European Commission's blessing on ban expected before year end
The Mediterranean island of Cyprus, long the location of choice for many online gambling companies, may not remain so for much longer as the possibility of banning legalization looms closer.
The island government has already drawn up banning laws that will see all online gambling, with the exception of sports betting, put on the verboten list. The proposed law was submitted to the European Commission earlier this year to ensure that it does not fall foul of European Union principles.
This week the Cyprus Mail reported that a response from the EC was anticipated in the near future, and that if this was positive the parliament would vote the law in without delay, possibly before year-end.
The newspaper quoted Attorney General Petros Clerides, who said that the bill outlaws online games like roulette, poker, and slot machines, but allows for licences for sports betting online and retail outlets. It further provides for the creation of a Gaming Board that will regulate betting in Cyprus itself, with licensees paying a tax based on turnover, not profit.
To better control the online sports betting business, it will be prohibited to use cash for bets, which can only be placed via credit card or an e-account, thus making transactions easier to monitor, the official explained, adding that firms that failed to meet their tax obligations would be closed down whilst court proceedings took place. Payments to players would be guaranteed by specified bank guarantees.
Clerides said that the submission to the EC argued that Cyprus wished to introduce a ban on internet gambling to guard against criminality and protect the consumer.
"We need to convince the European Commission that the ban is in the public interest and that it adheres to the principle of proportionality," he said.
Clerides says that European case law supports the proposed ban by Cyprus, pointing to the European Court of Justice decision in favour of Portugal.
He gave an indication of the direction in which the new law will go by noting that Portugal has defined online gambling as “Placing a bet from Portugal territory over the web with a company based outside of Portugal,” making it clear that a person cannot, at any time, gamble online whilst on Portuguese soil.
Another government official, Ionas Nicolaou, said that police statistics record over 600 online casinos on the island, which are currently operating legally because of a lack of specific legalization.
It is estimated that Cypriots wager hundreds of millions of euros online every year.