Authorities on both sides of Cyprus’ Greek-Turkish divide have reportedly taken action against unauthorized gambling operators.
On Wednesday, the Cyprus Mail reported that the mixed village of Pyla was the site of two parallel operations targeting illegal gambling venues, although the level of cooperation between the two national authorities remains a matter of some dispute.
Pyla, which has only about 1,300 permanent residents, resides within the United Nations Buffer Zone that separates the Greek-controlled southern half of the island from the Turkish-controlled north.
The UN controls the Buffer Zone but lacks police powers, creating an ideal environment for illegal gambling operators to flourish. Pyla lies close to the British Sovereign Base Area, which has witnessed numerous raids on unauthorized betting shops and casinos over the years.
Wednesday morning’s Greek-led operation targeted six casinos, arresting 31 people and confiscating 217 computers and €15k in cash. Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou vehemently denied there’d been any cooperation with the “pseudo police” that operate on the Turkish side.
But Nicolaou’s Turkish Cypriot counterpart Hakki Celal Onen claimed the operation had targeted eight casinos. Onen also said the raids were a joint operation with the Greek authorities that was coordinated with UN officials. Early media reports claimed the rival police factions wore plainclothes but sported different colored hats in order to identify each other.
All but one of the eight casinos was reportedly operated by a Turkish Cypriot, although all the buildings in which the casinos operated were believed to be owned by Turkish Cypriots. Only one of the casinos offered table games, while the rest relied on electronic gambling.
The Greek half of Cyprus is in the process of authorizing its first and only casino license after approving gaming legislation in July 2015. From an original shortlist of three casino applicants, only the joint bid by Melco International Development and Florida’s Hard Rock International remains in the running. The official announcement will be made by the end of the year.