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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
Greek gaming ban courts legal action
Greek flags, BBC
Greece is incurring the wrath of the EU

The Greek Government could face legal action before the European Court over a controversial law which bans electronic games.

The BBC understands that the European Commission has sent an official letter to the Greek Foreign Ministry, warning that some of the crucial stipulations of the law may be in breach of European legislation.

This letter is the first official step of a procedure that could lead to Greece being brought before the European Court of Justice.

The Commission's letter suggests that the Greek law may be breaching article 28 of the European Community Treaty because it may restrict imports from other EU member states.

Furthermore, it warns that the law may be violating the principle of proportionality, as it introduces provisions that exceed its declared aims.

Response rate

The law, which came into effect in August, bans all electrical and electronic games, including computer games, in public places as well as private ones.

However, government sources have given assurances that it would only be enforced in public places.

The legislation aims to restrict electronic gambling; however, it fails to make a distinction between gambling and pure entertainment games, which the Commission considers a 'disproportionate' measure.

The government said it needed this provision because the authorities have been unable to enforce previous legislation, but European legal experts say that on similar cases in the past the European Court has not seen this as sufficient justification.

The Commission is demanding a response from the Greek Government within two months.

According to the procedure enshrined in article 226 of the EU's Treaty, should the Athens government fails successfully to argue its case, the EU's executive could issue a reasoned opinion. Following this Greece would either have to comply by amending its law or face legal action before the European Court.

Protest vote

The controversial law was introduced on the back of a public outcry following revelations in the spring about widespread illegal gambling in Greece.

It was then also revealed that some gaming arcade owners had fiddled with their devices' software to turn them from entertainment games to gambling machines.

The law has already led to the indictment of internet cafe owners, who have been accused of allowing their customers to play games on the web.

Trying the first such case last month, a court in the northern city of Thessaloniki threw the law out, ruling that it was unconstitutional because it restricted the freedom of ideas.

The public prosecutor has lodged an appeal against the verdict, and the case is pending.

Internet cafe owners protest that the law will lead them to financial ruin as many of their customers only come to play games on the internet. Owners also say they cannot police customers to prevent them from gambling on the net.

The EU letter that challenges the Greek law was prompted by complaints to the Commission by gaming software producers. Two Greek MEPs have also raised the issue in the European Parliament.

During the debate of the bill in the Greek parliament, some MPs had voiced their concerns about it. Officials at the Greek Economy Ministry have been privately criticising the law expressing doubts as to whether it can be enforced.

See also:

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