In an interview with the Agence France Presse news service this week, a senior official in the Greek government's Finance Ministry said the online gambling market in the country was worth an estimated Euro 2 billion a year, which the government intends to regulate and tax in the near future.
"The propensity for gaming in Greece is among the highest in Europe and the world," George Christodoulakis, a senior finance ministry official supervising the regulation drive, told the news agency Tuesday. "This has to do with our temperament and culture ... The only thing one can do is set rules," he said.
Christodoulakis said that currently illegal gambling outside of the state's OPAP monopoly was worth an estimated Euro 4 billion a year, with internet gambling comprising at least half of that amount.
"Illegal activity is huge and may have even outstripped legal gaming," Christodoulakis said.
Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou confirmed the numbers and said the government intends to establish a Gaming Commission to regulate the sector, introducing a bill in Parliament in the near future to empower this.
"We want a regulatory framework that is modern, compatible with European regulation, and that fortifies against illegal activity" the minister said.
In 2005, the European Commission criticised the Greek government for its monopolistic stance on gambling and an ill-fated ban on gaming machines (see previous InfoPowa reports) that resulted in police raids on Internet cafes, confiscations and operator arrests.
"Our country today finds itself in the extremely unpleasant condition of paying around a million euros a month as a fine," Papaconstantinou said. "This is a situation that can no longer continue."
Greece's national debt is currently at crisis levels at almost Euro 300 billion, AFP points out.
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