OPINION

Banning electronic games

The Cabinet decision yesterday to ban all electronic games from public places is a positive step in the effort to fight the epidemic of illegal gambling machines that has swept a huge number of apparently innocent arcades. One should, of course, wait to see the bill which Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis will present to Parliament within the next couple of weeks before passing judgment, but the government seems determined to take drastic measures in order to quiet the illegal gambling scandal. Furthermore, its decision is important because the Greek State has repeatedly succumbed to the temptation of expanding legal gambling, lured by the prospect of generating high tax revenues – as happened with the large number of casino permits and the expansion of sports betting by Greece’s soccer pools and lottery organization (OPAP). The problem cannot, of course, be solved merely by banning electronic games. Gambling is a deeply rooted obsession in nearly all societies, and players tend to find ways to bend any prohibitions (this has been repeatedly demonstrated in Greece with gambling dens and illegal betting). Any legislation, then, should not only target the problem but should also ensure its own applicability, particularly given the relative freedom of Internet communication, which provides unrestrained access to gambling. It is no coincidence that, according to unofficial sources, applications for Internet cafe permits have soared. How would a potential abuse by Internet cafes be tackled? Lawmakers cannot possibly ban these too. Nor would it be proper to limit the possibilities of electronic communication or amusement for a self-restrained majority in order to deal with an addicted minority. This is an acute problem which is admitted even by the strongest critics of gambling. A draconian but inapplicable ban would not only be a dead letter; it would also tarnish the image of the lawmaker. In this light, we should be concerned by the fact that the electronic games scandal has been confronted by full prohibition despite, or rather because of, the fact that we have failed to implement milder measures such as the age limit in arcades, the reduction in the number of arcades, and control of slot machines. Developments so far are reminiscent of legislation on the working hours of nightclubs which aimed at protecting underage people. That legislation eventually collapsed. It is to be hoped that the present legislation will not have the same fate.