Cyprus Delays Poker Ban For EU Decision

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(Reuters) - Attempts by Cyprus to ban online gambling have suffered a brief delay after feedback from the EU and member states pushed back a decision on the proposed ban by three months.

The east Mediterranean island is attempting to regulate gambling to prohibit online poker, slot machines and other casino games. Lawmakers say the practice has an estimated turnover of 2.5 billion euros per year.

There are no casinos in Cyprus, but punters have plumbed a loophole in the law where online gambling via providers based in other jurisdictions is virtually unregulated under domestic legislation. Police and government officials have described the practice as a "scourge" and which encourages vice.

Cyprus had expected feedback on its proposed ban from the European Commission by December 14. It has now been postponed to March.

"This legislation would put some order to the whole spectrum of betting," a legal source told Reuters.

The draft legislation would allow sports betting online, and calls for the creation of a licensing authority to issue permits.

The island's Communist-led government is against casinos of any kind, although residents of the ethnically-split island can at any point cross to the Turkish Cypriot breakaway state in north Cyprus and play at dozens of casinos there.

Cypriot proposed legislation sent to the European Commission solicited a detailed opinion from Malta, where many online providers are registered. There was also feedback from the UK and clarifications sought by the EU, the Cypriot finance ministry said.

"In view of the detailed opinion by Malta, the period for a decision by the EU on this legislation is extended to March 14 2010," the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

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