Ladies and gentlemen,
Our journey started in 2015 and it keeps on with the same passion. Eight years ago, we were called upon to manage a new institution with efficiency and transparency, aiming to bring institutional order to a chaotic scene. We were called upon to lead a highly complex and demanding industry and to steer it in a direction of transparency and security, enabling to contribute to economic growth while strengthening the social fabric.
It is worth mentioning that when we started, gambling was considered a taboo topic in the Cypriot society. Despite the increased participation in gambling, the stigma was evident, especially when the player presented problematic behaviour.
We had to take the necessary steps to ensure that gambling participation ceased to be a guilty family secret, setting it in a framework with rules and regulations. We had to initiate a long process of awareness raising and education on how to set and how not to exceed one’s limits on gambling.
From the very beginning we acknowledged gambling as part of our culture. Besides, our latest nationwide survey indicates that more than half of Cypriots engage in gambling.
Therefore, we had to remain focused on our mission:
- To establish the effective regulation and supervision of betting activity;
- To safeguard public interest;
- To contribute to the development of the economy;
- To fight against unlawfulness in the industry;
- And to contribute to public health and safety.
We wanted to make Cyprus a fair, transparent and safe gambling and innovation centre, while ensuring that protection and society wellbeing was in the core of our mission.
Since then, we have set robust foundations. Yet there is still much to be done. The challenges are constant, while social conditions and technologic developments pose new considerations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
If we need to distinguish a single threat at the moment, this would be nothing else but the illegal market.
So let me take this opportunity to send a resounding message: the situation is critical! We finally need to speak openly and honestly about the need for a fully regulated market. Let us stop referring to legal and illegal markets, accepting them as such.
This may be achieved only through a balanced supervisory framework. Through the implementation of an effective legal and regulatory framework, investing on awareness raising and on professional training of the sectors’ employees. We must finally look at the bigger picture and not get caught up in petty politics.
That is what we are working on today. We have a draft Law in the pipeline with the objectives:
- To ensure that licensed services are provided in a fair and transparent manner.
- To ensure that gambling is no longer related to criminality, disorder or the black market.
- To prevent any associations with crime or illegality.
- To ensure adequate protection of players, in particular minors and other vulnerable groups of the population.
The new Law includes recommendations on
- the introduction of new products that will make the market economically viable, the introduction of B2B licences,
- the commitment of licensees on safe gambling issues,
- the introduction of financial blocking in cooperation with banks that will exclude their customers who participate in illegal betting activities.
Therefore, the implementation of a revised legislative framework will bring various benefits, both to businesses and to the society at large, as well as to the fight against the illegal market which has become dreadful. We stand ready to support the bill and provide our political leadership with all the expertise and support they might need.
The new Law must have a positive development.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our main objective over the years has been to set the protection of the public, particularly gamblers, at the core of the National Betting Authority’s activities.
This is why we are here today. Safer Gambling Week has been established for this purpose: to protect players and society from the harmful consequences of excessive involvement in betting and gambling. This is the sixth consecutive year of the Safer Gambling Week, with the slogan “Enjoy the game, play safely!”.
Through Safer Gambling Week we want to highlight how betting and gambling should be seen: as a kind of entertainment with preset time and limits, just like all types of entertainment, keeping it in a pleasant and healthy context.
The 6th Safer Gambling Week consists of various activities and actions, educational seminars, interactive workshops and fun games. We try to engage all stakeholders in this direction, creating a safer gambling environment.
This is the core of Safer Gambling Strategy of the National Betting Authority:
- To protect society against the harmful effects of gambling,
- To give incentives to stakeholders for cooperation,
- And to provide a supportive environment for players.
An even more important objective is prevention. Prevention can be accomplished through a deeper awareness raising among the public, through the implementation of safe gambling practices and with the provision of resources and support.
We have provided support to players who exceed their limits, focusing on improving their health and wellbeing through therapy and through fighting against stigmatisation.
We have developed programs, policies and initiatives that will enhance public health and safety, while we have also invested on conducting research on betting gambling.
In this field we have truly raised the bar. In January 2023, we submitted a comprehensive proposal to the Minister of Health on the design, development and implementation of prevention and early intervention actions on risk or behavioural disorders related to betting and gambling among people who are supported by GHS. This step will alleviate stigma and will address gambling comorbidity with other addictive behaviours.
In order to reach practical results, we have already proceeded with a partial implementation of our proposal in our project for women. This will facilitate the examination of our proposal by the Ministry of Health. We are confident that our proposal will find the required support by our colleagues at the Cyprus National Addictions Authority, the Cyprus Gaming Supervision Commission, and by other partners.
Our research on women’s gambling activity revealed that only 12% of Cyprus female population have never engaged in betting and gambling. Half of the participants engaged in betting when they were underaged. Moreover, only a quarter of the women stated that they engage in betting and gambling alone, while the majority considers betting and gambling an entertaining activity.
Building on the survey’s findings and our GHS proposal, in June 2023 we launched the project “Women and Gambling: Empowering Women, Bridging the Gap”, in collaboration with the Cyprus National Addictions Authority and the Association for the Prevention and Handling of Violence in the Family. This project will be presented and discussed later at today’s conference.
The aim of the project is to deal with betting and gambling behaviours, while empowering women. The project provides practical tools and actions on early intervention and detection of vulnerable women, as well as referring them to relevant public services.
In addition, a grand objective has been achieved. The National Platform for Self-Exclusion will soon be launched. Those players who feel that their involvement in betting is problematic will now be able to register on the platform and be excluded from all online betting companies for as long as they wish. We consider this to be a significant self-protection tool and we are exploring the possibility of adding certain social groups, such as benefit recipients, athletes, etc., in the platform.
At the same time, we pay particular attention to minors, our most important target group. Hence, we have implemented indirect prevention and empowerment programmes for minors. Among these are the Game Brain program, our partnership with Hope for Children, the Fairytale Museum and several other partnerships. I would also like to highlight our collaboration with the Cyprus Theatre Organisation, especially the teenage experiential workshop “Youth on a Desert Island” which put together the theatre performance RAT PARK from scratch in merely six months. The group of teenagers started by studying the topic of addictions. The more they looked into it, the more questions were raised, something that made young participants more personally involved in an adventure. In their attempt to understand the problem and find answers, the surveys and numbers became real testimonies and confessions by friends and family. The result was impressive and really touching. I would like to share a quote from the participants that conveys their feelings from the whole experience:
“I have learned to smile,
Now I can understand others better, I can communicate, I can say what I feel…
My therapist used to say: The biggest – and worst – addiction is to live a meaningless life, to live day after day without purpose…
They say that addiction can be treated through relationships with people…”
“Everything can become an addiction: Who defines whether you are addicted or not? When does addiction start? Is addiction contagious? Is it a choice? Is it sickness? Is it the friends’ fault? When is it a habit and when an addiction? Are there heavier and lighter addictions? Can you help an addict? Why would a non-addicted person try to understand why someone can become addicted?”
I must admit that we were greatly fulfilled, as well as moved with the result. We are grateful to Mrs. Papafilippou and Ms. Megalemou for the fantastic contribution.
Such activities motivate us even more. We cannot remain inactive with such astonishing results. We will soon conduct a survey on the impact of betting and gambling on minors, in order to enhance our programs and activities even further.
One of the indirect prevention programmes that has had a substantial impact on young people is the Young cities programme in cooperation with the Youth Board of Cyprus. The programme aims to create “youth” cities through developing and implementing proposals with a multiplier effect, as well as with developing modern skills among young people.
Education is the steppingstone to prevention. Towards the end of the year the Authority’s Gambling Academy will be launched. This will contribute to further market specialization and will improve the application of the regulatory framework. Therefore, more effective measures will be applied to protect the public, and additional human resources will be further developed in order to be able to cope with the specificities of the sector.
In addition, the Authority will soon put the Sustainable Gambling Standard out for public consultation. Our efforts are focused on constantly improving the regulatory framework for companies, for the safety of players and society. Our aim is to put it up for discussion with Member State Regulatory Authorities aiming to develop it into an international standard.
One of the next steps in this effort is to strengthen the corporate governance and social responsibility of betting and gaming service providers.
Another area of exploration in the coming period will be the use of Artificial Intelligence and the possibilities it offers in managing large volumes of data, problem solving, simplifying processes and detecting irregularities.
The protection of vulnerable groups is also set into legislation. The Authority has issued revised regulations on the conduct of betting activities for vulnerable players. Through the “Regulations for the Protection of Players, Young Persons and Pathological Players”, we have focused on enhancing player protection and safety, codifying emerging best practices and introducing new ideas around safe gambling.
Finally, we have conducted a survey on sports betting advertising, the results of which will guide us on amending the Code of Advertising.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The National Betting Authority has been instrumental in the development of the betting sector as a substantial pillar of the economy, in a regulated and protected market.
The figures confirm that the Authority is performing its role effectively, as the sector has experienced significant growth in recent years, making a direct contribution to the economy, helping to increase government revenues and create jobs.
Betting revenues were €524 million in the first half of 2023, recording a 23% increase compared to the same period in 2022. It is worth noting that turnover percentage of gambling and betting sectors, including casino, national lottery, horserace betting and OPAP Cyprus games was 5.7% of GDP in 2022.
More than 1500 people are employed in the betting sector, more than 3500 are employed in related jobs, giving an immense boost to the number of job posts.
In addition to the financial performance of the sector, we are seeking to protect society and players from the harmful effects of betting and gambling through our actions. In recent years, problematic behaviour has been destigmatised to a significant degree, as players are now able to ask for help and share their concerns. Based on the latest nationwide survey, the percentage of high-risk gamblers has been reduced to 1.5%. Our goal remains to minimize the harm from excessive gambling even more.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am confident that the State will keep supporting the Authority’s efforts, understanding the role it has been entrusted with and strengthening the multifaceted work it carries out. I would like to believe that the new government will make a substantial contribution to strengthening the social fabric and civil society in this area as well.
The numbers confirm the size, potential and impact of the sector, making the launch a public debate on the need for a fully regulated market imperative. This is a dialogue that must be conducted with honesty, away from demagogic approaches.
In conclusion, let me thank my colleagues at the National Betting Authority, both staff and external partners, for their valuable contribution and for the excellent planning of the upcoming activities of the 6th Safer Gambling Week. Special thanks to our friend and Member of the European Parliament Loukas Fourlas for being with us despite his busy schedule, and to all of you who have once again responded to our invitation to attend the conference proceedings.
Thank you for your participation and may we have fruitful and productive proceedings.