Figures published by the Belgian Gaming Commission (Kansspelcommissie) showed revenue from the country’s regulated market amounted to €969.1m (£825.7m/$1.04bn), down from €1.18bn in 2019-20 and €1.12bn in 2018-19.
Some €595.6m of the total was attributed to online gambling, an increase of 27.9% on the previous year, whereas land-based revenue from retail gambling declined 47.7% year-on-year to €373.2m.
This marked the first time that online contributed more in revenue that offline, with the split being 61.5% for online gambling and 38.5% from retail.
Breaking down the annual performance further, online casino revenue reached €277.9m, accounting for 46.6% of total online revenue for the year. Online slot arcades generated €156.8m in revenue, up 26.3% year-on-year, while sports betting revenue jumped 27.1% to €161.2m.
Turning to retail and the decline here was put down to the measures placed on land-based gambling venues such as casinos, arcades and betting shops, as the Belgian government sought to slow the spread of Covid-19 during the heights of the pandemic.
Land-based sports betting was the leading source of revenue in this market, generating a total of €123.6m in revenue, or 33.1% of all retail revenue. Café revenue was €113.7m, or 30.5% of the market share, while arcades revenue hit €81.1m (21.7%) and casino revenue €54.9m (14.7%).
Looking at other key figures in the report, Kansspelcommissie noted 576,493 consumers would gamble online at least once a week during the year, up from 502,738 in 2019-20. The average number of unique players on licensed sites also increased from 113,302 in the previous year to 136,888.
During the course of the year, a total of 162,985 new players signed up to gamble online.
In contrast, retail visitors fell from 11,167 to 10,684, with this figure also significantly down from 15,710 in 2019-20, before the pandemic hit.
In addition, it was revealed that 122 websites were added to Belgium’s blacklist of illegal operators, while 60 volunteered to block access to Belgian players.
“The year 2021 was marked by the ongoing health crisis and successive closures that again hit physical gaming establishments hard, having already seen their gross margin fall by 47% in 2020,” Kansspelcommissie chair Magali Clavie said.
“Online gambling did grow. In 2021, there were an average of 136,888 players online per day, twice as many as three years ago. This form of gambling now far surpasses physical gambling for the first time and deserves special attention because it is more accessible, both in space and time, and can pose a risk factor for gamblers.
“Therefore, it is more necessary than ever to protect the online players and gamblers by providing them with a safe and controlled gaming environment.
“Such an objective requires that every effort is made to prevent them from being tempted, consciously or not, to turn to an increasingly large and aggressive illegal offer that offers them no protection and undermines the channelling policy.”