Posted 1/23/11 : The latest round in the Greek government's protracted clash with Stanleybet over the legality in terms of EU law of its land sports betting monopoly through OPAP appears to have gone to the UK challenger.

This week the top Greek judicial authority, the Council of State, referred the licensing wrangle to the European Court of Justice for guidance on the question of the validity of the monopoly in light of the involvement in OPAP of private investors (the state stake is believed to be around 35 percent) and other factors claimed to mitigate its monopolistic advantage.

Describing the development as a landmark event in the long-running issue, Adrian Morris, deputy managing director of Stanleybet.said that the ruling comes at a time when the Greek government has stated its intention to partially open its sports betting market.

"A draft law presented by the government during an open consultation in autumn 2010 would, if implemented, perpetuate the illegality by regulating only the online sports betting sector and issuing a number of licences to private operators  whilst maintaining the monopoly market controlled by OPAP in the offline sports betting sector,” Morris said.

“Once again, the complaints raised by Stanleybet, such as those which resulted in the landmark rulings of the CJEU in Gambelli and Placanica that effectively upheld our right to operate in Italy, are being accepted by the Courts.

"The Greek government must now fully align its laws to EU law by eliminating unjustified restrictions in and by regulating both online and offline sports betting sectors of the gambling market through privately held licences thus reaping the benefits of a fully and consistently regulated and competitive market.

“There is an important lesson in this ruling for the European Commission – online and offline gambling are two segments of the same market. The Commission should resist calls to segment the market, otherwise inconsistencies such as those which might arise in Greece will continue.

“By referring to the specific characteristics of the Greek ‘model’, the Council of State provides the ECJ with the opportunity to examine in detail the specific characteristics of the Greek system, which are in direct contrast to any goal of limiting gambling opportunities, an obvious contradiction that the court founds its doubts upon."

In a statement from the company, Morris said: “Stanleybet has always argued that a monopoly which expands its offer does not achieve the aim of combating fraud or protecting the consumer. Rather, experience, as shown in the large and growing number of Member States with competitive regulated markets, demonstrates that a regulated and fair offline sports betting market has always ensured transparency and the highest standards of consumer protection,” said the company.

The new development comes amidst reports that the Greek government is moving toward the liberalisation of its online gambling market, albeit with choice sectors within it reserved for OPAP.  There is also speculation that OPAP may be the subject of privatisation to raise money for the cash-strapped and debt-b