Greece zapped on gaming law

A two-year-old blanket ban on all electronic games, imposed as a desperate measure to prevent illegal gambling, landed Greece in hot water with Brussels yesterday. The European Commission said it had decided to refer Greece to the European Court of Justice for infringing Union regulations on the free movement of goods and services. «The Commission believes that the law is disproportionate, insofar as it applies not only to equipment (slot machines) and games of chance which might give rise to social concerns, but also to games of an entirely different nature which are not, in themselves, a source of particular disquiet with regard to public order or consumer protection,» a Commission statement said. Or, more prosaically, as Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd put it, «the way the law is drafted means that it is theoretically illegal to play with your GameBoy at home or even to play snakes on your mobile phone.» «Fortunately, in practice the law is not applied to prevent playing computer games at home, but is applied to prevent the installation or repair of computer games at places like cyber cafes,» he added. The law was passed in early 2002, after Socialist MP and head of Parliament’s committee against gambling Alexandros Chryssanthakopoulos was caught playing on an unlicensed slot machine. Then-ruling PASOK expelled the MP, and swiftly pulled the plug on all electronic games, openly admitting it was incapable of distinguishing innocuous video games from illegal gambling machines. New Democracy, which came to power in the March 7 elections, had denounced the law at the time. But yesterday the Commission said it had resorted to legal action after Greece ignored an official warning on the law in April 2004.