Greece warned over gaming 'mess'

A Greek law that effectively banned all computer games is creating trouble for Greece from the European Commission

The Greek government has been warned by the European Commission over a law it passed last year that seemed to ban all computer games. The law stirred up anger and disbelief after it resulted in several arrests and the closure of Internet cafes.

Although Greece later clarified that the law only prohibits gambling-related games, the EC was "unsatisfied" with the response and has sent a formal notice requesting more information. The commission said it is also concerned that it was not notified about the law while the law was still in its draft stages, which in this case was a requirement.

Struan Robertson, solicitor at City law firm Mason's and editor of out-law.com, said that Greece did not follow an EC directive that requires countries to give the commission three months' notice before passing a law that concerns "Information Society services". Robertson believes the Greek parliament never intended the law to ban all computer games: "The way the Greek law was drafted was an absolute mess. It was drafted so widely that using a PlayStation at home would amount to a breach of the law -- which is ridiculous," he said.

The EC is also concerned that the law is restricting business activity by causing difficulties for companies that sell and maintain electronic games equipment and programs, particularly in public places.

In September 2002, just over a month after the law was passed, a Greek court declared the law unconstitutional and dismissed two separate cases against three people charged with breaking it. The Thessaloniki court released the three people, who were facing three months imprisonment and fines of at least 5,000 euros (£3,557).

All three of the people released were understood to be involved in or running Internet cafes. But according to Greek Web site Tech.flash.gr, the officers who had searched the cafes said during testimony that they did not observe any Internet gambling going on -- just chess and other non-gambling games over the Internet.

The next step will be for the Greek government to respond, but whatever they do, Robertson said it is "quite rare" for the commission to go any further: "Whether this will result in the withdrawal or amendment to the law or a clarification on how it should be interpreted, we don't yet know. They tend to be drawn-out processes. But the likelihood of any further action being taken is probably quite low," he added.

Matt Loney contributed to this report.


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