Located in the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula, Greece is often considered the Cradle of Western Civilization, and rightfully so. The country has made significant contributions to various fields like mathematics, architecture, philosophy, medicine, art, literature, and astronomy. The impact of its rich heritage on western culture is impossible to deny.
Given all this, it is unsurprising the history of gambling in Greece also dates back to antiquity. An ancient Greek myth even describes how Hades, Poseidon and Zeus played dice to divide the three realms (the underworld, sea, and earth) between themselves. Gambling remains a popular activity among the Greeks in modern times, with the number of landbased casino visits escalating to 2.85 million in 2017 alone. The same year the local gambling industry was expected to generate gaming revenue of €260 million.
The country’s gambling industry was subject to a state monopoly for over half a century, starting with the launch of the Greek Organization of Football Prognostics (OPAP) back in 1958. When online gambling started to gain prominence at the turn of the 21st century, Greece decided to impose a blanket ban on such activities in an attempt to battle organized crime and gambling-related harm.
The local government lifted the ban in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis and sold its remaining stake in OPAP. The company became private but still retained its monopoly over the local online gambling sector. After years of pressure from the European Union (EU), Greece finally decided to liberalize and reregulate its market, opening it to foreign competition in 2019.
The local regulator, the Hellenic Gaming Commission, issued the first batch of online gambling licenses in 2021. Greek gamblers can now legally enjoy a wide range of products over the internet, including online casino games, sports wagering, and poker. The government extended OPAP’s monopoly on lotteries and landbased video gaming terminals until 2030.
Laws That Govern the Greek Gambling Industry
Law № 4002/2011 is the primary legislation that governs and regulates the gambling industry in Greece. It contains a legal definition of games of chance, describing them in Article 25 as those whose outcome relies either partially or fully on chance. Additionally, players must stake money or other assets of value on the outcomes to potentially get a fiscal gain. The legislation’s provisions are applicable to sports betting, amusement-skill games, gaming machines, and online casino games.
Licensing Process and Tax Rates in Greece
1Approval From The Hellenic Gaming Commission
As we already explained, online gambling companies must gain the Greek regulator’s approval before they can operate on the local market. The Hellenic Gaming Commission has the mandate to issue two types of online permits. Type A permits apply to online sports betting, while all other online gambling games require Type B licenses.
The current framework rests on an open application procedure rather than on international tenders as is the case in some other jurisdictions. Brick-and-mortar operators can apply for several types of certificates, depending on the number of gaming machines they plan to install on their premises.
The legislation further divides casino permits into two types – wider range and simple. Simple permits are those granted to hotels with gaming areas that have at least three stars. The wider range permits are an option for five-star resorts looking to operate a gaming area in addition to shopping centers, conference halls, golf courses, and such.
3License Application Procedure and Requirements
Ministerial Decision № 79835/06.08.2020 outlines in detail the licensing process and the necessary paperwork each online applicant must submit. When lodging their applications, the companies must submit information about the games they intend to offer, along with a certificate of conformity with local gambling laws. They must pay an application fee of €10,000 and a bank guarantee amounting to €100,000. Each firm must have a capital of at least €200,000.
The regulator may take up to two months to decide on a license application. Rejected applicants do not get their application fees back. Those who gain approval must contribute licensing fees of €2 million for online casino gaming and €3 million for online sports wagering. In this vein, Greek legislation enforces some of the highest tax rates in the industry under Law № 4002/2011 and Ministerial Decision № 1248/2011.
Licensed participants in the Greek gambling market are taxed at 35% of their gross gaming revenue from local players. As many as 20% of these profits go toward various social policies, charities, and other good causes. Horse race betting operators have 30% of their revenue withheld in favor of the Greek state.
When it comes to license duration, online gambling permits expire after seven years from the date of issuance. The operators must resubmit applications for renewal at least a year before their permits officially expire and pay a new fee for the purpose. Certain types of landbased casino permits remain valid for 15 years, while those for wide-range casino gambling have a duration of 30 years under Law № 4512/2018 (Article 359).
7Taxes on Players’ Winnings
The gambling profits of Greek players are also subject to taxation in line with the provisions of Law № 4141/2013 (Article 22, Paragraph 18). The tax rates vary based on the size of the winnings. Profits of up €500 incur 15% taxes, whereas any winnings over €500 are taxed at 20%. Licensees normally deduct these withholding taxes automatically at the time of winning.
8Other Requirements for Licensees
Licensed online gambling operators can only handle payments via banking methods and financial institutions registered in the country or in another jurisdiction that is part of the European Economic Area. The licensees must connect their gaming machines to the database system of the Greek regulator, allowing it to monitor their operation in real time.
Online gaming operators must store the information exchanged with customers and financial institutions for a minimum of ten years for the HGC to have at its disposal. The same applies to the information about the provision of online chance-based games. Licensees can only take online wagers from Greece via designated .gr domains. They must have registered offices in Greece, the EU, or the European Economic Area (EEA).
Social Responsibility and Gambling Restrictions in Greece
Greek-licensed gambling businesses must comply with various social responsibility policies unless they want to have their licenses revoked. Each licensee of the HGC must observe for compliance with the minimum legal gambling age in Greece. The companies must verify all customer accounts to ensure the account holders are at least 21 years old in line with the local legislation.
Both landbased and online licensees must promote responsible gambling. Brick-and-mortar gaming venues, in particular, are expected to run a self-exclusion database and prevent excluded individuals from accessing their premises. Gamblers should have access to information about different treatment services that help to overcome gambling addiction. Terrestrial casinos and betting shops must prominently display this information for all customers to see.
Policies on Gambling Advertising in Greece
Greek legislation does not entirely prohibit the marketing of gambling services as long as the marketers conduct it in a socially responsible manner. The regulation of such ads falls within the scope of Law № 4002/2011. Gambling advertisers must ensure high levels of consumer protection and comply with certain restrictions. Further measures came into force, following the approval of Decision № 79292 in August 2020.
To begin with, the operators should not market their services in a way that encourages the target audience to actively participate in gambling activities. Furthermore, the advertisements must not lure the audience to gamble with ambiguous promises of large expected returns. Another limitation concerns the normalization of gambling and the presentation of such activities as commonplace.
The ads must not draw attention to the fact that the larger portion of the tax proceeds the state collects from gambling go toward good causes or charities. Licensed operators can advertise slots only on their websites. Advertising other randomly generated games via social media platforms is possible as long as the ads target only individuals over the age of 21.
Gambling ads cannot feature underage persons or air during programs intended for minors. Finally, all marketing content should contain references to the Greek regulator and clearly state the minimum legal age requirement for gambling participation.
Anti-Money Laundering Policies and Payment Restrictions
Greek law also aims to prevent illegal activities like terrorism financing and money laundering (AML). It requires all licensed gambling operators to handle local customers’ payments via financial institutions and payment processors established in Greece, member states of the EU, or the European Economic Area. Greeks who play slot machines can fund their sessions solely with cash (coins or bills) or prepaid cards.
Banks based in Greece must refrain from processing payments to and from unauthorized providers of online chance-based games. The use of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum for betting purposes also violates the current Greek legislation. According to the Hellenic Gaming Commission, such decentralized currencies lack transparency and facilitate illegal transactions since they are outside the legal scope of any government or financial institution.
All authorized gambling firms on the Greek market must comply with the Law № 4557/2018 on the Prevention and Suppression of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. Debts incurred through gambling are not enforceable in this jurisdiction.
Sanctions for Violations of Greek Gambling Laws
Servicing the local market without the necessary authorization is considered a criminal offense in Greece. Article 52 of Law № 4002/2011 describes in depth the penalties imposed on violators. The country’s authorities will first attempt to identify and locate the Chief Executive Officer and the board members of the violating gambling company. As legal representatives of the unlicensed firms, they will be deemed the perpetrators of the offense.
Paragraph 3 of the same article stipulates that Greece nationals found guilty of participating in illegal chance games might face penalties of up to three months in prison and fines ranging from €5,000 to €20,000. However, Greek players who participate in gambling activities at unauthorized offshore sites rarely suffer prosecution. Legal repercussions mostly loom over violating operators only.
With that said, the most common enforcement action in Greece is blacklisting the domains of illegal gambling firms. The Hellenic Gaming Commission is very active in this respect. The regulator blacklisted as many as 466 unauthorized websites in 2016 alone. At the time of writing, the number has skyrocketed to a whopping 2,852 blocked websites.
To wrap things up, the recent market liberalization has had a positive effect on the online gambling sector in Greece. Locals now have a choice from over a dozen fully licensed gaming and betting sites that have made it to the whitelist of the Hellenic Gaming Commission. Our only concern is that the high tax rates imposed on online licensees might dissuade other gambling firms from pursuing locally issued permits, impeding the further growth of Greece’s industry.