OPAP’s monopoly in Greece does not comply with European Union laws on monopolistic practices and is therefore illegal, the European Court of Justice has ruled.
The court found that OPAP’s monopoly in its current form did not serve the public interest by reducing the number of betting opportunities in Greece. The court added that the monopoly could be maintained were Greece to add tighter controls to protect consumers from gambling. However, failing that, Greece would have to open up its market to competitors from other EU countries.
The successful outcome of the case – which was brought before the court by three of Europe’s biggest sports betting operators, Stanleybet, William Hill and Sportingbet – has been welcomed by the gambling industry. This has long-insisted that OPAP’s monopoly in Greece contravenes European free trade laws.
The industry has already expressed its hope that this will be the catalyst for a reform of Greek gambling law and finally open up its market to operators from across Europe.
The ruling is likely to be bad news for Greece. The debt-laden country holds a 34% stake in OPAP, but is planning to sell this off later this year as part of a wider privatization package designed to bring in around €2.6 billion. Shares in OPAP fell 11% in the wake of the ruling.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t seem to have deterred foreign firms from wanting to invest in OPAP. US-based hedge fund the Baupost Group has recently expanded its shareholding in OPAP to 5.2%.
There was some good news for Greece, however. The country has managed to secure EU approval for its plans to scrap current tax laws. Rather than being charged a flat-rate tax of ten percent on all winnings, Greek customers will be charged according to a progressive model. Greek customers will now only be charged tax on winnings over €100.