Belgium’s gaming industry took a hit in the country’s most recent fiscal year. Based on the input from a gaming operator group, perhaps it’s because there is a significant percentage of people using illegal gambling sites.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions on land-based gaming venues in Belgium caused a 17.8% drop in gross gaming revenue (GGR). Kansspelcommissie, the Belgian Gaming Commission, reports that the total revenue for the industry in the 2020-21 fiscal year was €969.1 million (US$1.04 billion). That is a considerable decrease from the €1.18 billion (US$$1.266 billion) recorded in the previous year.
Online gambling was responsible for €595.6 million (US$639.25 million) of the total. That was a 27.9% year-on-year increase and is the first time online gambling revenue was greater than its land-based counterpart. The split was 61.5% online gambling and 38.5% retail.
Online Gambling Sees Big Jump
Revenue from the online casino segment accounted for 46.6% of the total online revenue. Online slot machines generated €156.8 million (US$168.26 million) in revenue, an increase of 26.3% year-on-year. Sports betting revenue rose 27.1% to €161.2 million (US$173 million).
The decline in retail sales can be attributed to land-based gambling venues like casinos, arcades and betting shops halting operations. This was done by the Belgian government to stop the spread of COVID-19 at the peak of the pandemic.
The top source of revenue was land-based sports betting, which generated €123.6 million (US$132.64 million) for the retail segment. Arcades and cafés added a combined €194.8 million (US$208.94 million), while casino revenue reached €54.9 million (US$58.88 million). The latter was a 14.7% year-on-year improvement.
Kansspelcommissie also noted that 576,493 people gambled online at most once per week in the year. This was a considerable jump from the 502,738 in the prior period. The average number of players registered on licensed sites has increased to 136,888 from 113,302 in the previous year.
A total of 162,985 new online gamblers signed up during the year. Retail visitors, however, fell from 11,167 to 10,684, a logical conclusion resulting from the COVID-19 restrictions. Still, in the year before the pandemic, the figure was 15,710.
The regulator claimed that it added 122 illegal operators to its blacklist. Another 60 volunteered to block access from Belgian players.
Belgium Missing Out on Additional Revenue
The additions to the blacklist would account for some of the increase in the number of new registrations. However, Belgium might be missing out on potentially more revenue.
The Belgian Association for Gaming Operators (BAGO) wants the country to do a better job at policing the i%nternet for illegal websites that access Belgian consumers. It points out that even Kansspelcommissie acknowledges that one in five consumers plays on an illegal website.
In addition, one in three online advertisements Belgian consumers see is from illegal platforms. The issues stem, according to BAGO, from the country not doing enough to provide safeguards to keep those platforms out.
Belgium is considering a complete ban on gambling advertising. However, BAGO feels that this might be counterproductive, as it won’t provide consumers with a mechanism that allows them to distinguish between licensed and unlicensed platforms.
In addition, it’s probably overkill. Belgium health officials, as BAGO President Tom De Clercq reiterated, have stated that “0.2% to 0.9% of the population” might succumb to gambling addiction. Given that achieving 0.0% is an impossible pipe dream, and “the prevalence of problematic alcohol use” is 5.9% in the country, it would seem the gambling industry is doing a good job of monitoring itself.