Web betting hits Greece

The online gambling craze which has attracted an estimated 90 million customers worldwide to about 450-500 sites could slip past Greek law, a country known to have its fair share of gamblers. Most of the major online casinos have translated their menus into Greek. According to a survey by the Media Entertainment Consulting Network completed in February 2005, there are over 200 online poker rooms compared to just 30 in 2002. In January 2003, about 10 million dollars were gambled every day in online poker rooms alone. «In recent years, the major online casinos have been translating their websites into Greek, while established betting sites have launched casinos and poker rooms,» said an employee of one of the better-known sites. «The ‘house’ always wins, unlike football pools,» he said, adding that just one firm’s annual turnover was about 20 million euros. «Poker is responsible for the rise in online gambling,» explained Nikos Douzinas, who owns the site soon to begin operation. «In most games the gambler stands a chance of winning a jackpot and the owner of having to pay out. But in poker, the casino simply acts as the ‘waiter’ by setting the percentage (usually 2-3 percent), hosting the game between users from around the world and finally guaranteeing the wins, reducing the financial risk.» According to 27-year-old Haris D., a fanatical online gambler, the structure of every online casino draws visitors to play either roulette or one-armed bandit. «In order to be competitive, they set up new tournaments and reduce their commissions. You can indulge in your craze from your sofa, sitting in your pyjamas,» he said. Since Greece’s laws – as well as those in other countries, including the US – ban games of chance run by private individuals, the online firms operate with licenses issued from countries such as Britain, Austria, Cyprus, Malta or Gibraltar. On the Internet, what counts is the law in the home country. Transactions are made by credit card, bank checks (where allowed), or PayPal, a special account used for Internet transactions. «The prevailing tendency to (earn) fast profits and the decrease in social disapproval of gambling are the main causes of the rising incidence of addiction to gambling seen in Greece,» said Andreas Fountoulakis, member of the Greek Center for Cross-Cultural Psychiatric Care. He says online gambling is just the latest example of an ongoing trend. «The main difference lies in that Internet gambling is done in private, whereas in the past society was able to exercise some form of control. The basis of the dependency, however, is the same.» According to surveys, online gamblers are usually aged 25-40, are well-educated and have a good income.