Betting in Cyprus

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Located in the Mediterranean Sea south of Turkey, Cyprus is an island a split identity. Although it gained independence from Great Britain in 1960, the northern third was occupied by Turkish forces in 1974 and named the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, while all but a small section still under U.K. control has evolved as the Republic of Cyprus. In 2004, the country joined the European Union and it has become a very popular tourist destination, attracting some 2.4 million visitors per year.

Gambling laws in Cyprus are relatively relaxed, with the legal gambling age being 18 years old. Online lotteries, betting exchanges, casinos, sports betting and wagering on horse races are all permitted in some form or other, although regulation varies between Northern Cyprus and the rest of the island.

In fact, a law passed in the North in 1975 made betting halls legal, which led to the establishment of some eleven casinos in and around Girne. In 1997, when the Islamic Welfare Party declared a prohibition on gambling in Turkey, residents of that country turned to Cyprus for legal recreation and the boom was on.

By contrast, the mostly Greek population of the southern potion of the island retained much stricter gambling rules. As a result, even today, all but a handful of the island’s 22 casinos are located in the North. It has been estimated that some 330,000 to 400,000 Greek Cypriots join crowds of Israeli and European travelers to visit the gaming establishments of Northern Cyprus each year.

Representative of Cypriot gaming venues is the Cratos Premium Hotel and Casino in Girne, open 24 hours a day. Its 43,055-square-foot gaming floor features 267 gaming machines and 34 table games, accompanied by six restaurants, five bars and a hotel with 410 guest rooms.

Popular table games in Cyprus are American and French Roulette, Blackjack and Poker. Also offered widely are Punto Banco, Baccarat, Keno and Chemin-De-Fer. A few casinos also make available tables for Rummy, Wheel of Fortune, Chug-A-Lug and Backgammon, plus sports betting sections.

The port of Limassol in the South does, however, have something not found in the North—the Coral casino cruise ship that sails for Louis Cruises. It offers cruise itineraries through European waters as well as the Mediterranean, carrying up to 620 passengers. The 14,000-ton vessel was most recently refurbished in 1996.

One other unique aspect of gambling in the South is the island’s only horse track—the Nicosia Racecourse. The facility has its own race book, the Nicosia Race Club, which allows wagering on local events starting at two Euros per bet. With 100 meetings scheduled, racing is conducted throughout the year.

During the past decade or so, Cyprus has gained a somewhat questionable reputation as a jurisdiction for online gaming operations. A laxity of oversight in the early days of the Internet led to some rogue casino web sites based on the island. Since 2006, the government has sought to make its rules regarding licensing more strict. This initiative has met with some success, and today a total of 91 legal online gaming entities call Cyprus home.

The Cypriot government licenses online lotteries, betting exchanges, casino gaming and sports betting. Local residents are not restricted from placing wagers via the Internet and some 475 sports betting sites welcome players from Cyprus, including William Hill, Bet365, Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Gamebookers, Unibet, Skybet, Expekt and Party Bets. One study indicated that Cypriots spend about €100 million annually on gambling, much of it wagered online.