Betting in Greece

According to Greek mythology, the gods residing on Mt. Olympus decided what aspects of the cosmos they would rule by throwing dice. Gambling on sports in Greece is even older than the first ancient Olympic Games, which can be traced back to 776 BCE. So it should come as no surprise that betting is a way of life in modern Greece, with backgammon played at tavernas on virtually every corner and 35,000 video-lottery machines dotting the country. Sports wagering is incredibly popular, too.

In 1996, the Greek government took steps to regulate gambling activities and awarded a monopoly over sports betting to a private company called the Greek Organization of Football Prognostics, more commonly referred to as OPAP. This entity received exclusive bookmaking rights extending until the year 2020, and the contract was recently renewed till 2030.

Not surprisingly, a black market for gambling developed in response to the lack of legal competition. Unlicensed betting operations became so sophisticated that by 2002 electronic devices were being used for wagering, which resulted in an all-out ban on unauthorised electronic games and gambling machines of any type outside casinos in 2003.

Currently, there are just ten full-fledged casinos in Greece, plus one casino cruise ship, primarily serving international tourists. There is also one officially sanctioned pari-mutuel horseracing track—Markopoulo Racecourse—30 kilometres outside Athens in southeastern Attica.

Thanks to such stringent protection, OPAP is today the world’s largest sportsbook. It also operates a nationwide lottery and makes millions in profits annually, much to the chagrin of foreign bookmakers who have been excluded from the Greek market. On the other hand, illegal gambling has thrived and, by some reports, is now on a level equal to OPAP in terms of real market share.

In November 2008, U.K.-based Stanleybet decided to challenge the status quo and open a sportsbook office in Athens. Within weeks, Greek police staged a raid on the shop, arresting employees and confiscating money and equipment. In response, the European Union pressed the Greek government to relent, and by February 2009, the Stanleybet office was back in operation under a provisional court order.

In 2010, faced with severe economic hardship, Greek lawmakers announced a plan to repeal the ban on electronic gaming. They would not, however, consider opening the market further to foreign bookmakers; to date, online gaming of any sort is still prohibited. OPAP operates the only dot-GR gambling web site within Greek borders, offering both its lottery products and markets for sports wagering from European football to American baseball and more.

Of course, it is virtually impossible to block Greek residents completely from using the Internet to reach online sportsbooks. CasinoCity estimates that 478 such sites accept play from Greece, including 51 that provide support in the Greek language. Among them are William Hill, Gamebookers, Expekt, Ladbrokes, Party Bets, Stan James and Bet365, to name just a few of the major ones.

Visa credit can be used by residents of Greece for financial transactions at some 2,181 gaming web sites, including 308 with support in Greek. MasterCard has 300 sites that offer such local language support out of 2,079 Greece-friendly credit affiliates. Many eWallets, including NETeller and Moneybookers, also welcome transactions from customers based in Greece, with the Euro as the primary currency of record.

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