Online Gambling Developments in EuropeBy: Joan Peppin, Monday September 12th 2011
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Last week there were news items from three countries regarding progress made on online gambling legalization and regulation.
The most significant news came from Greece. International lenders have set a September end deadline for the Greek government to put in place the agreed revenue generation measures. One such measure is the legalization of online gambling and generation of revenue for the government from the gambling monopoly OPAP. The news item states that a memorandum of understanding is likely to be signed between OPAP and the government before that deadline. This will involve awarding new gaming licenses and extending OPAP's sports betting monopoly beyond 2020, for which OPAP will pay the required license fees. The estimated value of these license fees is about €950 million. It is unlikely that the government of Greece will see any of that money before the September 30 deadline. A full contract covering the minute details will have to be drawn up. Though the government owns 34% of OPAP, OPAP CEO Spanoudakis pointed out that the gambling company would have to get consent for the agreement from its other shareholders in a general body meeting. Thereafter OPAP would have to borrow some of that amount from banks or from financial markets. The government had intended to sell its stake in OPAP by the end of 2011, but there seems to be some doubt on that now. Some reports indicate that politicians are not willing to let go of the control of a cash generating organization.
The situation in The Netherlands is slightly different. There too the government wants to go ahead with its proposal of online gambling legalization and regulation but are unable to muster support from the members of parliament. The problem is that the Dutch MPs feel that the proposal does not go far enough to combat online gambling addiction and are threatening to block the bill. Dutch Deputy Minister Teeven stated that the government would establish a new gambling watchdog organization, but the MPs believe that it will not have enough real power. MPs across all political parties including the Green Left, the Christian Union, the Socialist Party and the Labor Party are opposing the move to liberalize the gambling market by legalizing online gambling.
Italy, which has tasted the fruits of liberalization and regulation of online gambling, has reported positive statistics. The Italian gambling regulator AAMS revealed that Italy's total gambling wagers rose 21.45% in the first seven months of 2011 to €41.9 billion compared to the same period in 2010. The rise is faster than the 19.33% increase seen in the first half of the year. The opening up of the online casino sector, including slot machines, has resulted in the phenomenal rise in July 2011.
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