Russian betting slumps in 2015; gov’t mulls penalties for accessing blocked sites

russia-sports-betting-rub90Football’s share of Russia’s sports betting market fell in 2015 but the beautiful game remains by far the most wagered-on sport.

According to figures released by Russian gambling firm First Gaming, which operates under the Rub90 brand, football accounted for 40% of all sports wagering expenditure in 2015, down from 46% in 2014. Rub90 attributed the decline to the fact that 2015 lacked a major football tourney like the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Basketball claimed 18.35% of sports wagers last year, narrowly edging out tennis at 18.19%, while volleyball and ice hockey tied at 10.13%.

In terms of the sports league that generated the most wagering, the NBA ranked first with 3.87% of total betting handle. The Continental Hockey League ranked second at 3.67%, while the Football Champions League claimed third place with 3.24%.

The average wager size (expressed in US dollars) fell nearly in half last year, from $30.08 in 2014 to $15.35. Rub90 blamed the reduced wagering outlay on fewer marquee events like last year’s Sochi Olympics and the World Cup as well as the sharp drop in the value of the ruble. Individual basketball wagers averaged $19.39, higher than football ($16.81) and surprising third-place finisher handball ($16.54).

The split between live and pre-match betting remained virtually unchanged from 2014, with live betting accounting for nearly four-fifths of all wagers. Live betting’s share increased to 96% in the late evening and early morning hours, which Rub90 suggested was due to more punters seeking instant gratification, but which also likely had to do with time zone differences for games involving the NBA and other North American sports events.

Russian bettors’ preference for ordinary wagers over parlays also remained unchanged, with parlay betting accounting for only 23% of the total. Total score remained the most popular type of wager for all sports except tennis, in which the winner of the match, set or game was the most popular wager.

Russian bookies are currently sweating a government proposal to boost betting taxes tenfold, although some Russian media sources have disputed these reports, claiming the Ministry of Finance has yet to publicly confirm any changes to the current tax regime. The rumored new tax plan would extend to the online realm, with operators subject to a 10% tax on online betting revenue.

Russia recently witnessed the launch of the country’s first licensed online betting site (Liga Stavok). Despite rumors that Russia is weighing the legalization of online poker, there has been no public confirmation of these rumors by government officials.

Roskomnadzor, the state agency tasked with overseeing Russia’s internet activity, confirmed this month that it was working on plans to regulate online gaming. However, Rossiyskaya Gazeta quoted Roskomnadzor boss Alexander Zharov as saying the regulatory push was partly in response to “tragedies” caused by gambling, suggesting the regulation would be more punitive than liberalizing.

Roskomnadzor launched an action last October to block hundreds of online gambling domains, and the Association for the Protection of Copyright on the Internet (AZAPO) – which represents publishers, authors, musicians and other content creators – is developing draft legislation to authorize punitive action against anyone who disseminates information intended to help Russians access blocked or banned domains, primarily aimed at file-sharing sites but also targeting online casinos.

AZAPO’s new legislation would allow for fines of RUB 10k-50k ($133 -$665) for individuals who circulate info on how to access banned sites, while execs would face fines of RUB 50k-100k and companies could face penalties of RUB 100k-300k.