The newly licensed Greek online gambling market has seen its revenues curtailed, as a €2 casino stake limit bites and player taxes weigh on sports bets, but a strong football-fueled summer has seen the overall market continue its inexorable climb.
The 15 newly licensed operators in the now permanently regulated Greek market are bracing for €80m to €100m less in revenues from their online random number generator (RNG) games, as a result of changes from temporary to permanent licensing, which brought with them casino stake limits and player withholding taxes.
Despite enjoying what one Athens-based consultant called a "general sigh of relief that we are actually over the licensing hurdle", the limits to casino stakes have already hobbled the first 20 days of the new licensing regime, with some operators seeing a 40-50 percent plunge in game revenues from their RNG games.
Although online slots specialists like Novibet and Interwetten were proportionately more affected than others like Bet365 and Stoiximan, on an annual basis, income from the sector's online slots is likely to land at around €220m-€240m.
Without limits, that number is estimated to be around €320m, based on forecasts from previous market data.
Concern is also being voiced that leakage to unlicensed offshore operators — historically low in Greece, mostly for reasons of currency control restrictions — might now be picking up again because of the €2 per spin stake limit, a mandated three-second delay between spins and player-determined loss limits.
Offshore sites, accessible with easily-obtained virtual private networks (VPNs), will still permit big players to gamble with uncapped stakes without any speed-of-play restrictions.
"For so many years with our temporary licences, we attracted the majority of the players from the illegal market and now with the legal licences, the illegal operators in Greece, who play without restrictions, are being strengthened again", one representative of a large betting company with a permanent Greek licence told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.
"We contacted our most important customers who left and they told us that they could not gamble with the €2 limit and a three-second wait between spins, and they are now playing on one of the 400,000 illegal websites available,” they said.
Emphasising the vulnerable nature of the online casino market, another operator that has also received a new licence noted: "80 percent of the turnover in the slots comes from 20 percent of the players."
Although the notional maximum jackpot permitted under the new regulations is €70,000, game mechanics and a maximum multiplier of 3,500 mean in reality the maximum win is just €7,000 and players are aware of that.
"It's not as aspirational anymore,” said one consultant. “It's really not working in favour of anyone."
Online companies have begun to pressure Hellenic Gaming Commission (HGC) chief Dimitris Nzanatos to lift the slot restrictions, but the HGC is still waiting for additional regulatory powers to be transferred to it by the Ministry of Finance, which remains in control for the moment.
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 that.
Rumours of legislative amendments to remove the limit and the server location restriction, which has affected supplier companies outside of the EU post-Brexit, have not yet materialised.
Profits climb despite restrictions
Still, the Greek market is continuing to run hot, with an overall annualised growth rate of over 30 percent expected for 2021, meaning that the setbacks on RNG games will be erased within a matter of months.
Market sources estimate that, this year, the online gambling market is expected to top €700m in gross gambling revenue (GGR), up from €566m last year, although without loss limits the same estimates would have been as high as €800m.
Eyeing the booming market, some commentators question whether there is actually any incentive for operators to risk being outside of the regulated space: "The regulated figures now are so big you really have to ask how much more GGR really is there?" one consultant told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.
While casino operators get to grips with their new limits, betting operators are also evaluating their best strategies to deal with their new player taxes, introduced to bail out COVID-hit Greek football clubs, which came into effect on July 1, 2021.
Like the casino stake limits, the controversial withholding tax, which begins at 2.5 percent for wins over €100 and rises to 7.5 percent for profits over €500, also disproportionately affects bigger players and the companies that serve them.
Many smaller betting operators have chosen to absorb the tax for their bettors, but others have not.
Leading foreign operator Bet365 saw a 20 percent drop in its sports betting business in July even though the Euro football championships dominated the first two weeks of that month, as it was one of the few companies that chose not to pay the player tax on behalf of its customers.
With a vast majority of the Greek online market now permanently licensed, two additional companies are continuing to play under the rules of the old regime, while their appeals over rejected applications are heard.
Goalbet and Online Amusement, providing licensing for Championsbet, filed appeals against the HGC's rejections of their applications in the Administrative Court of Appeal and those appeals are set to be heard today, September 2.
Additionally Pokerstars.gr, which was last to make its application for a new licence on the August 5, also remains outside the new regime as it waits for approval of the Gaming Committee to enter the market.
Additional reporting by Andrew Gellatly