Greeks’ casinos and poker rooms are also set up to primarily serve tourists, and are therefore located in areas of high tourism, and therefore not only is their population underserved here, it isn’t really served at all.
So with such few land based options, Greeks have had to pretty much turn to online poker to get their poker fix. Greeks are particularly fond of poker, more so than in a lot of other countries, so this does represent a significant market that is in need of being catered to.
Early on in the history of online gambling, back in 2002, the government of Greece passed a law banning all forms of electronic gaming, in response to all of the internet cafes that were now offering it. This law was so broad though that it banned all forms of electronic gaming from these public places, including non gambling related electronic gaming such as that played on Xbox or Playstation. (2)
Eventually, the laws were relaxed, with the 2011 Gambling Act which permitted both land and online based gambling, subject to regulation. The government started issuing temporary licenses to large gambling companies with the plan being to make these licenses permanent in time.
We then started to see online poker companies looking to play ball with this and large sites such as Poker Stars and Party Poker set up specific Greek domains and segregated Greek players for tax purposes, although they were still allowed access to the main player pool.
So this was met with favor by EU officials, as it embodied EU principles of fair trade and free market access among companies registered in the EU. So far, so good.
Greece Goes From Free Market To Monopoly
So this situation was working out pretty well for the Greek government, until they decided to scrap the idea of an open market and grant a monopoly on gambling Greek company OPAP, which the government owns a large stake in, and which already had a large presence in the Greek land based gambling market, and therefore they were given power to run all gambling in Greece.
The EU though is already battling with countries that have granted monopolies on gambling to state run companies, and are in the process of pressuring them to abandon these monopolies in favor of a free market offering, and in this case Greece moved in the opposite direction.
So needless to say this didn’t sit well with the EU, not only is Greece a member of the European Union, the EU has spent a lot of money bailing out Greece financially to help them overcome the extreme difficulties they have faced over the last few years.
So the gambling companies were told to wind down operations by Greek officials and to exit the Greek market, and this didn’t sit well with them either, feeling that they were being treated unfairly and not at all in accordance with the requirements of EU members toward gambling.
So they sought remedy through the courts and sued the Greeks, and in January 2013, the Court of Justice for the European Union agreed, and found the Greek monopoly to be unlawful. (3)
This resulted in the government of Greece submitting several proposals to the EU looking to comply more with their requirements, but as we speak the monopoly remains in place and the situation remains unresolved.
The Greek government also claimed that gambling was something that it sought to limit since they felt it was so addictive, but given that they recently licensed a further 35,000 land based gambling machines in the country, under the control of state sanctioned OPAP, this doesn’t appear to be their motivation.
Their stance and actions likely have to do with their wanting to maintain more control, and to reap more of the profits of this as well, however profits from the monopoly are dropping fast, at least partly due to the high level of taxation that is being levied. It’s actually thought that the rationale driving this is the government’s desire to add value to the shares they own in OPAP, but even that that hasn’t worked out very well so far.
The Future Of Online Poker In Greece
Even though online poker players may not have access to their favorite games at internet cafes in Greece, playing from home is still a viable option and players are free to do this without a whole lot of interference from the government. (4).
While the Greek government has sought to have various sites blacklisted and have asked Greek internet service providers to block them, there are workarounds for this, and blocking a website doesn’t mean that someone can’t play at the poker site, as this does not affect using the software itself.
Still though, this can present a bit of trouble and not all players are familiar with the ways to get around these restrictions, so it does serve to at least limit somewhat the growth of the Greek online poker market.
So in a lot of cases there isn’t any real practical value to open market regulation, but in Greece it does matter at least somewhat.
It is very likely to be the case that increased pressure from the EU will be brought to bear in the near future, and therefore it is likely that they will be forced to reopen the market to foreign gambling companies, and this will probably happen sooner rather than later, although these things do take time so it’s not right around the corner either.
Meanwhile, there’s not a whole lot stopping Greek online poker players from playing their favorite game online in the comfort of their own home, and many online poker sites openly welcome Greeks, and some even offer their software in Greek.
Since OPAP doesn’t even offer online poker at this time, there really isn’t any alternative but to play on offshore sites.
So things are actually pretty decent now, especially given that playing at offshore sites doesn’t involve running into the higher tax rates that regulation brings with it, and the Greek government has shown that they are on the greedy side here if anything, so there’s really not much to complain about with the situation as it is right now.
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