Thousands of British tourists in Greece are unknowingly facing heavy fines or long terms in prison for owning mobile phones or portable video games. The Greek government has banned all electronic games across Greece, including those in home computers, Game Boy-style portable consoles, and on mobile phones.
Law Number 3037, enacted at the end of July, explicitly forbids electronic games with 'electronic mechanisms and software' from public and private places, and people have already been fined tens of thousands of euros for playing or owning games.
Internet cafes are allowed to continue to operate, providing all gaming is prohibited: if a client is found to be running any sort of game, including online chess, the café owner will be fined and the place closed. The law applies equally to visitors from abroad: "If you know these things are banned, you should not bring them in," said the commercial attaché at the Greek Embassy in London -- who declined to give her name.
The law was passed to prevent illegal gambling. According to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini, "The police will be responsible for catching offenders, who will face fines of 5,000 to 75,000 euros and imprisonment of one to 12 months. The blanket ban was decided in February after the government admitted it was incapable of distinguishing innocuous video games from illegal gambling machines." One online report said that even watching a film on DVD -- many of which contain promotional games linked to the movie -- had resulted in an arrest and a 10,000-euro fine.
The Greek gaming community has reacted with a mixture of shock, disbelief and anger. One site, www.gameland.gr, has opened a petition and a news service on the ban, as well as providing English translations of the law and messages of support from around the world.
A test case is to come before the Greek courts next week, and the Greek gaming community is already planning protests in the event that the defendant is convicted.
"We are trying to organise a protest against this law," said Petros Tipis of Thessaloniki-based gaming company Reload Entertainment, which has had to cancel a gaming tournament that was to be held this week.
If the prosecution of the defendant next week is successful, said Tipis, the Greek gaming industry will take the case to the European Court.
In the meantime, Tipis told ZDNet UK, a lot of people in Greece are very worried about the new law. "They are taking it very seriously," he said. "It even affects the games that come with Windows. This law isn't the right one," he added. "It is unfair. It was introduced too quickly."
Reload's tournament, which was to be held on 6 September, was a qualifier for the CPL Oslo 2002 gaming tournament. "Now we are trying not to lose the two slots we were given from CPL for the tournament," said Tipis. "This was the first time for a qualifier (for this tournament) in Greece."
For further information on this story, see Rupert Goodwins' column: No fun, no games, as Greece takes a gamble.
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