The Cyprus Mail reports lawmakers on the Mediterranean island discussing a draft bill to regulate online betting were left flummoxed this week by signals that the governing administration, which had appeared to be set on banning the pastime, might instead prefer some sort of compromise.
Whilst Cyprus is home to many online gambling companies, the legal position of internet gambling remains tenuous.
At present, online gambling in Cyprus comes under the general Betting Law, amended in 2007 to comply with EU legalization for the free movement of goods and of services. It appeared that lawmakers had settled on the concept to allow the state to regulate online gambling by excluding it from this list of services – in line with recent changes in EU law, which in practice allows member states sovereign rights to ban or control online gambling.
The government appeared to favour banning, with talk of ISP blocking of internet gambling sites and credit card transaction restraints, although the ban would be selective, with live betting on horseracing and sporting events permitted.
The confusion over government’s intentions appeared to irritate Ionas Nicolaou, chair of the House Legal Affairs Committee, who characterised the situation as a “cock-up in government policy.”
Both he and Ricos Erotocritou, head of the Institutions Committee, said they did not know what to make of the mixed signals coming from government officials regarding the issue.
Deputies were confused because the Justice Minister, in an interview with a local newspaper, apparently was explicit in saying that he was in favour of legalising online casinos.
Adding another layer of confusion was the Chief of Police, who said he wanted online gambling criminalised, and State President Christofias, who has repeatedly vowed that no licensed casino – virtual or not – will be allowed to operate in Cyprus whilst he holds office.
And whilst lawmakers were discussing the best way to outlaw online gambling, it was revealed that the ministers of Finance and Justice, and the Attorney-General, were at the same time having their own private meeting, apparently still trying to develop a government policy, suggesting that the government was not firm in its resolve to ban.
“I hope we don’t reach the end of the drafting process and suddenly find that policy has changed radically,” Nicolaou commented to reporters, revealing that he and his colleagues had been working on a banning bill for the past three months. “Were gambling to be legalised, that would be a complete reversal in philosophy.”
The plan was to draft the bill in consultation with a wide range of interested parties and then submit it to the Cabinet and the European Commission for comment before presenting it to Parliament for ratification.