There are two things about the small Transcaucasian country of Georgia that are bigger than you’d expect: its thriving gambling industry and its role in the global cryptocurrency market.
The country’s gambling industry generates roughly GEL 300 million ($98 million) in tax revenue every year. According to Geostat, industry turnover rose from GEL 13.8 billion ($4.46 billion) in 2018 to GEL 32.9 billion ($10.63 billion) in 2020. In fact, the gambling sector grew by 23% in 2020 the only part of the nation’s economy that didn’t shrink in the face of the Covid pandemic.
The source of the industry’s vitality? As in other markets around the world, the closure of land-based casinos simply fueled Georgians’ embrace of iGaming.
Timeless, traditional, classic, old school whatever you call them, straightforward slots with familiar themes top the charts in Georgia, and players seek out the game developers that offer them, like Amusnet (formerly EGT Interactive) and Pragmatic Play. Like in many other markets around the world, Georgians have also fallen head over heels for live dealer games. Georgian poker lovers, however, were recently left holding a bad hand; likely in anticipation of upcoming legislation that would alter operating conditions in the country, Flutter’s Pokerstars pulled out of the market in March 2022, potentially leaving a massive gap in the market.
However, the rapid growth of the gambling industry has prompted authorities to clamp down on business practices that they claim contribute to the spread of problem gambling. Due to new restrictions, casino and sportsbook advertisements on TV, radio, outdoors, and the internet will be completely banned, bar several exceptions, such as on the casino’s property. Sports sponsorships, however, will still be allowed. The legal gambling age for Georgian citizens was raised to 25, though visiting tourists only need to be 18 to play.
By Georgian law, only licensed operators of land-based casinos can offer online gambling services. However, Georgian players themselves aren’t nearly as discriminatory; according to Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, they lose about GEL 1.5 billion (approx. $500 million) on offshore casinos every year.
Aside from online gambling, another modern phenomenon is spreading like wildfire through the Caucasian country: Bitcoin.
An estimated 2.89% of the country’s population holds cryptocurrency, and in 2021, Tbilisi topped a list of cities ranked by the number of Bitcoin ATMs per $10 billion in GDP. The Georgian government has decided that crypto is here to stay; in early 2021, the House of Representatives passed a bill that included cryptocurrency in a new financial literacy curriculum for high school students.
The country has also developed a reputation as a Bitcoin mining hub; low energy costs and loose regulations have turned Georgia’s mountainous regions and Alazani Valley into prime real estate for Bitcoin mining operations. Some estimates indicate that Georgia could produce as much as 1% of the world’s total Bitcoin output.
In addition to a massive Bitfury data mining center, households across the country have taken up mining, and one local political group has encouraged its supporters to set up mining operations in order to raise donations. Most mine Bitcoin, but some smaller operations also produce Ethereum or Litecoin.
The mining fever even put a strain on the country’s power system, leading to rolling blackouts and other energy supply problems. Georgia became a net importer of energy in 2017 due to all the electricity devoted to Bitcoin mining, which consumes approximately 9% of the country’s energy resources.
Between the country’s Bitcoin mania and love of betting, Georgia could present a bigger opportunity than its size might advertise especially for crypto casinos and platforms offering in game conversion.
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