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Unprecedented Growth in Bulgaria’s Gambling Sector

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In 2023, Bulgaria’s licensed gambling operators disbursed a whopping BGN 5.79 billion ($3.18 billion) to winning players, significantly surpassing previous years’ figures. This impressive statistic, revealed by the National Revenue Agency (NRA) following a Freedom of Information request from Mediapool, underscores the untapped potential of Bulgaria’s gaming sector.

Record-Breaking Figures Post-COVID

The data from the NRA highlights a substantial rise in gambling payouts compared to 2022, with an astonishing growth rate of nearly 147%. In 2022, winnings exceeding BGN 5,000 ($2,750) totaled BGN 2.34 billion ($1.29 billion). This surge in payouts demonstrates the rapid expansion of the gambling market, despite recent government attempts to curb advertisements.

In 2023, Bulgarian operators distributed BGN 5.79 billion among 120,853 individuals, averaging BGN 47,909 ($26,332) per winner. This represents a significant increase from pre-COVID levels. For instance, in 2017, the payouts were BGN 627 million ($344.5 million) to 13,447 winners, showing that the number of large-winnings recipients has nearly multiplied ninefold in six years.

By law, all player winnings exceeding BGN 5,000 must be reported by gambling operators in Bulgaria. This provides a rough estimate of the industry’s state. The Balkan nation remains a lucrative market, reaching a tentative balance where both retail and online operators coexist within their niches. The competition has largely settled among a few high-profile gambling companies.

Challenges Amidst Growth

Despite the financial success, 2024 has been a tumultuous year for Bulgarian operators. In May, the government partially banned gambling advertisements, prohibiting casinos in underpopulated areas and restricting operators from promoting their products across all forms of media. These measures have stirred controversy but are not expected to significantly impact the sector’s profitability.

Tihomir Bezlov, an expert at the Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD), emphasized that the ongoing market expansion could position Bulgaria as a European leader in GDP per capita derived from gambling. He stressed the need for increased governmental oversight to address the rising risks associated with a booming industry.

The impressive growth numbers highlight the gambling market’s massive surge. As Bulgaria’s gaming industry continues to rise, it is crucial for stakeholders to tackle the challenges and opportunities it presents. The NRA’s data underscores the necessity for balanced regulation and responsible gambling practices. While a thriving sector with a growing base of participants can benefit the economy, it is essential to ensure that players are adequately protected.

Gambling and Online Gambling Laws in Bulgaria

Bulgaria has a well-defined regulatory framework for both traditional and online gambling, overseen by the State Commission on Gambling. All gambling operators must obtain a license from the commission to legally operate within the country. For example, the Gambling Act of 2012 established clear guidelines for licensing, advertising, and responsible gaming. Online gambling operators, such as sports betting sites and online casinos, must also adhere to these regulations, which include paying a hefty licensing fee and a tax rate of 15% on gross gaming revenue. The government imposes strict advertising restrictions to prevent gambling addiction, allowing ads only in licensed premises and certain times on television.

Comparison with Other European Union Countries

Contrasting Bulgaria’s gambling laws with those in other European Union countries reveals significant differences. For instance, the United Kingdom has a more liberal approach, with the UK Gambling Commission offering licenses to both domestic and international operators, and a tax rate of 21% on profits. On the other hand, Germany recently overhauled its gambling laws to create a more unified regulatory framework under the Interstate Treaty on Gambling, which introduced a 5.3% tax on online poker and slot stakes. In contrast to Bulgaria’s stringent advertising rules, countries like Malta have more relaxed regulations, attracting numerous online gambling companies to establish their base there due to favorable tax rates and less restrictive operational laws. These variations highlight the diverse regulatory landscapes within the EU, with each country balancing the interests of revenue generation, player protection, and market competition differently.


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