• Our People in the Media27. 7. 2017René Kachyňa Interview to ČTK

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    Based in Lužice in the Hodonín district in the Czech Republic, MND Drilling & Services specializes in drilling wells for the extraction of crude oil and natural gas. Despite the drop of oil prices on global markets in recent years, the company has been successful in winning contract abroad. Every year, MND Drilling & Services enters a new market in one or two European countries. Currently, the company is taking steps to establish itself on the Dutch market, as reported by Chairman of the Board of Directors René Kachyňa in today's interview to the Czech Press Agency.

    The Lužice-based enterprise is a subsidiary of the MND oil and gas company. Together, they are members of the KKCG Group owned by entrepreneur Karel Komárek. Originally, MND Drilling & Services operated as a drilling contractor that only catered to the needs of its parent company. "Because extraction in Moravia has been going on for 100 years and because the deposits will be inevitably exhausted one day, we have started to look for contracts in foreign countries. Despite the strong competition there, we have been able to win contracts thanks to the fact that we have invested into state-of-the-art drilling rigs in recent years. Our competitors have older equipment, and do not invest into new technologies because of the situation in the marketplace. We know that some of them are in the red and are waiting for the situation to turn around, as has happened several times in the past," said Kachyňa.

    The countries where MND Drilling & Services operates include Germany, where the firm has a sister company. In Italy, the MND Group has acquired a majority stake in a local drilling company – LP Drilling. In addition, MND conducts business in Austria, France, Hungary, Poland, and Serbia. "Another European country where we want to establish ourselves is the Netherlands," revealed Kachyňa.

    The firm's clients include such global giants as Exxon Mobile and OMV as well as smaller production companies. MND Drilling & Services has 10 drilling rigs, which allow drilling wells with a diameter ranging from 12 centimeters to one meter and a depth between 900 meters and five to six kilometers. While a shallow well might take only two weeks to drill, boring a deep one can last as long as six months. "Our modern rigs make us attractive to a large number of clients because we can drill faster, which translates into lower costs," said Kachyňa.

    Wells are drilled in locations identified by geologists based on geophysical measurements and subsequent analyses. "No matter what, the success rate of all wells drilled on the global scale is only 30%, as there isn't always a deposit on sites where drilling takes place. In Moravia, the success rate of our wells is approximately 50%," reported Kachyňa.

    During the drilling process, the well is continually flushed to evacuate the drilled rock toward the surface and to maintain the well under a constant pressure. Once the drilling is completed, a steel tube is inserted inside the well for reinforcement purposes. "Subsequently, explosives are transported to the bottom to puncture the tube at the desired depth. Afterward, oil and gas, being under pressure, flow from the rock into the well and rise to the surface. The pressure gradually decreases as a well gets older. Secondary extraction methods are used to remove all crude oil from a deposit, such as pumps or the reverse injection of air or natural gas," explained Kachyňa. After a deposit is depleted, the well is filled with cement, and the surface area is recultivated.

    Last year, MND Drilling & Services began drilling geothermal wells in addition to extraction wells. Water with a temperature of 100 degrees and more can be used for the generation of electricity. If the temperature is lower, water is used for heating.

    Revenues recorded by MND Drilling & Services last year, including branches abroad, amounted to 1.6 billion crowns, which is slightly less than in previous years due to the situation on the market. "Despite that, we are able to maintain the utilization of our drilling rigs at 70-75%," reported Kachyňa. MND Drilling & Services currently has 420 employees. During the boom before crude oil prices fell due to the attenuation of production, the company employed as many as 550 workers.

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  • Our People in the Media15. 6. 2016Jiří Jelínek Interview to MF DNES

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    "Currently, there is high interest in vacation packages in Spain. However, everybody from Western Europe is heading down there, and prices will go up," says Jiří Jelínek, CEO of the Fischer Travel Agency.Is this year's situation worse than the conditions during the financial crisis in 2009?

    The two cannot be compared. At that time, people lacked money, and vacation was one of the first items in their budget they decided to eliminate. This year, people have enough money because the economy is doing well and wages are growing. However, the selection is nowhere near to what it used to be. I think that the entire market for holidays by air will decrease by at least 10% this year.

    How is your travel agency doing under the present circumstances?

    We expect that our this year's turnover will be about the same as last year's despite the current conditions. The economy is growing, and people pick different, more distant destinations than those where they used to fly to in the past. Our advantage is that we offer a broad portfolio of countries, but travel agencies that only focus on a handful of regions where people are afraid to go can get into serious trouble.

    Do you predict that somebody will go out of business this year?

    Certainly not any company from the top five (Editor's note: Exim Tours, Čedok, Fischer, Blue Style, and Alexandria), but as far as travel agencies further down the line are concerned, it's hard to tell. It could certainly happen. There is no doubt that travel agencies whose business relies on holidays in Egypt, Tunisia, or Turkey, that is countries affected by the biggest drop in sales, will face problems.

    The Kos Island in Greece is on top of the destinations where the most serious drop in sales has been registered. What is your explanation?

    It has been affected by what's published in the media. Everybody associates the island with migrants. Even though nearly no refugees arrived and no problems were encountered there in the course of last year, interest in Kos as a destination has declined by tens of percent. And prices correspond to this trend.

    Which countries are taking place of those where holiday-goers no longer want to vacation?

    There are two trends: there has been an extreme surge in demand for Spain, especially Balearic Islands and Canary Islands, as well as other European destinations. However, these are places where all Europeans want to go, and the high demand is reflected in prices, which are logically rising. For this reason, there are more and more people who opt for a summer vacation in destinations that are more distant. For instance, there has been a huge increase in interest in vacation packages in the United Arab Emirates, and we're starting to sell holidays on Oman.

    However, high prices make Dubai a destination not everyone can afford. What sort of tourists fly there?

    The high competition among air carriers has pushed the prices of tickets very low, which means that vacation packages there are about as expensive as an all-inclusive stay in a five-star hotel in Turkey last year. That's the current typical clientele for Dubai. In addition, we've found out that people prefer travelling for shorter periods, such as for a long weekend, but more often in the course of the year. The fact that clients are attracted by exotic destinations in the summer, as they are during the rest of the year, is a new phenomenon this season.

    When did you realize that the countries where people want to spend their vacation have substantially changed?

    There were some signals already during the last season, but the new situation became evident in October when we launched advance sales. There was no interest in countries that used to sell well long in advance in the past. In response, we quickly started to look for capacity in other destinations for which demand has been on the rise this year.

    Some say that there will be no last-minute offers this year. Is it only scaremongering?

    There will be no last-minute packages for destinations for which demand exists. On the contrary, there will be last-minute offers for countries in which customers weren't interested during advance sales. For example, Turkey will end up being a big hit because prices there have fallen by more than a half. There is a paradoxical situation in Germany, as more German tourists will travel to Turkey this season than was the case last year. Holidays in Turkey have become so inexpensive that people fly there despite perceiving a certain degree of risk. I think that the situation in the Czech Republic will be similar.

    Statistics show that the number of people who buy a vacation package from a travel agency is decreasing, while, in contrast, there are more of those who buy airline tickets and accommodation on their own. How do you see the future of your business?

    The travel business is going through a major transformation, and not everyone might survive. The trend is obvious, and it's up to us to do our best to offer people better services at better prices than what they'd get if they organized their vacation on their own. In the last three years, our firm has invested tens of millions of crowns into various new technologies that are used on advanced Western markets. Thanks to that, we are able to arrange vacation packages for duration other than the traditional seven to 10 days. Since we know that customers want as wide choice as possible, we have several tens of thousands of hotels in hotel banks (Editor's note – hotel booking systems not available to the public) in addition to the roughly two thousand facilities with which we have contractual partnerships. No other travel agency in the Czech Republic offers such a broad variety of choices.

    But all that are services that people can procure on their own on the Internet. And sometimes for less money ...

    We are aware that as far as, for instance, accommodation in large cities is concerned, we'll probably never catch up with large booking portals, such as booking.com, but we're still quite a bit ahead as regards accommodation at seaside resorts. Hotels there mainly strive on business brokered by travel agencies. All hotels we use must be appropriate, must conform to the design of our portfolio, and must be verified. We have explicit quality guarantees and compensations for any failure to meet the prescribed quality standard. When you book a hotel over the Internet and its services do not match what was advertised, you'll be hard put in trying to claim compensation.

    Is it true that you will no longer publish paper catalogues?

    We are limiting their quantity considerably since the vast majority of what we offer is posted on the Internet. But we still publish them because especially older clients like them and use them to choose their vacation.

    As the average earnings in the Czech Republic are rising, it would make sense if interest in vacation packages were growing as well. Which holidays are currently more in demand, the less expensive or the more expensive?

    Under normal circumstances, the less expensive ones would be on the rise because average earnings are growing faster among people in the lower income bracket. They would now be buying holidays in Turkey and Egypt, but they are not because they're waiting until the eleventh hour. So, this year will most likely see a higher growth in the segment of more expensive vacation packages.

    Because of the hot weather last year, people were taking their summer vacation in the mountains. Have you noticed this trend?

    There has been a certain growth in this segment, but nothing spectacular. The Alps are not exactly an inexpensive summer destination, which means that a lot of people prefer traveling to a seaside resort, simply because it is less costly.

    Because of the current security concerns, it is expected that demand for holidays in the Czech Republic will grow substantially. Are you interested in that business segment?

    At present, we don't see much potential for entering the market and providing our own added value; there's not much we can do. So, the answer is a no. Instead, we will continue convincing Czech clients to travel abroad.

    What is the future of charter flights in the travel business?

    Their numbers will decrease, and it's already happening now. All you have to do is look at Travel Service, which now offers most charters as regular flights under the SmartWings brand. In the case of trips to exotic destinations, we have stopped using charters altogether, and the decision has proved to be a step in the right direction. I expect that the trend will be similar with respect to destinations with a shorter flight time. People mainly want flexibility.

    There have been rumors among travel agencies that Travel Service's charter monopoly is less than optimal. Hasn't the time come to find a competitor for the Czech market? Are you looking for one?

    What Travel Service provides is comparable to services offered by other European carriers; there is no difference. In addition, they are able to service Moravian airports. In the past weeks, quite a few people have contacted us with concerns about Air Cairo in connection with the recent tragic accident of an aircraft owned by the company's parent company, Egypt Air. However, we do not fly with Air Cairo.

    The Czech and German markets are often compared, and people say that whatever works in Germany will get to the Czech Republic in a few years too. So, what can we expect?

    The trends that can be observed already now: much higher interest in holidays in exotic destinations. I think that the travel patterns of Czech and German consumers will converge within the next five years.

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  • Our People in the Media5. 5. 2016Karel Komárek Interview to FORBES

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    Although he treats Palm Beach, Florida, like a second home, it took more than a decade for Czech billionaire Karel Komárek to take his business across the Atlantic. He says he was just waiting for the right angle to breach U.S. markets, and now the founder and CEO of KKCG – one of the fastest growing investment groups in Central Europe – finally found one: producing and selling methanol.

    On a sunny spring morning I meet Komarek – 47 years old and worth nearly $1.8 billion – in Palm Beach for a bike ride, followed by lunch. The billionaire chooses to spend time in Florida because the weather allows him to practice all his favorite sports, from biking and golf to paddle-boarding. Cycling 40 to 50 miles along the coast three to four times a week has put him in great shape and I can hardly keep up with his pace. When the ride finally ends, we go to Mulligans Beach in Lake Worth where, over hot chicken wings and ice-cold beer, Komarek tells me about his ambition to conquer the U.S. market with his newly established US Methanol LLC, based inn Charleston, West Virginia.

    “This venture is our first major investment in the U.S., which fits with our long-term strategy to expand into developed foreign markets,” says Komarek. “I believe we have the right timing and the right idea. This business is set to turn out fairly profitable.”

    Komarek wants to take advantage of low oil and gas prices in the U.S., which are now less than half the average price in Western Europe. Methanol is produced from natural gas and has a wide range of uses in various industries—as a solvent, fuel and antifreeze, as well as a feedstock for the manufacture of chemicals and biodiesel.

    “Methanol is a very suitable addition to KKCG´S product portfolio. It will diversify our exposure in this volatile energy price environment,” says Komarek, whose already diverse investment portfolio includes crude oil and natural gas exploration and production, lottery and gaming, tourism and real estate. “What I like about methanol production is that it is a nice niche product you can easily scale.”

    Komarek´s US Methanol will own and operate a portfolio of mid-sized methanol plants in West Virginia, with initial daily production of around 400 to 500 tons. Its first plant will be relocated from a site in Slovenia to the U.S. A Second plant will be moved there from South America.

    American methanol production was only fairly robust. In years prior it had been deemed unprofitable and most plants were shut down by the mid-2000s. The market then heavily relied on imported product, with as much as 90% coming from countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela, according to global shipping consultancy, Drewry.

    But this is about to change now. There is an expectation in the industry that the U.S. production will be economical again thanks to low gas prices. “We have been seeing a resurgence of U.S. methanol production driven by the shale gas revolution,” says Gregory Dolan, CEO of Methanol Institute. “Plants that had been mothballed for a decade are now operating.”

    Komarek is not the only one with the idea of moving a plant from abroad. Canadian firm Methanex relocated two plants from Chile to Louisiana in January. And there are others building greenfield facilities in Texas and Oregon. “They want to take advantage of low cost natural gas,” says Dolan. “There is certainly an additional appetite for U.S. methanol production capacity.”

    Komarek´s new methanol plant will be constructed by an as yet undisclosed EPC contractor, which the fourth wealthiest Czech claims is “one of the best on the market.” KKCG hired executives Brad Gunn and Richard Wolfli to manage the project. Each has more than two decades of industry experience with companies like Ithaca Energy and RockBridge Resources.

    “I believe that man should work till the day he dies, do sports till the day he dies and live well till the day he dies,” says Komarek. Besides sports, he works up to twelve hours a day, running his international business via email and phone. “You need to keep your muscles and brain working otherwise they degenerate.” His new American venture surely will keep him toned.

    POST WRITTEN BY: Michael Mareš

    Published at: www.forbes.com

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Press Releases19. 10. 2017KKCG Investment Group Buys into AutoCont

The KKCG group owned by entrepreneur Karel Komárek has acquired a majority stake in AutoCont Holding, the largest independent provider of IT services in the Czech Republic.

The transaction is this year's most important acquisition in the Czech information technology sector. An agreement between the two partners was signed yesterday.

Under the deal, KKCG becomes a shareholder of AutoCont Holding owning a 70% stake. The remaining 30% will remain to be held by AutoCont's current management. Following 27 years of prosperous performance on the market, AutoCont is now entering a new era as a member of one of the largest investment companies in the Czech Republic. The transaction is subject to merger clearance by the anti-monopoly authorities in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Until clearance has been obtained, AutoCont will act as an independent business entity.

"Our long-term vision is to build a strong business pillar that will focus on information technologies. Our portfolio includes attractive domestic and foreign IT companies, and we have a partnership with the technology giant Foxconn. Buying into AutoCont is another step on the road to fulfilling this vision. On the one hand, the deal will provide AutoCont with new interesting business opportunities, and on the other, it will help the KKCG Group achieve an important advance in the IT sector," explained Michal Tománek, KKCG's Investment Director responsible for new technologies.

AutoCont is the number one on the market for IT services for medium and large clients. The company supplies corporate infrastructure and corporate information systems, develops software, and offers IT outsourcing and cloud services in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. 

"Throughout its existence, AutoCont has been able to respond to market developments and adapt not only its services, but also its overall business functioning to customers' needs," said Martin Grigar, Chairman of the Board of Directors of AutoCont Holding. "During our last debate about the firm's strategic development, we agreed that the time has come to take AutoCont's business to the next level. The result is today's announcement of a partnership with an investor who we expect will provide support for the development of AutoCont and its growth in high-potential segments in the Czech Republic and Slovakia as well as elsewhere in the world," he added.

KKCG's IT strategy is based on the fact that more and more companies are changing the way in which they use IT services. The no less than revolutionary changes in the IT sector are due to the growing popularity of cloud services as well as the increasing need to deal with IT security risks and the more and more pressing necessity to transform traditional industries into digital form. AutoCont's goal is to become a leader in providing IT services of new generation because this strategy is the only way of meeting customers' needs in a  comprehensive manner. In acquiring a majority stake in AutoCont, KKCG has obtained valuable know-how represented by the expertise about 1,000 specialists employed by the company. On the market, AutoCont has a reputation of employing highly competent and loyal professionals. "The fact that AutoCont has a unique corporate DNA was a  very important consideration in the making of our decision to invest into the firm," mentioned Tománek.

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Press Releases18. 9. 2017Ivan Klánský Awarded Antonín Dvořák Prize

The award was bestowed by Minister of Culture Daniel Herman and philanthropist Karel Komárek.

The prestigious award is conferred by the Classical Music Academy on individuals who make a major contribution to promoting and popularizing Czech classical music through lifelong work or extraordinary artistic achievements both in the Czech Republic and abroad. Awardees are selected by the Academic Council whose members include leading figures from the Czech art scene. This year, the Antonín Dvořák Prize, a crystal violincello made by Czech masters from the Moser Glassworks, has been awarded to Ivan Klánský, an exceptional personality on the international music scene, a respected interpreter of works by Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, Smetana, Dvořák, Janáček, and other renowned composers, an outstanding performer of chamber music, and a globally sought-after educator. "The award is a great honor, and I value highly to have been selected to join the geniuses who have received the Antonín Dvořák Prize in the past. Since Dvořák did not write a large number of compositions for the piano, for me, as a pianist, the award is that much more important in symbolizing appreciation for my lifelong work," said Klánský, the most recent awardee of the Antonín Dvořák Prize.

"I'm very pleased that this year we have had the honor to award the Antonín Dvořák Prize to Ivan Klánský," commented Robert Kolář, Director of the Classical Music Academy. "His multifaceted musical personality has been instrumental in forming both the Czech and international music scene for long many years. Like Antonín Dvořák in the past, Ivan Klánský is the prototype of a musician who in a natural way brings together his Czech roots with world class artistry in the best sense of the word," Kolář added.

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Press Releases30. 6. 2017Springtide Ventures invests into the Czech Start

The Fund from the KKCG Group and the Rockaway Ventures Division of the Rockaway Investment Group have acquired a 32.2% stake in ThreatMark.

ThreatMark s.r.o., a company that has developed a solution for mobile and web-based applications that provides effective protection against fraud and cyberattacks, has attracted two leading domestic investors. The Springtide Ventures Fund from the KKCG Group and the Rockaway Ventures Division of the Rockaway Investment Group have acquired a 32.2% stake in ThreatMark. 

The two investors intend to provide ThreatMark not only with financial backing, but also with know-how, and take part in the company's management and assist it with market entry in other European countries as well as in the U.S. and Asia.

 "ThreatMark has developed a system that very effectively detects the entire spectrum of fraud and current attacks against online applications. Thanks to its robust nature, the product is able to compete with established brands on the fraud detection market, and the company's innovative approach facilitates fast integration into existing IT systems," explained AEC's CEO and ThreatMark's co-founder Tomáš Strýček.

By acquiring a stake in this Czech startup, Springtide Ventures has demonstrated adherence to its strategy of investing into Central European and Israeli companies with a potential to operate on the global scale and succeed on advanced markets, particularly in Europe and in the U.S. As in other projects, the fund plans to take advantage of its strengths: the KKCG Group's size and resources, effective management system, IT expertise, base of operations in the heart of Europe, and experience with expansion to global markets.

"We find ThreatMark attractive because of its products and the market it targets. The number of attacks against services that require online login grows every year in terms of their frequency, extent, and seriousness. For instance, while as much as 200 million dollars was stolen from online accounts in the United Kingdom alone in 2014, the sum grew by another 25% one year later. At the same time, a significant portion of attacks remain undetected for a long time, in part due to their increasingly sophisticated nature," said Executive Director of Springtide Ventures Marek Jablonský.  

"For most startups, venture capital is the holy grail. We've succeeded in reaching this milestone, thanks to the hard work and expertise of the entire ThreatMark team. The new capital as well as the extensive experience of our partners will allow us not only to accelerate the development of our product, but also, and more importantly, to boost business activities on foreign markets," added Michal Tresner, Executive Director and one of the founders of ThreatMark. 

For the Rockaway Investment Group, the transaction adds another company to the startup portfolio of the Rockaway Ventures Division. The decision to buy into ThreatMark was based on the company's team of technology experts and unique solution with high global scaling potential. The transaction has been overseen by Andrea Lauren, a Rockaway Instrument Partner and fintech specialist who has recently joined the group's management.  

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Press Releases9. 6. 2017Sazka Group Increases Its Stake in OPAP

The Sazka Group has purchased through its subsidiary Rubidium a 4.8% ownership interest in the EMMA Delta fund from Helixor.

The purchased shares represent an indirect 1.6% ownership interest in the Greek lottery company OPAP.

"The deal was a good investment opportunity that conforms fully to our strategy for OPAP," said the Sazka Group's CEO Robert Chvátal in describing the transaction. He added that both of the Sazka Group's shareholders, the KKCG and EMMA Groups, have regarded OPAP as a strategic investment since the beginning of their partnership.

"Helixor, acting in cooperation with the J&T Private Equity Group, has decided to sell its stake in the EMMA Delta fund, having achieved a very interesting return on investment. We consider OPAP's shares highly attractive from the investment viewpoint, and we will continue to monitor their development closely," commented the transaction Miloš Badida, CEO of the J&T Private Equity Group.

The transaction changes the structure of investors in the EMMA Delta fund, which owns a 33% stake in OPAP, as follows: the Sazka Group currently holds 71.9% of the fund's shares, while the remaining 28.1% is controlled jointly by Greek partners and the U.S.-based IGT Group.


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Press Releases5. 6. 2017Karel Komárek Proměny Foundation:

Litomyšl Opens Renovated Riverfront with an Unconventional Playground for Children

Nearly five years after the project "Restoration of Loučná Riverfront in Litomyšl" was officially launched and a year and a half after construction work began, the Vodní valy locality was opened to the public on Saturday 3 June 2017. 

The aim of restoring the Loučná riverfront near Smetana Square was to revive functions the locality once had, but has since lost due to insensitive urban planning in the second half of the 20th century. The main objective was to make the river once again a part of the city's everyday life, to create a space people can use for pastime activities, and to establish a close connection between Litomyšl's historical district, the riverfront, and the park adjoining the Smetana House.

The design was selected as part of the Proměny Foundation 2013 Award, an architectural competition whose parameters were formulated in consideration of a survey of the needs and preferences of frequent visitors to the Loučná riverfront. In response to suggestion made by local inhabitants, architects Martin Rusina and Martin Frei prepared a design that has allowed the locality to retain much of its natural character. At the same time, the concept provides a link between the formerly separated Vodní valy Street, the riverfront, the river itself, and the park adjacent to the Smetana House. The focal point of the transformation was the riverfront promenade with a playground for visitors of all ages, a space for an outdoor café, and various types of seating arrangements. 

"The new design of the locality is both bold and playful. Most importantly, however, I hope that the city's inhabitants will find it functional. I'm confident that Vodní valy will become a sought-after part of the city, where people will come to spend their free time. I want to express my gratitude to the Karel Komárek Proměny Foundation, the architects, and everyone else who has contributed expertise and hard work to the project," said Mayor of Litomyšl Radomil Kašpar during the opening ceremony.

The planning of the transformation of Vodní valy began in 2012, but the beginnings of the project, subtitled "Dialogue between Town and River", go back to the years 2010 and 2011. "The plan to restore the riverfront area in Litomyšl was originally presented as an initiative of the local community and the city fathers. We decided to lend our support behind this transformation venture because local people expressed keen concern in the locality, were willing to contribute their time, and took active part in the project," explained the Proměny Foundation's founder Karel Komárek. In addition to over seven million crowns from its own resources, Litomyšl has received over 23 million crowns in financial assistance under the Proměny Foundation's Parks grant program.

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Press Releases23. 5. 2017SAZKA Group Website Launched

SAZKA Group, one of the largest lottery and sports betting companies in Europe, has launched its new website.

The website, presented in English, will be mainly used to publish information for industry specialists. There is general information about the holding, and the website functions as a hub from which access is provided to the SAZKA Group's member companies. The website www.sazkagroup.com features a modern youthful design that symbolizes the fact that SAZKA Group companies target young individuals, promote diversity, and respect people who have been loyal customers for decades. The SAZKA Group website has been created by the VCCP agency.

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