New technical regulations for long-awaited permanent online gambling licences in Greece would see online casino stake limits of €2 and a maximum online jackpot of €5,000* per spin introduced, at a time when the industry is fighting such restrictions elsewhere in Europe.
In a bid to meet a year-end deadline, the Greek government notified 150 pages of technical regulations for its forthcoming online licences to the European Commission on New Year’s Eve.
The complex regulations, which have currently only been published in Greek, borrow extensively from online rules now in place in Portugal, but add controversial measures that will be seen as a setback by industry observers, who had previously been heartened by the inclusion of online casino products when the new government announced its revised licensing plans in October.
One industry observer in Athens told GamblingCompliance that the surprise changes had been introduced against the urging of international operators who continue to argue that stake limits and advertising bans only serve to drive players to unregulated offshore operators.
“The industry is being left behind as the Hellenic Gaming Commission (HGC) has blocked them out from the process for the time being,” said the observer.
A ban on casino game and sports-betting advertising would be in line with a similar ban that exists for land-based video lottery terminals, currently operated exclusively by formerly state-owned operator OPAP, but international operators believe the restrictions would stymie the development of the nascent online market and limit the participation of new entrants.
As the extended process to replace the uneasy system of temporary online licensing in Greece has continued, would-be operators have been repeatedly quizzed for their views on online regulation, first in November 2017 and again in January 2019, but the outcome has often thrown up unexpected results.
The latest proposals to cap stakes are especially problematic.
During recent election campaigning in the United Kingdom opposition parties called for “gambling limits” on online play, echoing a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm that called for a £2 stake limit on online slots, while advertising bans on online products have been introduced in Italy and are looming in Spain.
Random number generator (RNG) and casino-type games currently account for approximately 30 percent of the Greek market, which has grown vigorously under the temporary system that licensed 24 operators, only a few of which have significant market share.
In October, finance minister Christos Staikouras indicated the new licence proposals, with prices for each seven-year licence set at €3m for online betting and €2m for other online games, are expected to net the government €80m in fees alone, with comparatively high gambling tax rates of 35 percent of gross gaming revenue adding to their haul.
The law was voted as part of a 1,000-page omnibus bill designed to stimulate investment in Greece.
Two types of licences will be available: licences for online betting; and licences for other online games, including casino games, poker and their variants.
Proposals put forward by the previous Syriza government controversially excluded RNG games.
Staikouras said the high price of admission, which dismayed many observers, was necessary to ensure only serious and credible companies entered the market and would enhance levels of player protection.
Earlier proposals that would have resulted in a hike to the corporate tax burden of prospective operators were jettisoned before the bill was debated.
The latest technical regulations will remain in the European Union’s TRIS system for a process of consideration that will take at least three months, with the standstill period currently set to end on April 1, 2020.
When the latest online licensing regime was proposed in October, Staikouras said that, with opposition agreement, he planned to end the arrangement where new regulations would need to be endorsed by the finance minister and give the power to establish those new rules directly to the HGC.
“Since the market for online games is now being regulated in a holistic way, there could be a change in the provision if the parties agree,” said Staikouras; however, such an agreement has yet to be reached.
A one-day conference to discuss the new licensing proposals and regulatory framework in Greece, titled “Sports Betting Today – Challenges and Prospects”, will be held in Athens on January 15, 2020 at the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI).
*A previous version of this article had the jackpot at €2,500.