British expatriates in Spain will soon be able to have a flutter at a bookmaker's as the country liberalises its strict betting laws.
The regional governments in Madrid and the Basque country have become the first to relax the gaming regulations which banned bookies' shops from high streets. Other regions of Spain – a nation of inveterate gamblers – are expected to follow their lead.
Nine companies are already bidding for the new licences in the capital and the Basque area. Among them is Victoria SA, a Spanish company with links to the British gaming giant William Hill. It expects to open 50 shops in Madrid and the North-west this year if it is granted a licence.
However, the new regulations will remain stricter than those in Britain. Punters will only be able to bet on sport, from a minimum wager of €0.20 (15p) to a maximum of €500,000 (£371,000).
Emma Mateos, the marketing director for Victoria, said: "No one is going to get rich but the fun will be in pitting 'my opinion against yours'."
The new rules allow for betting on a list of 30 sports, including the most popular, such as football, basketball and horse-racing, and those less well known outside the country, like pelota – a kind of squash played in Basque areas.
For years, bookmakers were banned on the orders of the dictator General Francisco Franco, who died in 1975.
The prospect of new bookies' shops opening has worried those who offer counselling to gambling addicts, of whom there are estimated to be between 500,000 and 2.5 million in Spain.
Jesus Castro, a psychologist with the Gambling Addicts Attention Service in Tenerife, said yesterday: "Of course these bookies are going to increase the number of pathological gamblers."
But Ms Mateos, of Victoria, denied that the new shops would be a breeding ground for addicts. "It is simply an opportunity to live the emotion of the sport more intensely," she said.Reuse content