Judge Dismisses First Greek Electronic Gaming Case

12 September 2002

In America, politicians have been trying for years to pass a law that would specifically outlaw Internet gambling. Greece, on the other hand, in its lust to get rid of online gambling, managed to ban all electronic games in one foul swoop--from video games to computerized chess games, which are purely for fun, to online casino games for real money.

In casting such a wide net, the Greek government has ensnared the ire of the Internet Cafe Owners Union, which yesterday declared victory in its first test case against the law. The case, which involved two Internet cafe owners and one of their employees, was brought in a Greek court in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

The three defendants were facing penalties of up to three months in jail and fines of up to EU5,000 each, as well as the loss of their business licenses, for allegedly allowing their patrons to play a popular computer game, Counter-Strike.

On Tuesday, a judge dismissed the case, saying the law is unconstitutional. During the proceedings, supporters of the Internet Care Owners Union reportedly chanted "No censorship on the Internet" outside the courtroom. One Internet cafe owner rappelled down the side of a fortress in Thessaloniki on Monday to protest the law, the Associated Press reported.

The Internet Cafe Owners group applauded the court's ruling.

"We are completely satisfied, and all those who supported this [case] from the beginning are vindicated," said Dimitris Karanassios, the union's spokesman.

According to the law, which was passed in July, operation or installation of electronic games in public places, including hotels, cafes and organization halls, as well as in private locations is prohibited.

The law is being criticized for lumping Internet gambling and the general category of computer games together. The Internet Cafe Owners say their business has been down since the new rule was passed and that they would like to see it repealed.

Thanassis Zachariadis, president of the cafe owners group, said cafes are seeing up to a 90 percent loss in customers thanks to the law.

"A significant amount of our customers came to play these games," he told the Associated Press. "Now they prefer to check their e-mail and play a game at home rather than come to us."

Enforcement of the law will not lead police to people's homes, nor will anyone be arrested for using a Game Boy or playing a game on a cell phone, said Panagiotis Douvis, director of the special finance investigations unit of the Greek tax police.

"This law is for businesses that profit from this phenomenon," he said.

"In your office where you have your computer and you play solitaire there is no problem," he said. "To play solitaire--or any other game of luck because we cannot differentiate solitaire from the others--in a public space for profit is not allowed."

Anne Lindner can be reached at anne@rivercitygroup.com.