Government uneasy about phone games

The government is expected to launch an investigation into a series of competitions that lure mobile phone users, including children, to participate in lotteries by sending a text message that is charged at an especially high rate. Deputy Transport and Communications Minister Anastassios Nerantzis told Parliament recently that he will request that the Economy and Finance Ministry look into the competitions which do not appear to be regulated by any government body or existing legislation. The competitions can either be run directly by one of the three mobile phone providers – Cosmote, Vodafone and TIM Hellas – or by a firm using the network to promote its game. The lottery entices participants by offering cash or prizes, such as cars, and can charge each responding SMS message up to 0.90 euros versus the normal charge of around 0.04 to 0.05 euros. The independent firms running these schemes are owned by offshore companies and have shown strong growth recently in an industry that has an annual turnover reaching tens of millions of euros. Nerantzis acknowledged that children have also been on the receiving end of the marketing scheme. About three in 10 mobile phone users are below the age of 18, according to official data, while mobile phone penetration in Greece is close to 100 percent. Sources told Kathimerini that it is likely that the government can do little about this new form of electronic gambling as laws relating to telecommunications are trailing developments in the field. The companies that run these competitions respond to criticism by saying that the user is fully informed about the charges he might be billed for and that the competitions are organized according to the law, like all other lotteries. When customers sign up for a cell phone they give their consent to receive material that is considered to be informative or for entertainment purposes, the telecommunications providers argue.