Exploration of Southeastern Europe's Rising Online iGaming Industry: Part 1
A region known for stunning scenery and immense history, the small pocket of Southeastern Europe still remains one of the not so largely discussed parts of the world.
Unbeknownst to many, Southeast Europe has multiple thriving gambling markets.
For years, it was seemingly all about the UK and other major European markets, such as those sites registered through the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) or those brands that were based in Scandinavia.
Online gambling markets in Southeastern Europe were very rarely discussed, let alone actual native brands. That being said, over the last few years, we have seen a considerable increase in popularity, especially when taking into account the rate at which gaming regulation and legislation have moved forward as well.
Online Gambling Opportunities of Southeast Europe
This area of Europe is regarded as having one of the biggest investment possibilities in the online gambling market. Indeed, the opportunities that exist in other sectors have already started to have a knock-on effect in regard to live casinos and the online gambling industry. Having the right infrastructure is key, particularly because the industry cannot function effectively without this in place.
Over the following years, it is likely that the Southeast part of Europe will become a key protagonist in the wider industry of the continent, with more and more opportunities likely to reveal themselves as progress is made.
Of course, there are a couple of major markets in the Southeastern European online gaming industry, which could well be considered the precedent for others to follow suit, while each one also differs in terms of the ease of regulation, difficulty of obtaining license approval, and cost.
Invariably, how big the region gets for online gambling in the years that follow, will depend on a lot of different factors. Like with anything, demand will be a principle variable, though you could also tie others into this, such as the ease at which technology can be developed as well as political influence.
Below, we have broken down gambling markets from Southeastern Europe that have started to have an influence in the region, in addition to the ones with a potential for a breakthrough in due course.
Considered to be one of the more dynamic online gambling markets in this part of the world, Greece has witnessed rapid growth over the last few years.
In 2019, the Greek government approved the revamp of the country’s framework for online gambling, essentially becoming a lot more regulated. While more well-known brands, such as 888, also saw an opportunity to launch their services in Greece.
According to Statista, the market is estimated to demonstrate a projected growth volume of US$1,778m by 2027, in addition to having 1,498.00k users. Currently, with in excess of 24 brands that operate in the country, Greece has shown that it is certainly one of the more mature gambling markets in Europe.
Regulated by the Hellenic Gambling Commission (HGC), this makes sure that there is a great deal of scrutiny relating to fair play in the market, especially in conjunction with the issue of underage gambling, with this set to anyone under the age of 23 years old.
Another factor that has boosted the strength and credibility of the industry in Greece is its new iGaming supplier license, which has really helped to increase its authority and seen software providers, Relax Gaming (via Betsson) and Spinomenal (via Betshop) join the market. As a result, players can access some of the best slots and casino games in the industry, in addition to attracting more high-profile operators.
The addition of these masterfully designed titles will undoubtedly enhance our players’ gaming experience. At Betshop, we strive to offer top-notch entertainment, and this collaboration aligns perfectly with our commitment to providing a diverse and immersive gaming environment. We look forward to a successful partnership with Spinomenal.
In July 2021, the HGC approved 15 operator licenses, having also increased the cost to US $2.15 million - a considerable jump from its previous amount. However, the improved online gambling conditions attracted higher-profile operators.
A country whose biggest exports are refined petroleum, a range of food products and tourism is expected to have a considerable economical impact from online gambling moving forward.
Perhaps a market that doesn’t come across many people’s radar - even those who operate in the centre of the industry, however, Serbia has shown that it could make a significant impact over the next few years.
Formerly part of Yugoslavia, well in excess of 78 percent of Serbia’s 6.9 million population has access to the internet. While online gambling became legal in the country in 2013, it was not until 2020 that further changes to legislation really saw the industry in Serbia take this up a notch. The introduction of AML (anti-money laundering) measures made the market much more secure, in addition to tightening advertising policies that helped to combat underage gambling and targeting minors.
In addition to this, it was made mandatory to include warnings about the dangers of gambling addiction.
Furthermore, in a bid to help boost the economy, it also saw the country raise gambling taxes that were imposed on operators, which were increased to 15 percent for sports betting and lotteries and 10 percent for other ‘games of chance’.
Meanwhile, 40 percent of all gambling revenue generated by the government from these taxes is attributed to the Red Cross, with minimum tax payments being imposed at €10,000 per month.
Attractive Licensing Fees and Investment Potential
In Serbia, obtaining a gambling license is a relatively smooth process for firms that are aspiring to offer their services to residents, though each operator is required to have a minimum share capital of at least €250,000, or a bank deposit or guarantee of €300,000, in addition to a €10,000 daily risk cash deposit.
As well as this, an online casino license costs €2,500 per month (€60,000 per year), and these are valid for 10 years, with no cap on the number of online casinos that are allowed in this market. This is in stark contrast to a land-based casino license of €500,000 per year, capped at 10 in number and only after the results of a public consultation.
Based on particularly modest fees alone, the potential for the online gambling industry in Serbia is substantial, especially with this being considered a prime country in Southeastern Europe for investment.
Potential improvements in infrastructure could see some of the biggest brands in the industry decide to try to capitalise on this and take what may well be a calculated, yet very profitable risk. Furthermore, it could also see the country raise taxation for gambling companies to an even higher rate, which can then be reinvested back into the country’s economy.
It is understood that the gambling industry in Albania is the second-largest employer, trumped only by the energy sector. In April of this year, a new amendment was released which reformatted the online gambling industry, after it imposed a blanket ban on betting in 2019, with the exception of a handful of land-based casinos.
The industry, has seen a major shake-up and revamp as a result. This has consequently introduced new forms of legislation, and, because of this, made sure that it is a lot more regulated and in-line with other markets.
Now, it is only permitted to gamble online in the country with operators that have official licenses, with each firm needing to have stringent measures in place. These include companies that only accept digital payments and following the registration of a player, keep their data for three years.
In addition to this, any monetary deposits that are made to brands that operate in Albania have to be done so via an authorised financial agent which adds more security and legitimacy for the authorities to be able to monitor more closely, with money laundering issues still being seen as somewhat of a major concern.
Agents in conjunction with this law include second-tier banks and the Albanian Post, in addition to such financial institutions that have a license under the Bank of Albania, like Western Union or Unionet.
Meanwhile, every operator that has a license to offer its services in the country, is required to be able to issue a guarantee which states that they have at least €1.5 million in a specified bank account to cover the payments of any major jackpot winners.
Furthermore, it is also required that this number is never less than five percent of every deposit that has been made during that particular financial year, while all access to this account is also controlled by the Finance Ministry.
Stringent Regulations in Response to Rising Illegal Activities
Regulations also stipulate that every operator has to have a second deposit of €450,000 that is assigned to an additional bank account for purposes of the authorities.
Such stringent measures, though, have proven necessary as illegal activities taking place in the country’s gambling industry have led to multiple checks carried out throughout the Republic of Albania for the years 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
In total 1,421 checks from which confiscations were made, criminal proceedings and administrative measures with fines for 135 subjects and individuals who operated illegally in the gambling market. Also, AMLF has reported 4,035 illegal betting addresses to AKEP with the aim of closing these addresses.
Compared to most other countries in Southeastern Europe and certainly most other major markets, Albania is somewhat behind in terms the measures that have been implemented. However, it is certainly a market to keep an eye on.
Emerging Southeast European Gambling Markets
While obviously not having the same status as emerging online gambling markets like LATAM or the US, a number of countries in this small corner of Europe could have a few industry analysts keeping a close eye on events.
Those countries in particular that have attracted global investment over the last decade (as well as for the gambling industry), are definitely worth paying attention to, because, as we have seen with a couple of Latin American online gambling markets, this can make a huge difference.
Legislation though, will still continue to have a major influence; definitely in the countries where it is still considered to be particularly strict, as well as having substantial tax levies imposed on operators.
Stay tuned for part 2 of our Southeastern European online gambling market exploration.