EEGReport Magazine: Tell us a bit about the history of gambling in your country. As we know it has a certain culture in Serbia. How do people perceive it and most important, how do they perceive online gambling?
Mirjana Acimovic: I am very glad that you ask me this question. History of gambling in Serbia is very important in order to understand its present. Some historians have the opinion that most important events in Serbia were done in cafes-restaurants. Each one of them since 17th century had tables in special rooms for gamblers and table games.
Perception of gambling is rapidly changed from the last century. Today, betting and lottery games are considered as normal leisure time activity, while in the past the gamblers were perceived as criminals and sick persons. In Yugoslavia gambling was forbidden for its citizens. But at that time we had fantastic casinos for foreigners managed by extremely capable and educated people. Croupiers at Yugoslav casinos were professors, writers and economists because the condition was that they had to speak French perfectly. Famous movie “Europa di notte” from 60’s put Belgrade among top 10 Europe destinations with Paris, London, Vienna and Rome for its casinos and night life. Foreigners gambled at widely known Sveti Stefan and Majestic, while Yugoslavs secretly gambled in apartments, fairs and restaurants risking be caught and sentence to imprisonment.
Serbs always loved to play cards and to bet. Also Serbs quickly accept all innovations in this case new technology and possibility to gamble. Online gambling is very well accepted, but regarding mentality, Serbs like to see the land based company with his own eyes, so all forms of gambling are present. Younger generation is more prone to gamble online in Serbia.
EEGReport Magazine: How many categories of online gambling can be accessed by the gamblers and is there any niche which is more popular?
Mirjana Acimovic: In Serbia there is wide range of gambling options that are available to facilitate many different types of people. We might say that sports betting and particularly betting on football results are most popular in our country.
For better understanding online gambling categories, we should refer the regulation. Online gambling is defined as GAMES OF CHANCE USING ELECTRONIC MEANS OF COMMUNICATION – which means that regulator, choose approach not to define it as a new gambling category but as way of organizing games of chance. In 2011, the New Act on Games of Chance was enacted which, among other things, dismantled the online gambling monopoly of the State Lottery and allowed operators to apply for an online gambling license in Serbia. In the mid 2013, the Rulebooks on characteristics of the equipment for the organization on line gambling and on the conditions for obtaining an approval for on line gambling where published together with CATALOG OF GAMES OF CHANCE. These rulebooks defined 3 basic types of games – classic, special and prize in goods and services. All this types of games are allowed in online gambling for the operators with approved licenses and they are: lotteries, instant lotteries and other similar games that are based on the lottery; sports betting; lotto, keno and similar games; tombola, bingo and other similar games that are based on tombola, Blackjack, American roulette, French roulette, Baccarat, Craps, Draw poker, Texas Hold’em poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Caribbean karo poker, Casino stud poker, Caribbean stud poker, Omaha poker, Three card poker, Let it ride poker, Sic Bo, Money wheel, Punto banco, ‘’Srbsko-Ruski Roulette’’ (Serbian-Russian Roulette), games that are organized on slot machines; and betting games.
There are still gray areas in games on which Serbian State Lottery still have monopoly – namely, it is forbidden using words: lottery, lotto, bingo and the name of other types of classic games of chance in the title game of chance organized by another legal person or entrepreneur than Serbian State Lottery. Therefore instead of lotto or lottery operators are using term “betting on numbers”, or instead of keno – “kino” or “lucky six” for bingo.
EEGReport Magazine: What can you tell us about MaxBet’s influence over the country’s gambling industry?
Mirjana Acimovic: MaxBet is brand of gambling operator which is among ten of the oldest and biggest Serbian gambling companies. MaxBet Serbia is a company that specializes in organizing games of chance, production, sale and servicing of electronic roulette, poker tables and slot machines, catering and service delivery slot machine entertainment. This company was first to introduce “ladies afternoons” in their casino in late 90’s and also first to secure non smoking sections in their gambling objects. Long-term good offer for the players, payment of winnings no meter how big they were, friendly atmosphere and polite and well trained staff are one of the reasons that MaxBet is now one of the leading gambling companies in our country.
MaxBet was created in 1997 and successfully developed 10 years ago under the name “JU KRIJKOS” to 2008. Company was one of the founders of the first Serbian representative association of gaming industry JAKTA. Operations over the years, on territory of Serbia, expanded to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Romania. It employs close to 500 workers and in 2015 had turnover near 280 mil of Euro. Today MaxBet provides land base and online gambling services by world standards and has significant market share in the Balkans.
EEGReport Magazine: What are the important things any investor should know, before they come go and invest in any particular gambling activity in Serbia?
Mirjana Acimovic: For years, I strongly believed that Serbia is excellent destination as a gambling market. The gambling taxation is among the lowest in the Balkans and the regulations are not very restrictive. Gambling regulations still need to be improved and strongly enforced, but at the moment we consider Serbia as a gold mine for all investors. Serbia as an EU candidate is welcoming all kind of investments and in this area there is no difference.
What I found the most important to future investors is recommendation to make through research regarding conditions and laws in Serbia because there are some specific issues need to be considered in business plans. They should know a little bit about of Serbian player’s mentality and habits in order to provide the best choice of games and service, but also to have in mind that we expect expansion of gambling market very soon. There are still few seats in the first row among main players on the market which is going in big steps toward one of the most desirable gambling destinations.
EEGReport Magazine: What do you think is the future of online gambling in Serbia?
Mirjana Acimovic: We expect new Gambling Law or its changes which would liberate our market even more and define some technical issues need to be modernized. If this scenario happens, Serbia could be land based Malta. There are not many issues to be legally improved to make Serbia as fully open online gambling jurisdiction. At the moment gambling regulations are in the transitional stage and they need to be completed, clean and clear to everybody. Now, after the formation of a new Serbian Government, we expect that the games of chance soon to be in line for a regulation. What is most important – player protection must be improved as well as clear defined technical demands which must not be restrictive in terms of technology.
We understand that online gambling companies pay a lot of attention on running costs and aim to move the equipment to the site license if the appropriate infrastructure is available under reasonable commercial terms. Compared with other open national jurisdictions Belgrade has a great advantage due to its geographical position and communication structures. Thanks to its geographical position and the fact that Belgrade is on the continent, from the viewpoint of any services that depend on electronic communication that allows high flow capacity and reliability. Almost all European players are located on the identical time distance and this makes Belgrade as a perfect host for online operations. Prices of the communications infrastructure are very attractive and low compared to other European centers. Also highly qualified experts in the field of computer and new technology make our country future destination for investments. Already now, we have numerous online gambling companies with technical support for their world operations based in Serbia.
EEGReport Magazine: If we could see the online gambling industry as a “whole”, what could you add to it in order to make it even better or improve its impact?
Mirjana Acimovic: In my opinion, education and research in all areas that this phenomenon is touching our lives – is the most important, as well as genuine development and implementation of the customer protection.
EEGReport Magazine: What the situation of the online gambling market in Serbia, compared to the rest of Europe?
Mirjana Acimovic: At this moment Serbian online gambling market is not very clear from a distance. But the fact that in the past year there are more than ten approvals issued and there are still more companies waiting for approval is a sign that this market is shaping to well regulated and attractive. Serbia clearly tries to establish a legal gambling and online gambling market. However, we do not go as far as to criminalize playing on foreign platforms on an individual level, so Serbian players placing bets with foreign online gambling operators do not face prosecution. ISPs were instructed to block access to 70 gambling sites in 2012 but it also did not go well. This caused initial worries in the industry although it soon became apparent that the ISPs did not enforce the block, despite initial threats of prosecution, as they felt the order had no legal grounds. Furthermore there are no laws in place to prevent citizens using international betting sites so you can still access the majority of sites with no interference. Serbian players, however, very well know how to recognize trustworthy gambling sites and majority choose to play with well-known licensed brands.
EEGReport Magazine: Looking further afield, what do you think will be the evolution of the Balkanic region in terms of regulating online gambling?
Balkan region online gambling regulation will comply with EU. EU Commission perspective is based on free movement of services, freedom of establishment generally. “Red lines” in compliance are – licensing system to be transparent and non discriminatory conditions and most important national legislation on gambling must genuinely reflect a concern to attain the public policy objective pursued (consumer protection, prevention of crime and money laundering) in consistent and systematic manner. Key actions areas in Balkan region online regulations will be compliance of national regulatory frameworks with EU law, enhancing administrative cooperation and efficient enforcement, protecting consumers and citizens, minors and vulnerable groups, preventing fraud and money laundering and safeguarding the integrity of sports and preventing match-fixing.