And in more modern times, despite the crisis – or maybe because of it for many punters – it is estimated that Greeks gambled away more than €7.5 billion on games of chance from 2015 to 2018. This comes to just under €2 billion per year in gross gaming revenues (GGR) for suppliers after paying out jackpots to the lucky winners.
It is estimated that the total of the bets placed is several times higher than the GGR, however, with estimates putting it at close to €20 billion in 2018 alone. Bets placed with retail monopoly giant OPAP are estimated to have come to €8 billion in 2018, while another €7.1 billion was played on the legal internet market. According to data compiled by Kathimerini, the legal gaming market experienced considerable growth in 2018, exceeding the €2 billion revenue level in one year for the first time, with much of the improvement attributed to the expansion of online games of chance (up 39% compared with 2017).
This may go some way to explaining the success of one of Greece’s homegrown champions in the gaming sector.
Stoiximan is a Greek gaming company that offers online sports betting and casino games, as well as being a major sports sponsor in Greece and Cyprus. In 2018 Stoiximan, which employs nearly 700 people in Greece and abroad, had GGR of around €200 million, with about €165 million of this coming from the Greek market. Organic growth is expected to top 20% in 2019, according to the company.
But in 2013, Stoiximan – which today is the clear market leader – was a self-funded Greek start-up. With a team of 20 keen punters, the company was born in the midst of Greece’s economic woes, following the canny vision of the company’s co-founder and CEO, George Daskalakis, to marry two of the passions of many Greeks – sports and betting – and take them online. And this is one personal bet that has certainly paid off.
Having stumbled across sports betting while studying in the UK in the late 1990s, Daskalakis became a gambling affiliate in 2001 and was appointed Greece manager for online betting giant bwin in 2002.
Fast-forward 10 years and the Stoiximan brand was born. Stoixima means ‘bet’ in Greek, and by adding an ‘n’, Daskalakis had come up with a brand name the equivalent of Betman in English. And yet, by the time Stoiximan entered the Greek market in 2013, the likes of bet365, Sportingbet, William Hill, Betfair, and bwin had already been up and running in the country for more than a decade.
“Almost everybody was in Greece, so it became a David versus Goliath story because the investment we had in our hands was a little bit less than €1 million,” Daskalakis said in an interview with eGaming Review Magazine. “We never used any loans so all the capital in our history was the €800,000 from back then. I don’t think many believed we could do it because we had 20 people to compete with companies like bet365. It was very difficult, but as a start-up we had great will and determination,” he adds.
Stoiximan used its will and determination to get the industry’s best providers onboard and claim some market share before really making an impact in the summer of 2015. This, of course, was the peak of uncertainty during the Greek financial crisis, when Greek banks were forced to close for a limited time and capital controls were imposed.
“At that time, the international competition was extremely concerned, so they were very reserved about taking risks in Greece,” says Daskalakis. “It was a time where we decided that despite the uncertainty, we would push even harder to be present. We guaranteed to pay out in euros, which sounds funny now but back then there was a very real danger of Greece exiting the eurozone,” he added.
And by the end of 2016, Stoiximan established itself as the leading operator in Greece and hasn’t looked back since.
And yet, recent regulatory changes point towards competition intensifying within the Greek online gaming market in the years to come. Towards the end of 2019, a new era was ushered in for the sector following parliament’s approval of the first online gambling framework, in a bid to liberalise the sector. Europe currently sits on the largest online gaming market in the world, which analysts expect will be worth some €24 billion in 2020 (with sports betting representing approximately 40%).
Daskalakis, however, sees this new challenge as an opportunity for the company to excel and reinforce its role internationally.
“A stable, regulated environment will allow the market to work in a more efficient way and opens the door for improvement. The regulation of the Greek market will definitely increase the competition, but this is something we have been expecting and preparing for. It will only force us to work harder and become better, not just in Greece but also in our other markets,” says Daskalakis.
Apart from its success and expansion into the Greek market, Stoiximan has dramatically increased its overseas presence in recent years in a number of markets across Europe, as well as being the GameTech leader within the Hellenic market. Besides the main Stoiximan brand, the company launched its international brand Betano, which helped it grow steadily abroad, selectively expanding in Cyprus, Romania, Germany, and – most recently – in Portugal.
While at present more than 30% of Stoiximan’s business comes from abroad, the company aims to grow this to more than 50% by 2021. And bearing in mind Stoiximan’s impressive transformation since 2013 – from start-up to market leader – what changes the next few years will bring about are anyone’s guess.