Neighborhood cafes a front for gambling dens

Millions of euros are changing hands over illegal gambling tables in gloomy, smoke-filled cafes in central Athens, according to security police who have recently declared war on the trade with daily raids. Over 45 people have been arrested since December 10 and in a single raid on a Piraeus cafe, police seized 50,000 euros. Greek police figures show that between 200,000 and 400,000 euros are seized in these raids every year. According to officials, the total turnover is more than double that figure. «They know not to keep large sums on the premises,» said an Attica security police official. «So it is much harder to prove that a crime has been committed as there is no proof, and they don’t run the risk of having the money seized.» Electronic games are usually hidden in Internet cafes. «The store owners get Internet licenses and then install software on their computers that allows them to turn the cafe into a casino at the push of a button,» said one police officer. Card games can be found in every neighborhood, and there are reportedly four dice game halls in Attica, hidden in basements. In a typical police report, filed on December 16 after a raid on a Kypseli cafe, the officer stated: «We raided the ground-floor shop and found a room behind it, accessed by a door that could not be distinguished from the other panels in the wall… There were three computers logged into a gambling site.» According to police statistics, most illegal gambling clubs are in Kypseli and around Omonia Square. Next in line are Aghios Panteleimonas, Peristeri, Kallithea, Aghios Dimitrios and Nikaia. More recently, an online gambling facility was found in Kato Kifissia. Between January and November, 1,074 electronic gambling devices and computers were seized and 320 people (Greeks, Albanians, Romanians, Syrians and Kurds) arrested. Most of the gamblers are Greeks of a certain age, usually pensioners who have long been hooked on the habit. «Most of them have been arrested two or three times and there are cases where people have been brought in for the eighth time,» said police.