02/19/2012 : FORMER CYPRIOT MINISTER DETAILS WHEELING AND DEALING ON ONLINE GAMBLING BILL
Former finance chief says lobbyists, businesses and politicians were all active in stalling his internet gambling ban
Charilaos Stavrakis, a former finance minister in the Cyprus government, has launched a book detailing the lobbying and political manoeuvring that derailed his attempts to ban online gambling on the Mediterranean island.
Stavrakis claims that some MPs resorted to convoluted legal and economic arguments to get his banning measure rejected or delayed despite prior approval of the measure by his ministry and Cabinet
“I was especially annoyed with the quality of arguments heard in parliament, because it gave the impression that some people’s sole aim was to obstruct,” the former minister reveals in his book. “As soon as we started examining our options at the ministry, Parliament, on its own initiative, started looking into the issue of illegal gambling too."
Online gambling proponents created the impression that regulating online gambling instead of banning it could generate hundreds of millions in tax. Stavrakis claims that these estimates were exaggerated and created counter pressure to his initiative which did not make the project any easier.
“I considered these figures excessive and, in any case, I felt that the social aspect and problems created [by online gambling] were much more serious,” he claims.
The bill prepared by the ministry and approved by the Cabinet banned online gambling and created an independent authority which would regulate all aspects of betting on Cyprus.
“Immediately I was approached by many representatives of foreign and Cypriot companies who tabled their thoughts and mainly their objections. Among them was a former minister,” Stavrakis said, without disclosing his identity.
Despite the “strong disagreement” expressed by many businessmen whom he says stood to lose a lot in profits from the ban, Stavrakis stood firm on his proposal and the bill was submitted to Parliament.
Because it has already been extensively discussed and approved at Ministry and Cabinet level, and had been debated in Parliament's House Legal Affairs Committee, Stavrakis expected a smooth ride for the bill, but it was not to be.
Stavrakis admits he was naive in believing this would be the case, revealing that to his great surprise: "….certain deputies started – with various legalistic and other arguments – a campaign to reject or delay the effort.”
Months on, a bill regulating gambling is still under discussion in the House, with no indication as to when or if it will be passed, or what form it will eventually take.