“Every time I see my mom, she rolls her eyes at me,” says enterpriser Billy Levy, 30. “She can’t believe I turned my love for video games into a real job.” For the Chicago native, business and pleasure first eloped in 2006, when he and his Florida Atlantic University classmate Zach Zeldin founded World Gaming, an online service that allows people to legally gamble on video games. Today, the Toronto-based company—which was re-named to Virgin Gaming after a 2010 investment from Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson—has added almost two million users, awarded more than $27 million in prize money, and held numerous live video game tournaments nationwide while keeping the feds at bay. Here, Levy breaks down how he’s literally changed the game forever.
I’ve always been entrepreneurial. In college, there were a lot of hurricanes in South Florida, so I started a business putting up hurricane shutters. Good business is all about identifying what people need.
ABOVE THE LAW
In October 2006, a law called the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act made it illegal to gamble online. But when we looked into it we realized that video games are games of skill, and skill-based gambling is legal. [Potential investors] were slamming the door in our face, but ultimately we knew that it was legal.
SHOW AND PROVE
In order to make our idea work, we needed to have partnerships with gaming companies. They were like, ‘Interesting idea. Prove you can build what you say you can build.’ We literally had to hack games to make them work with our technology.
The gaming industry is always changing, so we stay on top of new trends. We see mobile gaming as the next evolution of the company. You always have to evolve. Otherwise, you’ll get left behind. —As told to Chris Yuscavage