OPINION

Gambling

Six years ago, at the beginning of 1996, the Greek public was bitterly surprised to learn that over the Christmas period and New Year’s Eve, betting at the country’s private casinos amounted to 25 billion drachmas. Since then, the country has had many opportunities to comprehend that this figure does not reflect a mere intermittent habit, but rather a regular tendency toward gambling. The functioning of private casinos helps to record this tendency as casinos keep a record of their wagers. Data on the total bets over the previous six years demonstrates that gambling is a cause of economic hemorrhage for many Greek households. It’s hard to pin down the social consequences, but one can assume that they are as big as the sums lost on the gaming tables. It is indicative of the situation that 15.5 million entrance tickets have been issued in casinos, while total bets amount to 2.7 trillion drachmas and turnover, 686 billion drachmas. These huge sums, however, constitute just the visible aspect of the problem. There is no data on the more shady aspects of the phenomenon, meaning illegal gambling, which is not lagging in intensity. It is estimated that the country’s illegal one-armed bandits are fed with 150 billion drachmas annually. Given the nature of human beings, the affliction of gambling can neither be tackled with moralistic sermons nor with inflexible bans. Addiction, even of educated men, proves strong enough to bend economic reason and prohibitions. What is called for is not to ban gambling or hope that one can persuade gamblers to abandon their habit. The question is to what extent the State can make a courageous political decision and draw a clear line separating legal from illegal activity and set the right criteria for such a distinction. The question, in other words, is whether the State can sacrifice the tax revenues that flow in from its toleration of all kinds of gambling and introduce restrictions aimed at protecting people from their own nasty habits. It is an open secret that the Greek State has opted for the first path, encouraging the growth of casinos and welcoming all kinds of games from video-lotto to the establishment of a racecourse in northern Greece. The casinos’ huge revenues are not only a result of the Greek tendency to gamble, but also of state policy which actually encourages it. As long as one sees the political elite rubbing its hands in anticipation of the profits stemming from the privatization of the two state-owned casinos, one cannot hope that the libations to fortune will diminish. New Year’s Day.