No countries have dominated the news more in the last half-decade than Greece and Turkey, with both countries undergoing profound economic, political, and legislative change. And the island nation of Cyprus has borne the brunt of these changes.
But What Does That Mean For Cyprus’ Gambling Sector?
Gambling has been a big part of Cypriot life for generation, and the nation has historically enjoyed skill and expertise-based games such as card playing, horse racing and football punting. Even now, Bingo and Keno halls are packed to rafters on weeknights and the influx of tourists means that casinos are regularly stocked, with clients currently spending an average of €100m annually, and much of it is spent online.
But it hasn’t always been this way.
Since the Turkish invasion and settlement in 1974, the island has taken a unique – bordering on schizophrenic – attitude towards punting. The north of the island is predominantly Turkish while the rest is ethnically Greek. Following the partition, legislation was passed in the north that made betting halls legal, eventually resulting in the founding of eleven casinos. In 1997, when the Islamic Welfare Party declared a ban on gambling throughout Turkey, you’ll never guess where the residents ended up going for their fix…
It wasn’t long before Cyprus became well-known as a gambling-hub across Europe and after joining the EU in 2004, the country started drawing an average of 2.4m visitors per year with money to burn. As the screws began to tighten during the global recession, the government pursued all the revenue streams they could and declared all forms of gambling legal and fully under the control of the Cypriot authorities.
However, there was one area in punting that was very-much unregulated.
As online punting rose in popularity, sites steadily began to eat into the government’s guaranteed income. Soon Cyprus began to become known as a hotspot for site-based punting due to the lack of legislative control, leading to several less reputable firms to set-up-shop on the island. Ever since these companies gained a foothold, the government did all it could to stamp them out. The battle ended with the country introducing a blanket ban on all online casino, poker, and exchange betting in 2012, bringing the hammer down on over 2,500 firms that were judged to be ‘operating illegally’.
Despite this, some sites with government-sanctioned access were awarded licenses to operate after the legislation, with businesses asked to apply for either a Class A (for offline) or Class B (electronic and offline) betting. This forced companies to occupy one of two spheres or finding themselves excluded entirely. This was met with huge criticism by bookies throughout the EU, with a huge amount of favour being given to Cyprus’ OPAP, well-known local operators who were seen to be given a monopoly over the sector.
However, the country soon discovered how much money it was missing as punters were easily able to access over sites using VPN technology to get past the online block. Towards the end of 2016 the National Betting Association finally caved and began taking applications for online licenses between of October to November, with the threat that any company that failed to comply would continue to languish on the country’s blacklist.
Naturally, all the established and big-name bookies jumped at the opportunity to step into the market, with over 475 sites receiving licences, including William Hill, Paddy Power and smaller local sites looking to make it big.
Which Sites Are Worth Checking Out?
Stanleybet: http://www.stanleybetcyprus.com/: A long-established UK based site, which originally started in Belfast, Northern Ireland before opening a new office in Cyprus as per local licencing laws. Seasoned operators, they offer several competitively-priced standards such as football, tennis and F1 through a no-frills interface. What they lack in presence they more than make up for in engagement, with the company plugged into the social sphere with an established online presence and a ‘betting school’ that even helps old-hands get up to speed and are known for providing a prompt and reliable service.
Bet365: https://www.bet365.com: Like StanleyBet, Bet365 stepped in during the initial operational window and the firm has gone from strength-to-strength ever since. Knowing they have to mark themselves out in the new sector, they have been cleaning up recently with a 100% deposit bonus offer with a cap of up to £200 that has been drawing in punters. They have also added a revamped interface in as part of a major overhaul to the site, with live streaming, up to the minute reviews of sports and fixtures; alongside a brand that provides a guarantee of being a much safer punt than other local sites.
What Should I Know?
Keep it local: The recent changes to legislation means that the Cyprus government has blacklisted many sites. While that exclusion list may shorten in future, it’s worth remembering that while other sites can be bypassed through VPN, this is illegal activity if you are caught, you risk a fine. What’s more, you won’t have a leg to stand on if you run into any issues extracting your funds.
Consider the corruption: Unfortunately, when it comes to money changing hands in any sector, there is always a risk of corruption or mis-management. As mentioned, OPAP was accused of acquiring of a stranglehold over the country’s betting sector during the legislative changeover. The island’s Attorney General has ordered an investigation into their finances which is subject to inquiry. Regardless of whether these investigations bear any fruit, it is likely that OPAP’s woes will have a huge knock-on effect on other companies that have requested licences and, in a worst-case-scenario, could result in a domino effect of firms toppling. Always make sure that you lodge your money with a reputable operator, even if the alternative seems to be offering better odds.
Be careful about a changing marketplace: With a second round of licences opening up, there is a likelihood that the government is testing the waters with regards to adjusting the online sphere. Keep your ear to the ground and make sure you take advantage of any commencement offers from newly registered companies or deals from established firms looking to retain their client base.