Draft law to open up gaming sector

The Cabinet will on Tuesday be discussing the new regulatory framework regarding games of chance in Greece that will come into effect with the opening up of the country?s gambling sector and the introduction of the videolotto, a kind of fruit machine.

Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou is likely to present a draft bill that will re-legalize electronic forms of gambling that are currently banned while introducing new games of chance and clarifying their operating rules.

The draft is expected to be immediately submitted to the European Commission in order to receive clearance as soon as possible. Brussels has taken Greece to the European Court of Justice for banning the aforementioned games, so the draft law will require its consent before being presented to the House in Athens.

Government officials told Reuters yesterday that they were optimistic the bill could clear Parliament within the first quarter of the year. They added that the first operating licenses for the new games of chance could be issued before the end of 2011. With this in mind, the government intends to issue up to 50 licenses for Internet gambling and thousands of videolotto permits.

Licenses can only be issued after the creation of an Independent Monitoring Authority for Games of Chance, which will take control of the sector away from the Finance Ministry.

The government will also have to deal with the court battle between state company OPAP and UK-based international betting company Stanleybet, which has taken its case against OPAP?s monopoly to the Council of State, Greece?s highest administrative court.

The latter has now asked the European court several questions about the case, which may not determine the course of the matter but will likely weaken the Greek state?s position on OPAP?s monopoly.

This development illustrates that the government will have to prepare itself for a long legal slog that may well take two to three years in order to defend the state monopoly in the sector.