CYPRIOT POLITICIANS WRANGLE OVER ONLINE GAMBLING BAN
20th March, 2011 at 03:04:05
Complaints from industry that proposed legislation enables a Greek monopoly
The determined efforts of the Cyprus government to prohibit online gambling despite being the home to many internet gambling companies (see previous reports) has caused a new uproar among politicians, with some claiming that such a ban sets the scene for a monopoly by the Greek state company OPAP.
Operators of online casinos and poker rooms have joined the outcry, claiming they are being persecuted to the advantage of the massive Greek company, and that the ban had been drafted by un-named people connected with OPAP, which operates Joker, Proto, Kino and Lotto.
The Euroko Party's Rikkos Erotokritou said OPAP and some subsidiaries would "benefit from the introduction and implementation of this bill's provisions", resulting in a monopoly.
DIKO representative Nicholas Papadopoulos said the bill would "legalise gambling for only one company, which would enjoy a monopoly," adding that in 2009, OPAP made Euro 70 million, of which just over a million went to the state in taxes.
If this is true, then the terms under which the company is operating in Cyprus could be described as lucrative to say the least.
In an attempt to counter the growing political storm, OPAP took out full-page newspaper ads stating that in 2010 OPAP Cyprus paid out Euro 117,081,295 in prize money to Cypriots. The advert did not say how much had been spent by Cypriots on its games to generate these wins.
Attorney-general Petros Clerides entered the fray, insisting that OPAP games were completely different as they were legitimate and operated under an inter-state agreement. He added that OPAP games did not "cultivate criminality" as he claimed was the case with online gambling, and said that the proposed ban would help in the fight against crime and money laundering.
It was on these grounds that the European Commission had given its approval for the proposal, but opponents argue that by this logic, if the authorities passed a bill to regulate and control online gambling, it could also become a legitimate business and contribute significant amounts of money to state coffers.
Football betting is legitimate and does not cultivate crime; neither does horse-racing, they point out, claiming that there is a lack of consistency and fairness in the government's approach.
Betting on horse racing or football matches and playing games of chance offered by OPAP is respectable gambling, and the state is happy to tax these, an editorial in the Cyprus Mail observed.
"Online casino gambling sprung up because of loop-holes in the law and appears to be controlled by the underworld. If it was made to operate within a legal framework and tightly state regulated, perhaps the criminal element would be eliminated," the editorial suggested.
"Banning online gambling will not make it disappear, but rather [it will] go underground, under the total control of criminal organisations, without any protection offered to the gamblers. Deputies should take note of this when they finally vote on the bill," the editor noted.
Related News Tags: Cyprus, Greece