land-based work in Western Canada. We expect that’s going to translate into land-based work in Ontario and possibly other parts of Eastern Canada. We’ve increasingly been doing a lot of work with First Nations groups, particularly in Western Canada. We have a very solid relationship with the First Nations group in Quebec, and we expect that that’s going to continue. So it’s very important that we have a robust presence. And the idea is, even though we’re currently headquartered in Vancouver, apartments are starting to cycle through Toronto. You’re going to see a more robust physical presence there.”
Connecting the dots
Further opportunities in Ontario are not the only avenue Segev LLP is exploring. Instead, the firm is looking to go global by making key connections in India – the most populous country in the world – and Bhargava will be integral to making that happen for Segev LLP, according to its Founding Partner.
Segev said: “There is this 1.4 billion-person opportunity in the way of India. In our industry there’s all this talk of emerging markets, but what are the barriers to entry, and what’s the player value? Our clients have recognised that India is one of these very compelling markets.
“Now we have a Canadian qualified lawyer, we have a dual Canadian Indian citizen who knows the city very well. He’s spent the last five years of his career working with European and North American companies embedded in the team, so we think in terms of the service approach, it’s something that our clients would appreciate. But there’s two sides to that coin.
“It’s having a guide in India, having that proxy who can represent your interests, who understands you in North America and can communicate your needs and expectations in India in an effective manner. Someone who can understand Canadian law and understands Indian legal framework, and is a gaming specialist. It’s a real rare breed.
“Some of the stuff that they’ve been looking at are poker, daily fantasy sports, skill games, social games. In speaking with Manav, we understand that the market is going to open even further to accommodate different game types and we don’t want to be at the back of the line, we want to be at the front of the line. We want to be leading everybody into this lucrative market.”
Bridging a cultural barrier
Significantly, India also hosts the third-largest population of centi-millionaires – people who have at least USD$100m in investable assets – and Canada’s “serenity” regarding immigration and business laws is attracting Indian business to the country, according to Bhargava, who labelled it as a “unique opportunity”.
“It’s bridging a cultural barrier,” said Bhargava. “North American companies are used to a certain kind of way that services are delivered.
“As India opens up, there are markets like Ontario and North America; all the wisdom from their regulations and those regulators is also what we bring as a team when we enter India, so it’s just approaching India, and keeping in view the cultural differences that our North American clients or even potentially now European clients may have when they look at India and what they want.”
In keeping with the firm’s new-found commitment to strengthening Canada-India relations, Segev LLP recently announced a ‘strategic collaboration’ with Singhania & Co., whereby the partners will work to maximize business opportunities for international clients in both jurisdictions.
“This gives us some opportunity to be proactive in an emerging market that we know is of great interest to our clients,” said Segev.