The online gambling landscape in Greece is in a state of flux – and that might be putting it much too lightly. As Greece attempts to transition into a system where players can enjoy online gambling only at a site that’s partially owned by the Greek government, they’ve also taken steps to block other sites from operating there. And while not every major gambling site has fallen victim to this tactic, some are leaving preemptively rather that worry about what the future holds there.
Confusing Gambling Laws
Greek online gaming laws are notoriously difficult to parse, and seem to be designed to ensure a monopoly for the Greek Organization of Football Prognostics S.A. (known as OPAP in Greece). The government owns 34% of the firm, and OPAP holds a complete monopoly on land-based casino gambling in the country. OPAP also has a virtual monopoly on online gambling until 2020 under Greek law, which states that only OPAP can offer most online gambling games.
Strangely enough, other companies can apply for and receive licenses for online gambling if they wish to do so. However, those licenses only allow them to offer “casino-type games of chance, the results of which are not provided by a random number generator as in poker tournaments.” Many commentators have pointed out that this is a strangely worded restriction, which makes it difficult for operators to know what – if anything – they can allow players to play under a Greek license.
Things came to a head last month when the Commission for the Supervision and Control of Games published a large blacklist of online gambling sites that were now to be prohibited from operating in Greece. This list included 401 different sites, with casino sites making up the majority, though poker and sports betting sites were also named. That list created further confusion, as some rather minor sites were included, while other major ones like Full Tilt Poker were left off of it. PokerStars somehow escaped being on the list, but PokerStarsBlog.com – a purely informational site run by the online poker giant – was included.
For many companies, this was the last straw. Leading UK bookmaker William Hill announced it would no longer take bets from Greece. That put them in the same boat as Betfair, which had withdrawn from Greece last year after the Greek government decided not to offer further regulatory and licensing opportunities, not long after having signaled that they might be open to such a move. Other companies, including Sportingbet and 365, have similarly stopped operations in Greece.
The blacklist was sent to Internet service providers throughout Greece, which were expected to deny access to sites on the list. In addition, the Bank of Greece was asked to stop processing payments to and from these sites. However, it’s unclear when – or if – these steps will be taken, or if Greek citizens will be able to work around them.
The current restrictions haven’t proved popular with European courts, as the Court of Justice of the European Union found OPAP’s monopoly to be illegal. However, the European Commission listed a prohibition on the Greek regulations last month, which made the recent crackdown possible. Still, many industry officials believe that the Greek regulations are illegal under European law, with both the Remote Gambling Association and the European Gaming and Betting Association taking positions against these regulations.