Greek Watchdog Backs Online Casino Boost

April 5, 2022
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Revenues for Greece's thriving online market passed €700m for the first time in 2021, as the gambling regulator recommended to government that a hike in the maximum online casino stake would benefit the market still further.

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Revenues for Greece's thriving online market passed €700m for the first time in 2021, as the gambling regulator recommended to government that a hike in the maximum online casino stake would benefit the market still further.

On Friday (April 1), the Hellenic Gaming Commission (HGC) sent the Ministry of Finance the results of a study it had commissioned from auditors Ernst & Young (EY) and recommended an increase in the maximum online slots stake from the current limit of €2 per bet to €20.

The watchdog's formal recommendation came as it also set out details of the market's 2021 rebound in its data-packed annual report.

Dimitris Ntzanatos, the HGC's president, himself a former audit boss at Grant Thornton, endorsed the EY study. It ran through a variety of different staking scenarios, beginning with €5 and rising to a maximum of €30, with the HGC concluding that €20 would be the most effective.

The current single stake limit of €2 per bet, together with a mandatory three-second wait between spins, was put in place alongside the new regulation framework that became applicable to permanent online licences from July 2021.

The online slot limit was set into the permanent licensing law by the previous Syriza government, matching the €2 stake limit at OPAP's VLT Play halls, and the Ministry of Finance of the incumbent New Democracy government chose not to change it.

The limit provoked strong reactions from online companies at the time, who argued that even their mid-spending players were frustrated by the playing levels and were being pushed towards illegal offers, both on street machines and online.

They piled pressure on Ntzanatos to lift the limit, reasoning that the restriction was pushing large sums into an illegal and untaxed market.

A change in the €2 casino stake limit is still beyond the powers of the HGC to implement and will require a legislative amendment by the Ministry of Finance.

Although Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is understood to remain personally opposed, the economic case made by the HGC is likely to be persuasive to the cash strapped-Greek finance ministry that is seeking to maximise revenues and limit tax leakage to unlicensed operations.

One seasoned industry observer told VIXIO GamblingCompliance that, following concerted lobbying efforts from operators across the market, "our feeling is the Ministry of Finance will look favourably on the HGC request for a €20 maximum bet, online only, but not VLTs".

Adding to the pressure on the unlicensed market, last month Greece’s Gaming Supervision and Control Committee created a website where residents can report illegal gambling.

The website (whistlers.gamingcommission.gov.gr) is seeking to gather information on illegal gambling activity in Greece to provide evidence for prosecutions.

Greek residents can report information anonymously about illegal websites, unlicensed affiliates, illegal land-based locations and other suspicious gambling activity.

Annual Report of HGC

According to the watchdog's compendium report, submitted to parliament last week, in 2021 the total turnover of the entire gambling market in Greece, land-based and online, amounted to €22.49bn, an increase of 35 percent from 2020.

Total gross revenues (GGR) amounted to €1.86bn, up 14.5 percent on 2020, but the government's share taken as gaming taxes still fell during the period.

At the Treasury, tax revenues from gambling in 2021 amounted to barely €558.74m, €70m lower than the €628.87m collected by the state from gambling in 2020.

Greek GGR breakdown

The numbers underscore the importance of online gambling in delivering tax revenues to the state when many land-based gambling activities such as land-based casino and betting have switched to lower tax levels.

There was a 43 percent increase in revenue in 2021 for online gaming, which recorded a 22 percent increase in GGR profits.

As a result, online gaming represented 77.5 percent of the total turnover of the industry in 2021, but 38.5 percent of the total GGR profits of the sector and the online taxes paid amount to 61.17 percent of the state's total tax take.

The group of 15 licensed online operators, which became 16 when PokerStars was added last autumn, clocked a total €719m in GGR in January to December, a 23 percent increase on the year before.

Greek online ggr breakdown

By contrast, the land-based betting giant OPAP's GGR were 61.27 percent of the total sector's (€1.02bn out of the total of €1.85bn), but only 27.91 percent of the state's total gaming revenue, largely because a lower tax rate now applies to OPAP's revenues, as a result of a costly concession extension it inked with the Greek government in 2011.

OPAP revenues amounted to 22.45 percent of the total revenues of the sector in 2021.

For Greece's beleaguered land-based casinos, the story was one of recovery in 2021.

Casino games provided 3.87 percent of the total turnover of all games, an increase of 34.34 percent compared with 2020, and 5.79 percent of the total GGR, an increase of 26.14 percent compared with 2020, as COVID-19 restrictions were eased.

Taxes levied directly on players' winnings across the industry in 2021 amounted to €146.83m.

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