ECONOMY

Growing gaming market a boon for state

growing-gaming-market-a-boon-for-state

Greeks gambled away more than 7.5 billion euros on games of chance from 2015 to 2018. This comes to just under 2 billion euros per year in gross gaming revenues (GGR) for suppliers after paying out winnings to the lucky punters.

The total of the bets placed is several times higher than the GGR, however, with estimates putting it at close to 20 billion euros in 2018 alone. Bets placed with gaming firm OPAP are estimated to have come to 8 billion euros last year, while another 7.1 billion euros was played on the legal internet market.

According to data compiled by Kathimerini, the legal gaming market last year experienced considerable growth, exceeding the 2-billion-euro revenue level in one year for the first time. This improvement is attributed to the expansion of online games of chance (up 39 percent compared to 2017) and the advance of OPAP (up 11 percent year-on-year). In contrast, 2018 represented another year of contraction for the casino market, which shrank 2.5 percent from 2017.

OPAP’s positive performance is seen stemming from the success of its videolotto terminals, or VLTs. Introduced last year, VLTs contributed more than 200 million euros to the company’s GGR, which climbed above the 1.5-billion-euro mark for the first time in a single year.

OPAP does not publish its VLT turnover, but it is estimated to be around 15 to 20 times above its GGR. In other words, VLTs may have generated an impressive turnover of between 3 to 4 billion euros last year, as this game tends to see a high rate of recycling of winnings: For instance, a punter may generate turnover on VLTs of 1,500-2,000 euros on an initial bet of just 100 euros.

This tendency is particularly common in online gaming. Competition is strong there, as service suppliers offer bigger returns in order to attract more punters. Data compiled by Kathimerini reveals that provisionally licensed suppliers declared bets of 7.07 billion euros and GGR of 391 million euros last year. This means that every euro of gross revenues was bet some 18 times before entering the supplier’s bank account.

The increase in the suppliers’ GGR does not necessarily entail an increase in gaming turnover in Greece. While this may indeed be the case, the bulk of growth in this market is thought to come from illegal gambling, but much of this appears to be gradually becoming legitimate. For example, punters who used to play the slots and other games at illegal gambling dens – an activity that entailed certain risks – are now playing the same games at Play OPAP branches or conventional agents of the betting firm, which provide a much more convenient environment, without the risk of being arrested and having their cash confiscated. Punters further enjoy – in theory at least – greater guarantees of reliability for the games of chance they play.

Online gaming suppliers, which have determined the pace of growth in the Greek market over the past four years, have their own reasons to become legal, mainly because they are eager to take part in the upcoming licensing competition that the is being prepared by the government. As a result, some of them are starting revealing their online financial transactions with Greek punters.

It is telling that turnover from online betting in 2013 was supposed to be near zero, as bets of just 8.1 million euros and GGR of only 2 million euros were declared. That pales in comparison to last year’s 7 billion euros of bets and 391 million euros in GGR. These figures, moreover, are based only on what gaming providers have declared, as the government and the Greek authorities are unable to monitor these transactions, which are conducted abroad, mainly in Malta.

In the domestic gaming market, OPAP remains the undisputed leader. It controls 70 percent of GGR in the country, a rate that is only expected to grow further in the years to come. This further improvement of performance is expected to come from the completion of the installation of VLTs around the country – which is seen luring punters currently engaged in illegal gambling, who represent a large part of the market, to legitimate games – as well as from the takeover of rival Stoiximan.gr for about 120 million euros.

Stoiximan is estimated to control some 40 percent of GGR in the domestic online market, so a considerable share of that will also come under the control of the dominant player, OPAP. In the first half of 2018 Stoiximan posted GGR of 72 million euros, that is 39.5 percent of the online market’s total of 183 million euros GGR in that period.

The internet gambling market is by far the most dynamic. Market observers estimate that from the 391 million euros last year, GGR is estimated to top 400 million and likely approach 450 million euros this year.
This will not apply for everyone, though: Casino enterprises continue to suffer pressure, as punters nowadays have more options for games of chance in their neighborhood or even on their smartphones. Many casinos are teetering on the verge of collapse, with some being forced to close for short periods either due to strike action from workers or from the intervention of the authorities.

One side that is definitely enjoying the growing performance of gambling is the Greek state: Of the 7.5 billion euros lost by Greek punters, over 2.9 billion has ended up in state coffers. This does not even include the income tax due, which is collected the following year. True, the SYRIZA government has done well in the gaming market, as it has increased the collection of taxes by 250 million euros per year from 2015 to 2018.

OPAP pays the bulk of taxes in the gaming market, accounting over those four years for a total of 1.8 billion euros. Online gaming suppliers paid taxes of 350 million euros in 2015-2018 and casinos added another 420 million. This does not include the tax on punters’ winnings (327 million euros).