The government of Cyprus wants the local gambling industry to keep growing, saying it has become a “pillar” of its economy, according to finance minister Konstantinos Petridis.
On Monday, Petridis said at the Safer Gambling Conference that the industry has “grown significantly in recent years” and it now accounts for 2.98 percent of the country’s GDP in 2021.
“The regulated and responsible development and operation of gambling and betting is a strategic goal of the government. The government anticipates and encourages the further development of the sector,” Petridis said.
The development of gambling means the government expects the National Betting Authority (NBA) to have “no tolerance” for illegal gambling activities.
Additionally, the government wants the NBA to explore the use of blockchain technologies to protect consumers, an issue the NBA recently held a conference to explore.
“We assure you that the government will assist the NBA in its efforts to further modernize and regulate the gambling sector more effectively,” Petridis said, praising the work of the regulator.
Speaking at the same event, NBA president Ioanna Fiakkou made similar comments, calling for the assurance of sustainable development and for more tools to help crack down on illegal operators.
“We have a duty as a competent regulatory and supervisory authority to intensify and strengthen our efforts for the protection of players and the wider society,” Fiakkou said.
A day later on October 5, the Cyprus Gaming and Casino Supervision Commission confirmed that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the opening of the country’s first integrated casino resort (IR) to be pushed back to mid-2022.
The updated timeline was provided by Christos Mavrellis, chairman of the Cyprus Gaming and Casino Supervision Commission, at the fourth Annual Cyprus Gaming Show on Tuesday.
Integrated Casino Resorts (Cyprus), in which Melco Resorts & Entertainment Limited has a 75 percent equity interest, initially planned to open its doors in “early” 2021.
Melco is required under its Cyprus licence to open the IR by September 30, 2022, unless the government grants it an extension, or it faces daily penalty fees.
If the opening is delayed beyond 100 days, the Cypriot government has the right to terminate Melco’s licence, according to the operator’s 2021 annual report.
Mavrellis said the past year has been “challenging” for the commission as it dealt with casino closures and working restrictions.
The casino regulator has held talks with the operator ahead of the launch to make sure everything runs smoothly once it opens its doors, such as ensuring there are tools in place to help minimise gambling-related harms.
“We want to see technology and innovation used to improve not only profitability, but to benefit customers and provide opportunities to improve the operator’s management of its regulatory risks,” Mavrellis said.
For instance, Melco’s facial recognition software to identify persons excluded from the casino has already been approved for use by the regulator.
Additionally, the commission and the operator recently discussed the implementation of a new system to support anti-money laundering controls.
Confirmation of the delay should not come as a shock to Melco.
The operator warned in its latest annual report that its operations in Cyprus “face significant risks and uncertainties”, largely due to the handling of COVID-19 on the island.
On March 15, 2020, the government announced a raft of COVID-19 measures that saw the closure of Melco's four satellite casino operations, which are allowed to operate until the IR is complete, from March 22, 2020 to June 13, 2020.
Additionally, a regional lockdown from November 12, 2020 to November 30 meant the satellite casinos in Limassol and Paphos closed right before another nationwide host of curfews and restrictions were introduced from November 30, 2020 to December 31, 2020.
Prior to COVID-19, there were signs the success of Melco’s satellite casinos on the island were beginning to dwindle.
In the first quarter of 2020, consolidated operating revenue for Melco’s four Cyprus satellite casinos fell 40.5 percent to $713m compared with the same period the previous year.