Having banned casinos and online gambling with the exception of some sports betting and lottery less than a year ago, Cyprus may be forced to make a 180 degree turn to generate revenues for its troubled budget.
Part of a larger, 12-point plan, possible steps towards altering the Cypriot gambling laws will be decided on by the government within two weeks, according to the island’s president Nicos Anastasiades.
Lifting the online part of the ban has not been explicitly mentioned, but it is clearly the next logical step for Cyprus to take.
Last year’s prohibition left local players with very few options. Greek operator OPAP has essentially been given a monopoly to run internet betting in Cyprus (as well as online lottery games). All other online gambling revenue has since been leaving the country tax free.
The popularity of casinos among Greek Cypriots is attested by the fact that thousands of them even travel to the Turkish-controlled northern areas, where casinos are legal, in order to gamble. Those who prefer online gambling have are using a number of foreign sites.
As recently as February, the government ordered the country’s ISPs to block around 270 online gambling destinations to make it more difficult for money to leave the country. This ban on foreign sites could actually facilitate the creation of Cypriot internet casinos, should the government move to allow them.
Changing the online scene yet again may present a serious legal challenge at this stage, but having tied the gambling market so closely to Greece may have been just as bad an idea as tying the fate of the country to the crumbling Greek economy.
Should the likely gambling re-legalization extend to the online scene, leading companies like Bwin, PokerStars, Betfair, William Hill, Bet365 and Sportingbet would no doubt be eager to grab a share of the market in Cyprus.