Strange but true: Greeks spent more than 2.5 billion euros this year on the state’s eight lotteries and eight football pools. This exorbitant amount is about the same as in the previous year and in some cases more. In order to get a clear picture of what this figure means, imagine that it represents half of the annual European Union contributions to Greece, or 1/17 of the annual state budget. In 1958, the state gambling industry changed radically. The founding of the state football pools organization (OPAP) was the most productive decision the state made toward legalizing gambling and set up a considerable source of income for the state budget. In the years that followed, OPAP expanded from simple football pools to a number of other games, taking profits from a few dozen million drachmas to tens of billions. In 1959, OPAP’s net profits were 103 million drachmas. They rose to 984 million drachmas in 1969, jumping to 4.9 billion in 1979 and 53.4 billion in 1989. A comparison of OPAP games in 2001 and the first 11 months of 2002 is revealing. Stoichima (Betting Company) remains the «king» of games, with income surpassing one billion euros. Joker also remains popular, followed by Lotto, Pro-po and Proto, and the new Extra 5 and Super 3 introduced just a few weeks ago. Propo-goal is last on the list. Greeks also spend a lot of money on state lotteries. According to sales figures up to December 17, scratch lotteries were the most popular, with 168,705,603 euros being spent on these «instant» lotteries, compared to 181,203,609 euros in 2001. Earnings on the Laiko lottery were down 5 percent from the previous year, although the National (Ethniko) lottery sales were up by 5 million euros. The State (Kratiko) or New Year’s lottery looks set to earn 35 million euros, slightly down on last year’s 36.7 million. The European lottery earned 707,350 euros last year, and brought in 585,600 euros by December 17. Internet scams When the state lottery agencies close up shop for the night and itinerant lottery sellers go home, the games are by no means over. Thousands of people gamble illegally, according to the former president of the Panhellenic Federation of Pro-Po Agencies of Greece, Giorgos Foundas, who is now a prefectural councillor in Athens. Illegal betting games via Internet, run by companies based abroad, are reaping in large profits from many fans attracted by the high stakes and who pay via credit card or by using specific bank accounts. Group bets are also accepted. «Bets are placed abroad on the Greek championship. More than 500,000 people play Stoichima via Internet. The various websites even advertise in a weekly newspaper,» said Foundas. Easy profits are made by various people who have set themselves up as bookmakers, who collect the bets but often «forget» to pay them. According to Foundas, astronomical amounts are lost in this way, particularly in foreign exchange. Illegal gambling has spread into dozens of sectors, with bets on everything from races and matches to beauty contests – Not to mention the e-casinos and illegal poker clubs.