Greek games oddity nears end

Games continue to be sold in the Greek market, despite a law that bans all electronic online poker games outside of the country’s state owned casinos. The European Commission’s decision to take the Greek Government to court, while national courts also hand down verdicts that the ban in unconstitutional, has left a very grey legal fog hanging over Greece. In practice, this means that Greek police find electronic amusement games, confiscate them and close premises. This decision is then overturned in the court, but the process costs a great deal of time and money , with lost earnings, court costs and delays in getting the games returned. Nikos Serdaris, Photo Play’s partner in Greece, explains : “To operate games, even touchscreen amusement games, remains illegal, despite the protests lodged with the European Commission. The law is still in place and the government refuses to change it. The only realistic change will come from the decision of the EU Court in Strasbourg. We have made claim after claim to the EU since the 2002 law came into affect. Now we are in the EU Court process, our case C-65/05, and we expect a decision soon. ” One of the positive aspects of the European Court process is that it’s an decision is final and will be made without consulting the Greek government. It is an EU matter, not a national one. “I think this year we will have a decision,” says Mr. Serdaris, who recently exhibited at the Athens Games Expo, alongside 21 other companies.

“We are trying to restore some faith and transparency to the business. We are selling Photo Play, we didn’t stop in our efforts, and you can still find our games across Greece. We continue to encounter all the problems of the law, but there are a lot of cafes operating amusement machines. ” In some towns Mr. Serdaris does not have any difficulties, the court simply don’t want to attempt to prosecute another case concerning amusement, because they know they will lose. In other towns, however, the police follow the letter of the law, but again, in 95 per cent of the court cases, the operator wins – but is poorer for the experience. “The owner from the shop must go with the police and spend the day or night at the station,” explains Mr. Serdaris. “Then there’s the fact that truly illegal gaming devices continue to be operated on the market. These games are very quick, mostly run on PCs, and it’s very difficult for the police to catch them. In this respect, the law hasn’t achieved its goals. We still have illegal games, but with legitimate operators put out of business and high unemployment in our industry.

I have done everything I can do against the government’s decision. We made our first claim in 2002, but lost in the Greek Parliament to stop the law. We have lost many more battles in the national courts since then, while at the same time trying to stay in business. We attempted to operate ourselves, so that the Photo Play name would continue in the marketplace. But between 2002-04 we didn’t sell a single game. However, once people saw that we are operating machines, installing updates and new games; then the mentality started to change. ” Mr. Serdaries and his team visited every customer, approached the local police, gave help and advice with court matters and put operators in touch with lawyers familiar with their case. In the meantime, other companies continued to claim against the Greek government, and Brussels took up the cause. “We, funworld and myself are clean,” states Mr. Serdaris. “In a lot of the cases the court’s verdict is that we are right, the law goes against the Greek constitutions and Greek law. As a company we have spent a lot of money, and we ask the courts to give back what we have lost. We are nothing to do with payout games and the government knows this. We thought the new government in 2004 would change things, but they just followed the last government.

My opinion is that the only help will come from the EU court. My company hasn’t shut down, but it’s very quiet. We skid employees to work with us when it’s been difficult to pay them. We hope that the law will change the good incomes will return. Last year was better than the year before, but we cannot compare these figures to before 2002, in which this market was very good for Photo Play. Back then we had a lot of employees, many of whom lost their jobs. More than 50,000 arcades have closed in the meantime. Now there’s only bowling centres and cinemas that remain to site videogames, though thankfully, Photo Play can also be sited in coffee shops and bars. It’s the videogames, the Sega’s and the Namco’s, that have a real problem, since the sites have gone. More bowling centres have opened and started to site billiards and some electronic videogames, but they ’ve encountered a lot of problems. Stadium, one of the largest bowling centres in Athens, has been closed three times. They ’ve invested a lot of money, and pay enormous amounts in rent per month, but the police still close them. I keep in regular contact with the EU Commission in Brussels, and wait for their decision. ”

*   High security metal tokens, usually associated with high value currency in the world’s casinos, have proved perfect for a promotion in a chain of UK high street gaming centres. CC Leisure is using is using specially-minted bimetallic tokens, with attractive face designs unique to the company, to run a prestigious customer promotion at three sites in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey. The tokens, supplied by e-service-the dedicated service, spares and support company for the coin-op industry – have been developed to provide a unique electronic signature. In additions to supplying the tokens, e-service recalibrated CC Leisure’s coin mechanisms to accurately identify and accept the tokens, providing unrivalled levels of security. Ray Stewart of CC Leisure said, “The promotion aims to reward regular players and increase awareness of our sites. It is part of a wider marketing strageity for the group and the face designs for the tokens were developed in-house to tie in with other promotional activities. Security was essential to us and, as single metal tokens can be more easily replicated, we decided on a bimetallic options which would safeguard profits at the same time as being eye-catching and popular with players. It was a project that needed specific technical expertise and we have been very pleased with e-service’s advice and levels of service. ”

Merit-Entertainment has hired Robert C.Fay as its Director of Government relations. Mr. Ray will focus on eliminating counterfeiting, copyright, and trademark violations of Merit’s megatouch game systems. Mr. Fay is a former FBI agent with over 25 years of intellectual property experience. Mr. Fay also served as President of the American Amusement Machine Association during the 1990’s . during his tenure at AAMA, he led the campaign that virtually eliminated worldwide coin-op Piracy. “I am pleased to add Bob to our team here at Merit,” said Dave Logan, Merit’s CEO. “As our US and international sales have grown, with over four billion plays per year, we have attracted the attention of copiers, counterfeiters and pirates, particularly in developing countries. I look forward to working with Bob to address these issues,” said Mr. Logan.

Cirsa Casinos expansion plans

Spain’s Cirsa Casinos has announced that it is to invest 169m euros to expand its operations in Chile and is to examine openings in the Caribbean and Macau. The division, which reported earnings of 288m euros in 2005, a 13 per cent increase over the previous year, anticipates this figure to reach 342m this year. Cirsa’s expansion in Chile will see 96m euros dedicated to the construction of seven new casinos. In addition, the company will make other investments in the Caribbean and Macau. Executive Vice President of Cirsa, Manel Lao Gorina, stated that the company has put forth projects in seven of the 18 bids opened in Chile for new casinos and also indicated that the company was close to an agreement to create a casino on the island of Aruba. A further deal is to be concluded in Valencia to create the first casino of its chain ‘Magestic ’ in Spain.

  Director of Cirsa’s casino division, Eduard Rabassa, further revealed that the company was also ‘analyzing and maintaining contracts at several levels ’ to create establishments in the ex-Portuguese colony of Macau. In the last three years, cirsa Casinos has invested 162m euros in operational expansion. Cirsa Casinos operates 14 traditional casinos and 38 electronic   casinos, which receive a total of 13 million visitors per year. These establishments are located in Spain (4) and a further 10 countries in Latin America and Caribbean, including Dominican Republic, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela and Surinam. Growth expectations will continue to focus on Latin America and the Caribbean.