COVID19: Virus takes toll on betting, online gaming sluggish

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Coronavirus has taken its toll on Cypriot betting habits as gaming companies saw their earnings slashed by half in the second quarter compared to the same period last year.

While sports betting had been on the rise in recent years, the fallout from Covid-19 restrictions saw bets placed fall by 50% in Q2 2020, compared to Q2 2019.

According to the National Betting Authority’s quarterly report on the sector, betting companies saw €176,480,276 flow into their coffers in Q2 2019 while income for this year was slashed to €88,442,746.

Payouts to winners dropped by 51% to €77,835,708, of which about €65 mln went to winners who played online, mostly due to restrictions on free movement.

The state also lost out as tax revenues on betting dropped by 44% to just over €1 mln.

About 5% of betting shops went bust during the pandemic-imposed lockdown and the period after that, leaving 524 licensed premises in operation, according to the NBA report.

On the other hand, employment by betting companies rose by 6% to 1,292 people.

Chair of the authority, Ioanna Fiakkou, told the Financial Mirror that the financial results of the betting companies reflect the unfavourable conditions created by the pandemic and the restrictions on free movement.

“The decrees issued by the Ministry of Health to stem the spread of the virus and to protect public health, saw all betting shops close while the majority of sporting events around the world came to a halt.

This meant that people could neither physically go to a betting shop nor were they able to place a bet online,” she said.

Fiakkou is confident that once the pandemic is over, the betting sector will recover to contribute even more to the economy and state revenues.

She expects an upward trend to continue after the pandemic is over with online gaming taking off.

“What we have been witnessing the past few years is a growth in the betting pie with online gaming claiming an ever-bigger piece of that pie”.

According to figures compiled by the authority, total bets placed in 2018 grew to €670,989,510 from €526,721,473 in 2017.

The following year broke all records with a total of €766,738,235 being placed on bets.

Bets placed at betting shops in 2018 increased by almost €80 mln to €323,065,960 from €249,956,487 in 2017 but dropped last year to €309,062,010.

Online betting, on the other hand, has been growing at a steady pace, recording an impressive jump in 2019.

In 2017, some €276,764,986 worth of bets were placed online, rising to €347,923,550 in 2018 and climbing in 2019 to €457,676,224.

“It is only natural that as we get deeper into the digital age, we would witness the increase in online gaming.

However, the drop recorded last year in bets placed at shops is not enough for us to jump to the conclusion that Cypriots are turning towards online betting en masse,” said Fiakkou.

She explained that a large number of Cypriot players prefer to physically place their bets while they sit in betting shops to watch the games, they placed their bets on.

“The coronavirus pandemic, however, will speed up the process of digitalising the betting industry in Cyprus.”