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Ukraine – SBC Digital Summit CIS to focus on Europe’s new ‘gambling frontier’

By - 27 October 2020

The potential of the betting and gaming markets in Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Georgia is set to be a central theme of SBC Digital Summit CIS on 4 – 5 November.

The virtual conference and exhibition comes as many operators are seeking new opportunities away from the fierce competition in Europe’s established regulated markets, while at the same time some governments in the CIS region have identified gambling as a potentially lucrative source of tax revenue.

SBC and its local partner, Sports Media Holding, have compiled an agenda that will see 75 senior executive speakers examine what the rapidly-changing market conditions mean for operators and suppliers, where the largest opportunities are located, and how to make the most of them.

Georgia is the example that many in the industry would like to see the rest of the region follow. It has regulated land-based casinos, betting shops and gaming halls, with licence holders also permitted to offer equivalent online activities.

As a result, the gambling industry has become a vital part of the Georgian economy, accounting for 8.4 per cent of the country’s total business revenue in 2017. Operators generate more than GEL135m (€35.3m) a year in taxes, while the thriving casino resorts are an important driver of income for the tourism sector.

The potential of the online market, which has achieved a 40 per cent compound annual growth rate since 2016, has already caught the eye of major international operators. Flutter purchased a controlling stake in Georgia’s largest online sportsbook and casino Adjarabet last year, to follow GVC and Betsson, owners of Crystalbet and Europebet respectively, into the market.

The Georgia – The Gaming Hub of CIS? panel at SBC Digital Summit CIS will provide an in-depth examination of how this success was achieved, what can be done to further improve the model, and what opportunities exist for potential new market entrants.

Georgia is not the only established regulated market in the region; its southern neighbour Armenia, for example, also has a licensing regime that permits online sports betting and casinos. However, both nations have populations below four million, and there are some significantly larger markets set to open up in the region over the next 12 months.

In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government has passed legislation to end the country’s 11-year prohibition on all forms of gambling other than lotteries. The new law means licences will be available for land-based and online casinos, retail and online sports betting, gaming machines, online poker, and totaliser contracts, opening up a country of 42 million people to a wide range of operators.

The development has turned Ukraine into one of the global gambling industry’s biggest opportunities. The illegal gambling market in the country is thought to be worth more than €1 billion, and both the government and operators expect the regulated market to be significantly bigger.

Details of the regulations, taxes and licence fees in the Gambling Act are now being carefully scrutinised by both CIS-based operators and competitors from further afield. Parimatch has already stated its intention to bid for a licence in its home territory, and it seems only a matter of time before others reach the same decision, despite some concerns about the increased licence fees that will be levied during the transition to a regulated market.

SBC Digital Summit CIS’s Welcome to Ukraine panel will assess the opportunities for those international operators considering entering the market, and take a detailed look at the legislation and what it means for the industry.

Uzbekistan is another nation that has recognised the potential economic benefits of establishing a regulated gambling industry. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s government has unveiled plans to legalise both online and retail sports betting in 2021, in order to raise funds for the development of football and other sports in the country. At the same time, a review of the lottery sector – currently the only legal form of gambling in Uzbekistan – is underway, with the intention of replacing all existing lotteries with a new national lottery.

With a population of 33 million, Uzbekistan seemingly offers significant potential to the operators that secure betting licences. However, the full details of the regulatory regime are still to emerge and it is unclear whether applications will be accepted from overseas companies or restricted to local ones. International operators interested in the market can perhaps take some encouragement from the fact the government has opened up the country to foreign investment since the death of the long-serving president Islam Karimov in 2016.

The Uzbekistan Regulations session will investigate what format the regulated betting market may take and evaluate how big the market opportunity is.

Further panels during SBC Digital Summit CIS will address issues that influence market development right across the CIS, Ukraine and Georgia, including the evolution of payments technologies in the region, local marketing strategies, and the opportunities created by the growth of esports and the resurgent popularity of online poker.

In addition to the conference, the event will feature an interactive product display area with leading suppliers showcasing the latest sportsbook, casino and payments innovations tailored to local markets, together with a programme of networking roundtables to make it straightforward for delegates to connect and talk business.

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