Covid-19 restrictions left many industry sectors in the emerging Europe region, and indeed, across the world, with reduced revenues as lockdowns placed strict limits on what kind of business can open to clients.
While the hospitality sector took the biggest hit, gambling was also severely affected due to the closure of betting shops and casinos across emerging Europe from March to May, and because of the cancellation of many sporting events, leaving gamblers with little on which they could wager a bet.
With restrictions now eased, although not fully lifted, and following the resumption of sporting events, analysts and industry insiders expect to see a relatively quick return to normal with a full recovery to follow next year.
“Measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 were in force across the region and left operators and vendors facing a great challenge and a significant drop in revenue and income,” Dario Jurčić, CEO of NSoft, a Bosnia-based gambling software vendor, tells Emerging Europe.
According to H2 Gambling Capital, a gaming industry intelligence and consultancy firm, gross win throughout Europe is forecasts to fall by 22.3 per cent in 2020. Gross win, in gambling industry parlance, refers to the total amount of bets and wagers placed minus prizes and payouts.
Eduardo dos Remedios, vice president of Symphony iGaming Solutions, confirms that the Covid-19 hit has had an impact across the world.
“The effects have been felt by operators across most, if not all of their geographical locations,” he says.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the sports betting part of the industry that’s been hit the hardest with the many cancellations leaving bookmakers without anything to offer their customers.
“Those that prior to Covid-19 relied upon a significant portion of income from sports betting were hit hard when the events stopped being held,” Mr dos Remedios tells Emerging Europe.
While some have turned to Belarus, where the football league proceeded as if the pandemic wasn’t happening at all, many operators have turned to e-sports and virtual sports to try and make up for the losses on the traditional sports side of their business.
“Operators quickly moved to strengthen their eSports offerings, some made their eSports offering more prominent on their websites and apps, others quickly moved to add esports data feeds to their sites from suppliers. In a similar fashion, operators made their virtual sports offerings more prominent, when in the past they might have been hidden lower down on their website navigation, they now put them front and centre,” Mr dos Remedios explains.
One trend that Covid-19 made starkly clear is that online gambling is picking up stream compared to traditional betting shop and casino visits.
“This trend can be seen in Poland’s tax receipts from gambling related activities. Overall gambling tax revenue in the country fell by 21 per cent in Q2, with land based casino tax falling by 52 per cent. Tax from the state-owned online casino provider however, doubled year on year and this is a trend we’ve seen across the region,” says Luke Eales, CEO of TopRatedCasinos.co.uk, an affiliate gambling marketing company.
Projections from H2 Gambling Capital show that during the Covid-19 outbreak the percentage of gross win coming from online channel has increased significantly.
“One good thing that came from this situation is that more and more operators have turned to online channels and digitalisation. The online segment has even recorded a growth compared to the same time last year,” says Mr Jurčić.
However, Mr dos Remedios is skeptical of exactly how much this increase in interest for online gambling can make up everything that’s been lost in the sports betting sector with land-based locations closing and sporting events being cancelled.
“Overall I would expect online gambling revenues to be lower from Mid-March through to the end of the year compared to the same time period last year,” he says.
In the casino space, which primarily includes slot games and games such as poker, online channels could have helped operators, depending on how well they were able to promote the online side of their business.
“Certainly, those that had the option to increase promotion of their online offering would have mitigated the drop in revenue. It would depend on the individual operator to see how much they have been able to mitigate the drop on the land based side,” Mr dos Remedios explains.
Mr Eales notes that there have been vast changes in consumer behaviour across all product categories this year, but it’s still too early to tell if the level of online penetration will remain stable as the pandemic subsides.
“Many seem convinced that the past few months have accelerated existing online adoption trends, and with uncertainty remaining around in-person betting and gaming, we expect the online sector to crystallise a significant proportion of these gains, with their land-based counterparts losing out,” he explains.
When it comes to recovery, Mr Jurčić, says that they have seen revenues increase in June and that by July they have mostly returned to the levels of previous years.
Still, he warns that the threat is still there, and the industry cannot discount the possibility of new coronavirus measures that might further disrupt the gambling markets.
“With the return of sport and in particular football, we’ve seen signs of improvement, however in the short and medium term we feel there’s a ceiling on this recovery, as many sporting events still remain cancelled,” Mr Eales says.
Global projections of gross win coming from H2 Gaming Capital show that the gambling industry can expect a V shaped recovery with revenues picking up in 2021 and continuing to grow in the future.
“My personal opinion is that it’ll be more likely to be a U shape than a V. Whilst the drop in revenues for the gaming operators is not down to a flaw in their business model and can be attributed to the effect of Covid-19, nobody knows for sure how long the recession we are seeing will last,” Mr dos Remedios warns.
Yet, he is also optimistic in his recommendation to operators and casinos to focus on the things that are up to them, such as customer satisfaction and service quality.
As countries in emerging Europe have begun relaxing their coronavirus measures in the last couple of months, land-based betting shops have also opened up and some sporting events and leagues are now resuming. With gambling being a popular pastime across Central and Eastern Europe, barring any new lockdowns, the gambling industry will slowly go back to normal.
“Looking further ahead, we feel the online casino sector in CEE will continue to grow and we think this will lead to more choice for players, as new brands emerge,” Mr Eales concludes.