Thursday January 24,2013 : GREEK GAMBLING MONOPOLY VIOLATES EU LAW
European Court of Justice rules on monopoly given to OPAP
The European Court of Justice issued an important ruling Thursday, finding that the partly state-owned Greek gambling monopoly OPAP does not comply with the strict requirements under EU law to justify its exclusivity.
The ruling confirms in particular that:
EU law precludes “the exclusive right to run, manage, organise and operate games of chance to a single entity, where, firstly, that legalization does not genuinely meet the concern to reduce opportunities for gambling and to limit activities in that domain in a consistent and systematic manner and, secondly, where strict control by the public authorities of the expansion of the sector of games of chance, solely in so far as is necessary to combat criminality linked to those games, is not ensured”
“The fact that OPAP is a listed public limited company and the finding that the Greek State’s supervision of OPAP is merely superficial, tend to suggest that the requirements […] might not be satisfied” the court opined, adding that:
"As long as national gambling legalizations are found incompatible with EU law national authorities may not refrain from considering applications for permission to operate in the sector of games of chance, during a transitional period until national legalization is compatible with Treaty provisions".
When the reform of an existing monopoly to making it compatible with Treaty provisions is not feasible and that a liberalisation of the market in games of chance is considered the better measure for ensuring the level of consumer protection “the introduction in that Member State of an administrative permit scheme must be based on objective, non-discriminatory criteria which are known in advance, in such a way as to circumscribe the exercise of the national authorities’ discretion so that it is not used arbitrarily," the Court found.
The ruling draws a line under a long period during which other EU nation companies have struggled with Greek officialdom in trying to enter the market under the "free passage of goods and services' clause.
Sigrid Ligné, secretary general of the trade body European Gaming and Betting Association, commented:
”We welcome the CJEU ruling that confirms that Member States must adhere to the requirements of EU law. Given the factual setup of OPAP’s monopoly which clearly fails to meet the CJEU test we hardly expect effective control to be implemented in the future. Therefore, Greece should follow the Court's clear advice to liberalise the market. The ruling is highly relevant and gives the EC yet more jurisprudence to put an end to non-compliant gambling policies across the EU.”
Ligné additionally urged the European Commission to act against violations of EU law as the ‘Guardian of the Treaties.’
The Commission currently has EU law infringement proceedings open against nine Member States, and has plans to investigate gambling laws in twenty others.