ECONOMY

Gambling: Big money for the state

The government’s economic team is currently considering ways to issue new casino operation permits, as well as to renew existing permits that have expired. According to the State Legal Council, the exclusive casino permits expired this year (apart from that of the Halkidiki casino), which in effect means that the Finance Ministry can now allow the operation of casinos anywhere around the country. In Greece, the first private casino opened its doors in May 1995, but neither the state nor casino operators could then imagine the enormous amounts of money generated by the specific business. Overall, in the 13 years of private casino operation, betting has amounted to over -21.5 billion, the turnover from which stands at -5.5 billion. This year alone so far, it is estimated that bets were placed totaling -3 billion, while casino turnover could be somewhere in the region of -700 million. Casinos now operate in several locations, including Athens (Regency Casino Mont Parnes), Loutraki, Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Xanthi, Rhodes, Syros and Rio. The busiest ones are those of Loutraki, Thessaloniki and Athens. However, although the state has not taken any measures to help protect citizens against casinos, it has not neglected to be, albeit indirectly, a major stakeholder in casino businesses operating around Greece. It follows that, in addition to taxes, the Greek state collects between 20 percent and 33 percent of casino gross income, while local communities get another 2.0 percent to 4.5 percent. Traditionally a popular time of year for gambling, and based on the experience of previous years, up to 200,000 people are expected to try their luck in the nine casinos in the days between December 20 and January 5, with the busiest day of course being New Year’s Eve. And as statistics show, in recent years gambler preferences have been moving from table games to slot machines. Regarding the new permits, the Finance Ministry is now called upon to prepare a new legislative framework for the operation of casinos, in a way that will help improve their licenses to ensure that there will be counter-benefits for both the state and those local communities in which casinos operate. The first private casino contracts signed in 1994-95 were considered to be inadequate, since casino owners could avoid making investments, a requirement that was envisaged to act as a counter-benefit. In the case of casinos, amounts and numbers are sometimes hard to believe. The same is true for bets and profits. Even the cost of permits issued by the state could have a story to tell: The Loutraki casino permit was valued at just under -3.0 million, while Thessaloniki casino’s permit cost as much as -22 million. The least expensive casino operation licenses were those of Syros and Xanthi, at -733,000. Gambling in Greece is growing at a steady rate, as shown by data provided by the state gaming organization OPAP, the state’s gambling monopoly that manages all games of chance in Greece. Data show that Greece has one of the world’s highest per capita gambling expenditures, that can compare only to Hong Kong, which is regard as a gambling paradise.