Slowly but surely: Greece moves towards an open online gambling market

The gambling industry is full of opportunities, and every time a new one presents itself, established international operators and newcomers to the market perk-up their ears. When restrictive legislation relaxes in a country, it means that a huge demand will follow. However, this can also present significant risk. There are new regulations that haven’t been put into practice, a new economic landscape, and a chance of something unforeseen happening. It could turn your entire business model upside-down. 

In today’s brief guide, we will take a look at the legal and economic implications of the Greek market.  

Greece’s history in online gambling

It’s no secret that the Greek economy had a bumpy ride at the beginning of this century. The government had some major issues to contend with. So, when online gambling was on the rise in many places in the world, outright prohibition in Greece was easier to implement than attempting to regulate it.

Greece’s 2002 law was brutally simple: a blanket ban for all electronic gaming, even computer games! No difference would be made between games of skill or chance. In 2011, when it became apparent that the gambling industry was a potentially great source of money for the government, the Gambling Act passed. It allowed land-based and online casinos legal by setting up an interim licensing process. 

Still, many operators that entered the market left it just a year later when it became clear that “legalization” from the Greek Ministry of Finance equated to a state-run monopoly. Ultimately, due to interference from the European Commission, which ruled that the proposals were contrary to EU law, the monopoly was dismantled. However, the damage was already done. 

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New developments in the legislation 

Finally, after ten years of uncertainty, things started to move in the same direction that the regulated iGaming industry wanted. In September 2020, the Hellenic Gaming Commission (HGC) invited prospective online gambling operators to apply for a license in accordance with their new regulations. 

There are two types of licenses available from the commission: a license for online betting and a license for everything else. Initial applications could be submitted electronically, however, a hard copy would still be required later. 

The regulation itself is quite similar to the one that exists in the UK. The business itself is legal, however, its movements were extremely restricted. For example, The limitations imposed on slots were: €2 maximum bet, 3 second minimum spin time, and €50,000 jackpot limit. 

This was also in conjunction with some heavily regulated advertising policies. For example, Slots can only be legally advertised on the same website, while other gambling enterprises can cooperate only with registered affiliates. The registration is performed by the HGC and costs €1,000.

Despite this, there are still refinements and corrections being added to the licensing process. For example, on 12th October 2020, the Commission advised that it would require a “letter of guarantee” from the applicant for an online gambling license. It is quite possible that this is not the last revision to be published on HGC’s website in this way. 

All of this burdensome legislation puts a lot of pressure on operators. Critics of Greece’s gambling laws have continually pointed out that the legislation will likely prevent many foreign operators from launching a gambling business in Greece, rather than encouraging them into the market. One of the worrying signs of this is a discussion of a new levy on sports betting that would finance a support package for Greek football clubs. The interim licensing process that existed before 2020, also saw numerous changes to legislation (such as increased taxes) that seemed to be exclusively aimed at discouraging foreign operators. 

Overview of the greek market

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Like many other European markets, Greece was poised for vigorous growth. In 2018, just the online sector reached €391 million, a 37% increase in the year 2017. The growth correlated not only with the football World Cup, which swelled the amount of betting but also with the lifting of certain banking restrictions. The Greek government made €137 million in taxes, 37.4 million more than in the previous year. In 2019, the market rose further again, as it was expected to, and experts anticipate further growth as we look towards the future.

Initially, 2020 started as another fruitful year, but the market that mostly relies on sports betting took a huge nosedive due to the pandemic. During the spring period, when a lot of sports were canceled and events postponed, revenues were reduced by 40% compared to the previous year. An abrupt halt of the dramatic growth of past years. 

However, within the industry, the prospects are not as grim. While sports betting that disproportionately dominated the market was in free fall, online casinos began to flourish. Smaller brands focusing on poker and other forms of gambling thrived, with several of them doubling or even tripling their revenues. 

The question still remains if the Greek government recognizes the potential of this part of the industry. Before things return to the way they were in Greece and elsewhere, the market is very likely to shift in the direction of things other than sports betting.

So far, it seems that it does. After all the legislation was relaxed for both land-based and online gambling enterprises, many gamblers who were previously giving their money to the black market, or to operators outside Greece turned to newly legal online casinos. The government that is taxing gaming revenues by 35% clearly came to rely on this money, and the only way they can reach the same numbers as in the previous years is to support the industry and let it grow.

It remains to be seen how many operators will take advantage of the new licensing procedure and how this new landscape could look like. The competition promises to be pretty fierce, especially now that bigger players are experiencing a noticeable lack of revenue. 

The truth is, no matter what happens, millions of gamblers in Greece will be looking somewhere for their entertainment. The size of the black market that existed during the illegal years and government monopoly is a testament to that. A truly stable and legal market will require trust between the industry and the government. It needs consistent legislation, and measures that take into account the players’ needs. At least for the moment, Greece seems to be moving in this direction. 

What’s next? 

As with many regional analyses, it’s hard to anticipate all of the factors in play. The year 2020 has proven to be pivotal for the industry with many trends reversed and prognoses invalidated. What is clear, however, is that the online gambling industry has become more important for the country as a whole. It’s not just focused on tourists, and is likely to grow in a world where other forms of entertainment are severely hindered by the government’s pandemic restrictions.

Opening an online casino to cater to Greek players?

If you are opening an online casino in Greece or planning to add a Greek audience to your platform, you might have more questions about the licensing process. Let us know if you need help.

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