In 2018, Kambi, an international sports betting company, took the first legal sports bet in the United States after the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) of 1992.
Chris Fox, Kambi’s chief legal officer, leads the team instrumental to the historic moment. “The repeal of PAPSA allowed states to independently choose whether to legalize and regulate sports betting,” he says. “It started in New Jersey, has spread to a number of states, and will continue to spread across America. It’s great for people who want to bet on sports, it’s great for regulatory bodies because it provides previously untapped revenue, and it’s great for companies like Kambi.”
Fox joined Kambi in 2016, bringing with him years of business and management consulting experience. His numerous accomplishments with the firm include growing and developing the legal team from one to fifteen lawyers and directly managing deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2019, the Law Society named him In-House Solicitor of the Year, and the Global Regulatory Awards selected his team as Legal Team of the Year. In 2020, Fox was listed on The Lawyer’s Hot 100 list, and the Financial Times listed Fox in its global general counsel report.
But what Fox is most proud of is his team, which has been essential to fueling Kambi’s international B2B success. “As we’ve taken on additional functional responsibility, we’ve expanded beyond legal and regulatory matters to encompass many other aspects of Kambi’s business,” Fox says.
Because Kambi operates in many jurisdictions around the world, Fox and his team handle a lot of cross-border compliance work, particularly between the US and the UK. Since the US opened up to sports gambling, his regulatory team has secured licenses in ten states, achieving the first bet or license in eight as of July 2020. “A lot of our revenue originates in the US, which is an untapped blue ocean market,” Fox says.
His team also works to expand to new jurisdictions outside the US, all while continuing to build the company’s profile in Europe’s more mature markets. “The liberalization of sports betting in America has had a ripple effect internationally, particularly in South America. Latin America started regulating because of America, and we’re starting to see more opportunities in parts of Asia as well,” Fox says. “This creates a huge opportunity for Kambi.”
Going into totally new betting markets requires complex regulatory work and a careful balance between lobbying government bodies and being a good partner. His team of experts, Fox says, is well up to the challenge.
“Tommaso Di Chio, our regulatory associate general counsel, is well respected within the American market,” he says. “The strong network he’s built is a testament to the value the team puts on relationships with regulators and other stakeholders. We have been similarly fortunate in recruiting expert lawyers across other functions, with associate general counsel Portia Thornhill and Zuzana Blazek each with more than ten years’ experience from Allen & Overy.”
Operating in markets across the world also means Fox and his team work with lawyers of all different backgrounds and cultures. “The people we’ve recruited are proficient at navigating the difficult cultural landscape,” he says. “We deliberately built a team that is multilingual, culturally sensitive, and aware of the varying commercial issues encountered in cross-border negotiation: this helps with multijurisdictional navigation.”
“As we’ve taken on additional functional responsibility, we’ve expanded beyond legal and regulatory matters to encompass many other aspects of Kambi’s business.”
To help his team continue to drive success for Kambi, Fox takes a management approach that straddles the line between what he describes as a rapport-based and credibility-based style. The former, he explains, can make leaders more accessible to employees, while the latter often garners more respect.
His natural inclination is toward a rapport-based style, but he says he has had to take a hard line on some occasions to push through decisions that may not have been popular but were in the best interests of the company or function.
“When you have a rapport-based style, people are prepared to challenge you, which can be a good thing,” he says. “I want to be questioned and tested so I know my decisions are the right ones. But I want to be challenged for the right reasons. Finding the balance can be difficult.”
Whenever a difficult decision arises, such as a need for restructuring, Fox says he gets a lot of support and understanding from his team by being honest about his duties and responsibilities to Kambi. “By being transparent, I tend to get very rapid buy-in, and this means I can manage, taking the best of both worlds.”
In addition to taking great pride in his team’s accomplishments, Fox works to advance his team professionally—even if the right next step for them is outside Kambi. “I’m a strong advocate for everyone on my team and try to counsel people objectively, whether their goal is to find a new role here or other opportunities elsewhere,” he says. “Above all, I always try to treat people with respect.”
“Ifrah Law congratulates Chris Fox, general counsel of Kambi, for his leadership, vision, and ongoing contributions to Kambi’s industry-leading successes.”
–Jeff Ifrah, Founding Member