Earning a place in the Greek sun of gaming
Greece, officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country in southeastern Europe with legalized gambling. According to the Greek laws, gambling is allowed inside casinos only. However, it is estimated that despite the law, 30% out of a total 8 billion wagered in Greece from 2015 – 2018 is gambled illegally on online casino and betting sites.
The history of gambling goes far back to ancient times. The first mention of gambling in Greece is attributed to the fifth century BC, when the Athenian leader, Themistocles, announced cockfights in Athens to commemorate the anniversary of the Greeks’ victory of Salamis over the Persians. According to Greek mythology, the Greek gods, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades played dice to determine their domain in the universe between the three them. As a result, Poseidon the sea, Zeus got the sky and Hades the underworld.
Currently, there are nine legal casino establishments in Greece situated in the mainland of the country and on the Greek islands of Rhodes, Corfu, and Syros. According to the Greek National Tourism Organization, the oldest Greek casino is Casino Loutraki in Corinthia, built-in 1928. Some sources indicate Loutraki claims be the largest casino in Europe, boasting 1,000 slot machines and some 80 game tables.
The second-largest casino in Greece is Regency Casino Mont Parnes in Acharnes, which is known to have 52 table games, 708 gaming and video poker machines and 12 poker tables.
Greek casinos offer players a wide array of games such as roulette, blackjack, poker baccarat, punto banco, slot machines, and electronic roulette. Poker tournaments are also organized. One has to be 21 years old to be able to play in Greek casinos.
The Greek gambling legislation is among the strictest in the whole of Europe. Making an effort to adapt to the EU legislation, the Greek government holds consultations with the EU on enacting relevant law that liberates and regulate the gambling market, particularly the online betting. However, the progress in that area has been very slow.
Constituted by the Ministerial Decree on December 20, 2011, all gambling activity in Greece became regulated by the Greek Gambling Commission (EEEP). The committee has eight members and the president of the Commission, who is elected for a five-year term.
The first licenses were given in 1994 to three land-based casinos: Casino Mont Parnes, Casino Corfu and Rhodes Casino, and the others followed later. Law 2206/1996 regulated the land-based casino industry in Greece, but in view of a rapidly developing online gambling industry, the provisions of that law became outdated and needed adaptation to create a unified legal framework to reflect the market reality.
When online casinos started emerging around the turn of the millennium, the Greek government was very avidly against it, and in 2002 passed Law 3037 that banned all types of electronic gaming in Greece’s both public and private places.
Facing many financial problems after the 2008economic downturn and making efforts to raise funding through betting licenses and taxes, in 2011 the Greek government adopted Law 4002 – the Gambling Act, which made slot machines outside of a casino and online gambling legal. The adopted Gambling Act made provisions for setting up a permanent licensing system, and 24 interim licenses were granted by the government to gambling operators, including Betfair and William Hill.
However, to this date, the permanent licensing system for online gambling has not been finalized and properly setup.
Uneasy steps towards online regulation
At the beginning of the year, the Greek Gambling Commission updated draft rules to include a number of amendments and circulated them for a consultation with the gaming industry parties. The Commission proposed a range of player protection measures along with very steep licensing fees and taxes.
For example, one of the proposed protection measures called for licensed operators to check if any new customers are listed on a national self-exclusion database before allowing them to gamble. Another proposed measure called for all online operators to have in place a central information system, intermediate control system, and gateway control technology as part of their security set-up.
The Gambling Commission also issued a proposal for i-gaming operators with the interim licenses to apply for full ones; however, the renewal fees equaled to the original license fee. The proposed costs associated with applying for the original license were quite high. Thus, to offer sports wagering online would cost operators €4million, whereas the right to offer other online gambling options would incur an expenditure of another €1million.
A deposit of €500k was required with the application, and the applicants had to prove that they are licensed to operate online in another EU country along with the records of their previous three years of financial performance.
The new licensing plan also entailed a variable tax on online players’ winnings, which were supposed to be withheld by operators for remittance to tax authorities. Winnings above €100 but less than €500 were subject to 15% tax, while winnings above €500 were expected to be taxed at 20%.
The list of the proposed reforms for the country’s online gaming market was submitted for a review by the European Commission in April this year, and the decision is still pending.
Contrary to making things complicated for online operators, the Greek government favors the monopolistic regime under which the state-driven company OPAP (Greek Organization of Football Prognostics) holds exclusive rights over sports betting and lottery operations in Greece until 2030.
From 2015 to 2018, OPAP paid a total of €1.8 billion euros to the government coffers, while online gaming suppliers paid €350 million and land-based casinos €420 million over the same. Taxes on players’ winnings amounted to €327 million.
As reported by some media sources, in June OPAP reported the strongest quarterly result since 2010. A major reason contributing to OPAP growth is the growing popularity of video lotto terminals (VLTs): in 2018 OPAP installed 25,000 VLTs across Greece. VLTs revenue hit €68.9m, indicating 59% year-on-year increase.
While online gambling and VLTs have indicated significant growth, Greece’s land-based casino market has dropped by 2.5%.
The Greek Gambling Commission’s policies on regulating the-land based casino market seem to be the reverse of the online ones.
In 2018, the Commission adopted Law 4512, which introduced an attractive regulatory, tax and legal framework providing significant incentives to attract new investments in the land-based gaming sector. Thus, the government approved the development plan for a major €8b integrated casino resort project on the site of Athens. In addition, the GGR tax rates were decreased.
Prior to adoption of the law, gaming revenue tax rates varied from 22% to 35%, depending on the license type. Law 4512 put in place by a scaled system, assigning a rate of 20% for annual GGR up to € 100 mil.; 15% for annual GGR above € 100million and up to 200 million; 12% for annual GGR above € 200 million and up to € 500 million; and 8% for annual GGR exceeding 500 million.
Contemporary Greece has created great facilities for gambling-related tourism, but as Greece’s i-gaming market grows, the Greek government should take care to implement an effective regulation soon. The effective regulation will bring in significant revenue for the country along, limit betting on suspicious sites and reduce money laundering.
Would you like to learn more about gambling in other European countries, please see the following: