Online gamblers in Greece may soon be able to play at fully legalised online casinos. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has issued a letter to Eurozone officials proposing the issuance of new gaming licenses to capture significant tax income. The proposal comes at a crucial time for the Greek government as it struggles to bring together enough revenue to begin paying off €240 billion in debts owed to the European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (the “troika”). If Varoufakis’s plan works out as proposed, new licenses will be issued within two months.
The current state of gambling in Greece
Right now, gamblers in Greece have very few choices. The only legalised games of chance are the state lottery and state-sponsored sports betting, both of which are controlled by the Greek gaming monopoly OPAP. Although the country’s government now only holds a two-thirds share of the company due to a privatization agreement with the troika, it has still not yet entered the online market.
As such, online casino players within Greece currently have no other choice but to play at sites licensed outside of the country. Unfortunately, many sites do not allow Greek players due to regulatory concerns.
Legalisation may be on the horizon
The Greek government is expected to make the first repayments of debt to the International Monetary Fund within weeks, but with continually falling tax revenues, the country may not be able to meet its obligations without more time and more income. The Finance Minister is hoping that his proposal will begin to resolve both of these issues and pave the way for a more prosperous Greek economy.
In his letter, Varoufakis states that he would like to issue online gaming licenses to 24 companies (including Betfair and William Hill). These companies formerly held interim licenses, but no permanent licenses were ever issued, and these agreements were abandoned in favor of OPAP growth. The new licensing proposal would give all of these companies the option to offer legal gaming services to Greek players for a five-year period.
From a tax revenue perspective, this could provide sizeable relief to Greece’s growing debt burdens. The latest government statistics indicate that €500 billion is spent annually on online gambling within the country, and if it were taxed at the proposed rates, the Greek government could plausibly expect to accumulate around €500 million per year. Varoufakis hopes that this, combined with other initiatives like greater scrutiny of tax avoidance, welfare assistance programs, and improved collections policies, will begin to resolve Greece’s debt problems.
Obstacles and uncertainty ahead
Although the proposal lays out a clear set of policies for future growth, Greece is not in the clear yet. Finance Minister Varoufakis is currently in Brussels negotiating his Ministry’s plan with the hopes of getting a six-month extension on the first repayment of debt to the troika. But should the heads of the Eurozone refuse to accommodate these wishes, licensed online casinos will be put on the back burner, and Greece may find themselves facing yet another crisis.