NEWS

Billions are being gambled illegally,home and abroad

When in early 2000, the state betting agency OPAP established the now popular «Pame Stoichima» game, many people thought the notorious gambling bureaus based in Cyprus would soon close down. The thinking was that this official game would attract interest, and people’s money, and that illegal betting would not only become a fringe activity but a thing of the past. Five years later, things have not only stayed the same but the number of those willing to try their luck outside the law has multiplied. Phantom companies, based either abroad or in the back seat of a car, have burgeoned, corrupt OPAP agents have begun holding under-the-table games right in their booking offices, while tricksters have been laundering ill-gotten gains via the Stoichima game. The police have been unable to act since the evidence needed to disclose these activities is hidden behind a wall of silence. The same applies even for those cases that reach the courts. The Internet has created a new forum where electronic betting firms based in countries with flexible legislation and low taxes are officially laying claim to a share of the pie once exclusively enjoyed by OPAP. «The money that is spent on illegal gambling is often more than what is spent on legal games,» says a senior officer at Attica Security Police’s gambling surveillance department. According to official OPAP figures, legal forms of betting netted a turnover of 1.6 billion euros in 2004. So those outside the law will not easily loosen their hold on their own share.