Bulgaria’s gambling regulator has said the country is on the right track to becoming the Las Vegas of the Balkans, but its ambitions have been slowed by its own issues over the past few years.
Speaking during the opening ceremony of the Eastern European Gaming Summit (EEGS) in Bulgaria this week, representatives from the Association of the Gaming Industry in Bulgaria (AGIB) and the National Revenue Agency (NRA) said it has been the government's ambition for the past 20 years to develop industries such as gambling.
The NRA said it is working hard to continue to grow the industry, as well as address concerns surrounding responsible gambling.
“It benefits everyone to tackle illegal gambling and I believe with the industry's help we can do so. We as a regulatory body are here to be friendly and assist the industry,” the NRA representative said.
The NRA took over the regulation of gambling in Bulgaria in 2020, after a law to abolish the State Commission on Gambling was passed.
Calls to have the regulator shut down reached their heights after two of its most senior officials were arrested for allegedly corrupt links to former gambling mogul Vasil Bohzkov in 2019.
A law was introduced around the same time to take public control of the monopoly sector, effectively destroying Bohzkov’s primary business, followed by the launch of criminal proceedings against Bohzkov, leaving the man also known as "The Skull" on the run in the United Arab Emirates.
However, issues with regulating the industry in Bulgaria have persisted.
Earlier this year, Bulgaria’s caretaker government dismissed NRA executive director Rumen Spetsov after the agency was deemed to have significantly underperformed in terms of its previously estimated revenue collection.
The over-estimation of tax revenue was seen as a risk to the planning and execution of government funds in the budget.
Bulgaria’s gambling industry contributed BGN241m (€123.28m) to the State Budget in 2021, a 25 percent increase from 2020, according to the latest figures published by the AGIB.
For the first nine months of 2022, nearly BGN240m has already been paid to the Treasury.
Despite some difficulties with the regulator, Dinos Stranomitis, co-founder and partner at Altenar, said in a separate talk that he believes “Bulgaria is definitely a success story”.
“They have managed to regulate and keep control of a very difficult sensitive industry,” Stranomitis said
Looking to the future, Stranomitis strongly believes that the Bulgarian gambling market will continue to grow rapidly and estimates the market size will be BGN364m by the end of 2023.
“Bulgaria is a fast-developing country, moving much faster than many others. The new political situation in Germany, the UK, and France will see their markets slow down while peripheral countries like here, will improve the situation for people. People in these countries will get better salaries, better life, and that will be better for everyone, including the gambling industry,” Stranomitis said.
Unlike many other speakers at EEGS predicting that the metaverse and blockchain will be the future of Bulgaria’s gambling industry, Stranomitis said he was “not so sure”.
However, Rossi McKee, founder of CT Gaming and an honorary chairman of the Association of the Gaming Industry in Bulgaria (AGIB), who moved her business from land-based to online, argues it is now vital for operators to be developing a strategy to enter into the metaverse.
“Meta is not science fiction. It is here. It will come sooner rather than later. For online technologies to develop took us 20-30 years. This will be much faster. Users now are better at technology. They will drive it. There will be a real economy and a metaverse economy, intertwined with one another. We are very close to this. What is keeping us away is just the availability of technology,” McKee said.