Eastern European gambling expert, Viktoriya Zakrevskay, Founding Member and Deputy Chair of the Ukrainian Gambling Council (UGC) shares her insights from the SBC Summit Tbilisi, as regional stakeholders still view Ukraine’s market ambitions positively.
The recent symposiums held at the SBC Forum Tbilisi, sparked an illuminating discussion centered on Ukraine’s burgeoning gambling industry. Nestled on the border between Eastern Europe and Central Asia and lapped by the Black Sea’s waters, Ukraine presents a unique market rife with its own array of challenges.
Attracting increasing attention from investors in Western Europe, Ukraine’s evolution in the gambling sector confronts multifaceted hurdles. These include grappling with corruption, enduring the unjust and unprovoked full-scale russian invasion — and addressing typical industry challenges such as safeguarding market integrity against external influences and ensuring citizens’ personal data security.
The development of gambling markets across the Black Sea region and Central Asia displays both shared traits and distinct nuances. These aspects offer insights into potential prospects and inherent risks for businesses venturing into this domain.
A historical glimpse into Georgia’s market reveals a landscape where the bedrock legislation “On the organisation of lotteries, gambling, and other prize games” took root in 2005. Over time, Georgia’s gambling market matured and stabilised, with offline casinos predominantly concentrated in key tourist-centric zones like Batumi and Tbilisi. Remarkably, online operators in Georgia boast an audience estimated between 400,000 to 500,000 users — an exceptionally high engagement rate for a country of three million.
Kazakhstan’s market, emerging slightly later in 2007 with the enactment of Law № 219-III “On Gambling Business,” heavily favoured the offline segment. Land-based casinos operate within specifically demarcated zones in the country, tightly controlling service provision. In contrast, the online gambling sphere remains unlicensed and prohibited within Kazakhstan, although access to foreign gaming sites remains unimpeded, creating a hermetically sealed market.
Ukraine’s trajectory witnessed a legislative hiatus from May 2009 to August 2020, ultimately culminating in the adoption of the Law “On State Regulation of the organization and conduct of gambling.” This law orchestrated the simultaneous development of both online and offline segments while imposing restrictions on the placement of land-based casinos exclusively within hotel premises.
At present, studies indicate that only a modest 7-8% of the country’s adult population engages or intends to engage with legal gambling services, a figure significantly lower than Georgia’s relative engagement rate.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan initiated the legalisation process for betting in 2021 but remains stagnant in advancing legislation toward liberalisation. The realm of organising lotteries is permitted in Uzbekistan, yet insufficient to substantiate the existence of a robust gambling market.
Considering the prospects for market growth, Ukraine’s gambling sector emerges as the most alluring. It harbours substantial domestic potential while showcasing opportunities, primarily within the online segment, to cater to foreign players.
However, to fully actualize its development potential, swift rectifications are imperative. Addressing inconsistencies between the Tax Code and gambling laws, and correcting governmental oversights — such as the case involving sanctions against industry leaders Parimatch and Pokermatch — are pivotal.
Resolution of these issues, via parliamentary adoption of long-pending drafts and fulfilling presidential directives to investigate circumstances leading to sanctions against industry leaders, holds the key to unlocking Ukraine’s true potential. Post-resolution, Ukraine’s gambling market stands poised to become the most appealing among Eastern Europe, the Black Sea region, and Central Asia.
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