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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Online Industry Scores Win Against Greek Gambling Regime

Online Industry Scores Win Against Greek Gambling Regime

Online Industry Scores Win Against Greek Gambling Regime
by Lorys Charalambous, Tax-News.com, Cyprus
29 January 2013
The Remote Gambling Association (RGA) has welcomed the verdict in favor of online gambling operators delivered by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on January 24, 2013, which said that provisions in Greek gambling legislation should be deemed to contravene European Union law.

The case was referred to the ECJ by the Greek Council of States following legal challenges initiated against the Greek government by three gambling operators - Stanleybet, William Hill and Sportingbet.

In its judgment, which echoes the opinion of the Advocate-General, the Court reminded Greece of its obligation to maintain consistency with the objectives enshrined in its own legislation.

Although it is for the national judge to make the final assessment, the EU Court held that the Greek gaming legislation, which granted certain exclusive gambling rights to state company OPAP, and allowed for an expansion of its offerings, went beyond what was necessary to attain the objectives stated, and should therefore be deemed not compliant with EU law.

The Greek legislation provided that the public authorities could grant a single operator, in the form of a public limited company, the right to organize and operate games of chance. It also allowed the public entity to advertise freely and expand its services, including into other countries. The legislation was supposedly designed to combat criminality by exercising control over the single operator.

In the Judgment, the Court held that the legislation enacted to justify OPAP's expansion and the public promotion of its products went beyond what is necessary in order to channel consumers towards the controlled provision of gambling services. The Court agrees with the opinion of the Advocate General that OPAP is not subject to the strict control of the public authorities and hence the Greek monopoly does not satisfy the requirements of ECJ case law. The ruling further strengthens the online gambling industry's argument that the Greek government has consistently sought to unfairly support OPAP in competing with private sector operators.

Clive Hawkswood, Chief Executive of the RGA, said: "Although it is referring to the old legislation, we welcome the Judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU as it clearly shows that the expansion of OPAP's activities is not EU-compliant. It therefore substantiates further our claim that the new extension of OPAP's exclusive rights to certain types of online games breaches EU law. We hope that this ruling will spur the Greek Authorities into action and to bring their legislation into line with EU regulations. The Court today has come out strongly against Greece, and we hope that this will in turn be a signal to other member states that compliance with EU law is expected of them."

Online gambling operators represented by the Remote Gambling Association have more recently challenged new gambling legislation, passed in August 2011, to regulate and tax online gambling in Greece. As in the latest matter to go before the ECJ, the companies argue that the legislation is too restrictive for private sector companies, and is serving instead to to extend OPAP's monopolistic position in the Greek marketplace, in the soon-to-be-regulated online gambling sector.

Crucially, the government has failed to begin licensing online gambling operators, with the private sector claiming that the advantage is giving OPAP a head start on the competition.

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