By Amanda Carter Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Lawmakers in Greece revealed a plan to legalize online gaming and remove a previous ban on amusement machines that granted winners small-stakes prizes. The Greek government, in need of new tax revenues in light of a crumbling economy, sees online gambling as a way to generate millions of euros in the next few years. The new law will also provide for stricter controls of online gaming web sites and close the loopholes that have allowed so many of them to remain open.
The bill will allow the country to auction off up to fifty online gaming licenses good for five years. The gaming authority will also license an additional 30,000 low-stakes amusement machines in licensed areas. The law will mandate that both the online gaming sites and the machines pay out at least eighty percent of its proceeds to the players.
A recent report showed that more than two hundred illegal online gaming sites are currently operating in Greece, generating more than €2 billion (US$2.73 billion) a year in business. Also, dozens of underground casinos, bookmakers and poker rooms are estimated to bring in another €2 billion annually.
The country’s gaming authority, OPAP, currently oversees several state lotteries, nine land-based casinos and a horseracing track. The government monopoly also offers fixed-odds sports bets in both Greece and Cyprus. OPAP generated €5.4 billion (US$7.4 Billion) in 2009, down from €8.7 billion (US$11.9 billion) in 2008.
In 2002, Greece enacted a ban on slot machines and other game machines that offered prizes, outside of those operated in OPAP-licensed casinos. A ruling by the European Union courts stated that Greece’s ban violated EU laws on free trade. The courts have issued fines against the Greek government totaling €11.5 million (US$15.75 million) a year since the ban went into effect.