Greek game ban overturned

A Greek law banning all electronic games in public has been declared unconstitutional by a court. The decision will likely cause the law's repeal.

A Greek law banning all electronic games in public has been declared unconstitutional by a court that has dismissed two separate cases against three people charged under the law.

The decision by the Thessaloniki court could eventually see the law repealed, according to reports.

Prior to Tuesday's decision, computer game players and Internet cafes owners in Greece said they would fight against the law. According to the law's opponents, it was conceived to address illicit gambling but was written so broadly that playing any electronic game could be considered illegal.

Indeed, the three people released Tuesday operated or worked at Internet cafes, and, according to a Greek news Web site, the police officers who searched the cafes testified that they did not observe any Internet gambling going on--just customers playing chess and other non-gambling games over the Internet.

A draft of the bill, which was brought before parliament at the end of May, stated clearly that all games supported by electrical, electromechanical and software means were banned from public places, according to Nikos Kakayanis, managing director of a string of Internet cafes called The Web. A board member of The Web, Christos Iordanidis, was among those facing charges on Tuesday.

When the bill was discussed again in July, said Kakayanis, "a member of the opposition party expressed concern that it would only be a matter of time before the owners of illegal gambling machines moved whatever machines they were using for gambling (coin-ops, PCs, consoles) from their stores in private places." The law was modified to include every private place as well, said Kakayanis.

"Nobody from the members of the parliament realized or could foresee the effects that this would have for PC games, Internet games and game consoles, simply because they are not familiar with that side of technology," he added. The bill became law on 30 July.

"The Greek government banned computer and console games in an attempt to stop illegal gambling," said Kakayanis. "The point is that although the government admitted that it is a tough measure they could not realise that banning computer games and consoles would be a major issue."

The three had faced up to three months imprisonment with a fine of at least 5,000 euros (£3,130) each.