Because of the war, many IT companies from Ukraine seek shelter in Poland. Pin-Up.Tech IT company, the company behind many gambling products is one of them. Except it is not exactly Ukrainian company. It is owned by Russians and is deeply rooted in Russian oligarchic landscape.
Pin-Up.Tech IT company published a post on May 12 stating that their vacancies are now available in Poland as well. According to the message, it is a “Ukrainian product IT company” specializing in developing software for the iGaming industry, specifically betting, gambling and casinos. Pin-Up indeed has around five hundred employees working in Ukraine, which is their largest office. However, there are some nuances.
The company itself was founded and operated in Russia, although it has been actively operating in Ukraine for many years. Since mid-April 2022, the company’s Russian business has been guided by Alexander Udodov, the son-in-law of Russian Prime Minister Mishustin. There are no mentions or explanations as to how this came to be, and the company has also not officially commented on Russia’s war against Ukraine. It remains unclear whether the deal is genuine or formal. Below, we explain why this is important.
What is Pin-Up brand?
The Pin-Up holding company was founded in Russia in 2016. Like many other similar gambling companies, its structure is legally divided into several parts, each responsible for its own area of work:
- Pin-Up.Casino and Pin-Up.Bet – casino and sports betting, respectively. Their franchises operate in Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, India, and Brazil.
- Pin-Up.Partners generates player traffic for both businesses.
- Pin-Up.Tech – development, essentially serving as the IT department of the holding.
It is Pin-Up.Tech specifically that is referred to as the “Ukrainian product IT company” within Pin-Up: the largest office of this division is located in Kyiv, at 55B Khoriva Street.
Pin-Up launched in Ukraine later than in Russia. The company gained attention there in 2020, shortly before the legalization of casinos when e-casino advertisements featuring a man with a long beard appeared in Kyiv, standing out from the rest. It was around that time when the massive Parimatch billboard, which had been hanging on the high-rise buildings on the left bank near the Paton Bridge for several years, was replaced by a similar Pin-Up billboard.
In Ukraine, Pin-Up has several legal entities: LLC “Pin-Up” and LLC “Ukr Game Technolodzhi,” registered in September 2020, and belonging to LLC “Ukr Game Konsalting Grup.” The latter entity was granted a license as an online casino organizer in Ukraine on April 21, 2021, and a verification by the Commission for the Regulation of Gambling and Lotteries is even planned at their office (at the address of mass registration of legal entities in the Sky Hill residential complex) in July 2022. The beneficiary of 100% of Ukrainian LLC “Pin-Up” is Marina Ilyina, a native of Luhansk who later moved to Moscow.
Ilyina also owns 25% of the Cypriot company Guruflow Team Ltd. It was this company that recently owned the Russian entity Pin-Up – LLC “Pin-Up.ru”. Guruflow is also indicated in the Whois records of the Kazakh Pin-Up domains and is the beneficiary of the Maltese entity Pin-up Entertainment LTD. Guruflow Team Ltd is the parent company.
It is through Guruflow Team Ltd that other shareholders of Pin-Up can be identified. In addition to Ilyina, her husband Dmitry Punin, a Russian citizen, owns 25% of Guruflow. The remaining 50% is held by the Cypriot company Monak Limited, which is equally divided between Russian citizens Ivan Bannikov and Alexander Matyashov. Matyashov, known in affiliate marketing circles as “Riddick,” has a notable reputation.
Marina Ilyina has worked as a conference organizer for affiliates since 2012, including the iGaming Russia Affiliate (iGRA) Conference, and as a product manager in the gambling industry. In 2021, she gave an interview as the CEO of Pin-Up. In Ukraine, apart from LLC “Pin-Up,” she is the founder of LLC “A-Trend” through the Cypriot entity Piprose Holding Ltd. The previous owner of Piprose Holding Ltd is listed as the Cypriot company Karmelino Investments Ltd, which is also a nominal director in several entities and is allegedly connected to the import of coal from Russia to Ukraine by the founder of the pro-Russian party “OPZZH,” Viktor Medvedchuk.
Dmitry Punin’s previous project was the betting platform SocialBett/OneBett (First Bookmaking Company)/23Bet. Since 2015, Punin has been the director and co-owner of the Russian entity LLC “23Bet” for betting, which in 2016, the year Pin-Up was founded, was sold to the founder of the state lottery distributor TD “Stoloto,” Armen Mezhunovich Sarkisyan.
Ivan Bannikov, in addition to his Russian citizenship, is a resident of Cyprus. He is also a co-owner of the CPA partner ActionPay. He served as a director and owner in the now-liquidated British entities of the investment fund Solaristica and the payment provider TNXHUB. In 2018, he made a seed round investment in Sizolution, a developer of a SaaS solution for clothing retailers called the “virtual fitting room.”
The last shareholder of the company deserves special attention.
“Parimatch isn’t growing like that.”
Alexander “Riddick” Matyashov had been earning from download traffic and SMS subscriptions in Omsk since 2009. After moving to Moscow in 2012, he organized the sale of disks with information products, which brought him around $800,000. During the period leading up to 2017, Matyashov founded the traffic exchange Traflab, the gambling affiliate ApGames (which closed due to a debt of 100 million rubles owed to webmasters), the binary options broker ProfitPlay, and the contextual advertising service iSkalka. He also acquired Installmonster. However, these projects are currently inactive.
In February 2022, “Riddick” gave a significant interview on the “Tochka G” channel, where he talked extensively about the company’s work and projects. “Parimatch isn’t growing like that,” he recalls, among other things, about his competitor. In Russia, Pin-Up generated revenue of $115 million in 2021 and paid $627,000 in taxes, approximately half a percent of the revenue. This figure represents only the tax paid by this legal entity—what can be seen. According to industry insiders interviewed by AIN.UA, Pin-Up’s total income from all locations is estimated to be up to $650 million.
According to a source interviewed by AIN.UA, while some companies earned money in Russia and invested in Ukraine, Pin-Up had the opposite situation. The company seemed to earn more from Ukrainian players while aspiring to establish a stronger presence in Russia. They invested in advertising in the Russian market, with Russian footballer Artem Dzyuba becoming the face of the brand.
In 2022, the situation changed significantly as the casino and betting market in post-Soviet countries underwent a restructuring. Some companies even exited the markets of Russia and Belarus. Did Pin-Up also make such a move?
New owner of Russian entity of Pin-Up tech brand
In April 2022, it became known that LLC “Pin-Up.ru” had changed its owner, and the company is now also listed as the primary owner of the largest Russian bookmaker, “Fonbet.” Instead of the Cypriot company Guruflow, the Russian business is now owned by Alexander Udodov. He is primarily known for his connections as he is the son-in-law of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. In the past, “Kommersant” wrote about Udodov as someone who has significant influence in the tax sphere of Russia when Mishustin himself was the head of the Federal Tax Service.
The changes in the company are also evident from the job vacancies. According to the vacancies posted, Ukrainian company Pin-Up.Tech, despite three months of war, is no longer just a development center but also the office from where the business is managed. They are currently seeking leaders for the product mobile department, a PMO (Project Management Office), as well as leaders for the affiliate and retention teams, specifically related to the traffic of the operating zone. Development centres typically do not have such vacancies.
The situation raises concerns as there are more questions than answers. The details of the deal, including its amount and nature, are not disclosed. Was the company sold, lost, or handed over for management? There is no information available at the moment. Furthermore, none of the co-owners of Pin-Up have made any official statements. By the way, the company does not seem to have an official website in Ukraine. Instead of an official website, they provide their Instagram account.
Is Pin-Up’s exit from Russia related to the war in Ukraine? It doesn’t seem likely. Companies that made such decisions have a public stance and announced their actions. Regarding the reasons, there has been active reshuffling of the bookmaking market in Russia over the past year. One of the largest bookmaking players, 1xBet, was forced out of the country (the company recently started operating in Ukraine). Local publications have often reported that influential individuals associated with the Russian government are trying to seize control of the entire market, which is estimated to be worth anywhere from $2 billion to $4.7 billion. Such a scenario cannot be ruled out for Pin-Up. Its owners, like the owners of 1xBet, have been living in Cyprus for many years.
Another possible scenario is the transfer of the asset under management. Many IT companies of Russian origin, facing pressure from public opinion, have transferred their assets to affiliated individuals. AIN.UA has already investigated similar cases.
However, industry representatives who spoke with AIN.UA on condition of anonymity believe that a sale is the most likely scenario, and it was likely at market value. The exact amount that the company could have received from Mishustin’s son-in-law is unknown. According to AIN.UA’s sources, the Russian business could have been valued up to $280 million. The transaction probably took place not in Russia but in Cyprus, where the founders of Pin-Up reside. In Russia, if the business was sold for $280 million, shareholders would have to pay a 13% tax (~$35 million).
The scenario of selling the Russian business of Pin-Up to Mishustin’s son-in-law also explains the lack of public communication from the company. Money from a person associated with a sanctioned Prime Minister of Russia can pose significant problems for recipients in terms of dealing with reputable banks and other global institutions. The KYC (Know Your Customer) banking procedure, which blocks or does not open accounts for a list of risks and signs of suspicious activity, is currently creating obstacles for entrepreneurs everywhere.
How is Pin-Up structured?
The editorial team reached out to the head of Pin-Up.Tech and received the following response:
“PIN-UP.UA is a licensed Ukrainian company that has no connections to franchise holders in other countries, including Russia. Accordingly, the employees of the Ukrainian office have been and continue to be solely involved in supporting the Ukrainian product. Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we have been in contact with the international franchise holder and have expressed our disapproval of conducting business in an aggressor country. Since our opinions align on this matter, we were assured that the business would be sold. As far as I know, this indeed happened in the shortest possible time, and the PIN-UP international brand no longer exists in Russia. The details of the transaction, who it was sold to and for how much, as you can understand, are unknown to me,” commented Taras Shurubor, CEO of Pin-Up in Ukraine.
This response raises even more questions.
Large gambling companies do indeed operate through franchises. There is one main company that sells franchises in individual markets, partnering with local entities. For example, the Russian company 1xBet entered the Ukrainian market in this way. Similarly, the Ukrainian Parimatch worked with international partners. It appears that Pin-Up operates in Ukraine in a similar manner, having obtained permission to operate under the name Pin-Up.UA a year earlier.
In terms of the product (technological component), the Pin-Up holding company has Pin-Up.Tech, similar to Parimatch and Parimatch Tech. Pin-Up.Tech develops the product/service in one centralized R&D location, which is costly and extensive. Franchisees then gain access to their products, paying for the brand and technology. This is how Pin-Up operates in Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, India, Peru, Brazil, and apparently in Russia as well.
The question lies in the fact that the description of Pin-Up.Tech, unlike the comments from Taras Shurubor, CEO of Pin-Up.ua and Pin-Up.Tech, states that the company creates software for everyone, not just for the “Ukrainian product.” The company’s description and job postings refer to it as an “international product IT company” whose products are used on all continents (except Antarctica). In other words, Pin-Up.ua is a franchise for the Ukrainian market, while Pin-Up.Tech is the technical team supporting businesses in all countries. Legally, these could be different companies, but in practice, they even have a common CEO.
Within the Pin-Up.Tech company itself, it seems they prefer not to discuss the war between Russia and Ukraine. We have read their posts and interviews from February 24th and did not find any mention of “Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine” or even the word “Russia.” These words are also absent in “Riddick’s” post on his private Instagram account.
At the same time, the Ukrainian office indeed provides assistance and volunteers, which is most likely linked to the active civic stance of the Ukrainian employees. We have seen similar examples in Ukrainian offices of Metro, Auchan, and Playrix.
In Ukraine, besides casinos and betting, the company has other significant assets. In a February interview, Matyashov mentioned that he and his partners purchased a countryside hotel on a 55-hectare land near Kyiv, where they plan to relax with the team. According to AIN.UA, the hotel in question is Gvozdoff, located near the Vasilkov military airfield. The hotel, now named Hotel de Punin (derived from the surname of one of the founders), was preparing for its opening on February 8th.
Riddick also planned to launch a strip club network, as he says, called “Moscow-Kyiv.” However, there is a suspicion that plans have changed: Matyashov, with no fewer than 3 cars with Russian license plates (A874AA, A027OT, and У752УУ77), has moved to Dubai. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian product IT company, Pin-Up, has opened an office in Poland.