Cyprus Online Gaming Ban DelayedBy: Mark Freedman, Wednesday December 29th 2010
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The government of Cyprus had hoped to implement a ban on online gaming by the year end and had submitted its proposal to the European Commission (EC) for their approval in September. The government wanted to retain online sports betting but ban all other forms of online gambling. The reason given was protection of its citizens from the hazards of online poker and casino gambling and the European Court of Justice decision for Portugal had been cited as a precedent. However, the EC has indicated that the process of getting the feedback from other member states and the European Union executive would take three months. Hence the proposed ban can be implemented earliest in March 2011, if things move according to plan from now on.
The Cyprus government is clearly not amused. The views of the United Kingdom and Malta on the proposed ban are well known and these countries have filed their statements objecting to the ban. The Democratic Rally Party deputy and chairman of the House Legal Affairs Committee Ionas Nicolaou did not mince words in an interview given to the Cyprus Mail. Accusing the two countries of purposely trying to derail Cyprus' plans, he said, "The interventions and comments by Malta and the United Kingdom were made purposely as online gaming is licensed in both countries and they receive huge amounts of money for those licenses." The Cyprus Ministry of Finance has released a statement to the effect that it too has been asked to clarify some points on the draft and that the EC will take a call in the matter only around March 14 when all information has been received by it.
Nicolaou asserted that this is only a delay and that ultimately Cyprus would be able to pass the law banning online gaming. Based on the queries received from the EC, he said that banning online gambling would be a problem only if the objective was to remove competition for the brick and mortar casinos. However if regulation or even banning does not violate the provisions of European Union treaty or European Union law then there should not be any problem. The EC has also asked for clarification on how customers would be paying for regulated online sports betting, why the numbers of licensees included in the draft are so limited and clarification on some provisions which appear to be discriminatory among providers of these online services.
Cyprus based online gambling operator Henrik Witt warned that the proposed ban could have adverse consequences for the economy and the local online players. The online gaming operators would relocate from Cyprus thus taking away jobs and income. The players would illegally gamble at less reputable offshore sites, thus rendering useless the objective of their protection.
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