The CJEU ruled that the Greek monopoly OPAP S.A. is inconsistent with the Treaty of the EU.

Luxembourg Following the ruling issued yesterday by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on case C-186/11, Stanleybet reports a clear victory over the Greek sports betting monopoly OPAP S.A. that is declared once and for all incompatible with the EU law.

Stanleybet is the main party to this proceeding that was brought by an appeal to the Greek Council of State following the challenge Stanleybet lodged to the Greek Court on the inaction/refusal of the Greek authorities to issue a sports betting license in 2004. In light of Stanleybet’s objections against the Greek monopoly, the Council of State considered it legitimate to raise the issue before the CJEU in January 2011 to obtain further guidance asking whether the OPAP S.A. monopoly breaches Art. 49 (freedom to provide services) and Art. 56 (freedom of establishment) TFEU.

In yesterday’s CJEU ruling the Greek monopoly is placed in serious doubt: OPAP S.A., a private company, monopoly-holder, listed on the Athens Stock Exchange and with the majority of its shares held by private investors, that follows an expansive commercial policy, that enjoys certain rights and privileges as regards advertising its games of chance and which forbids other private offline sports operators to offer its services on the Greek territory, represents a restriction in the fundamental principles of the EU in particular the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services.

The CJEU provides two possible future steps in order for the Greek gambling system to be compatible with EU law: to reform the gambling monopoly, which would be subject to a strict control by the State, according to the principles of CJEU jurisprudence or to regulate the offline gambling market respecting EU fundamental principles of transparency and non-discrimination.

However, a reform of OPAP S.A., a highly profitable company, would in effect require that Greece abandons the private, for-profit model of OPAP (a global giant of the gambling sector) and reverts to a state-owned company with minimal products and advertising. This, at a time when Greece is committed to raising significant revenues from further sale of the state-owned piece of OPAP S.A.’s shares leaving the company 99 privately controlled. At the same time, the Greek government committed to significantly widening the offer of OPAP and the gambling offer in Greece in general by granting the company 16500 licenses for the operation of Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) in addition to the nearly 9000 currently operated in casinos across the country. It is evident that the only way forward to bring Greece in line with EU law would be to adopt a non-discriminatory model that would ensure fair competition.

John Whittaker, COO of Stanleybet said: “Yesterday’s CJEU ruling represents an historic moment for Stanleybet. Our positions have been upheld by the Court: the gambling monopoly held by OPAP S.A. is not legitimate and unsustainable: it is necessary to create a system which is compatible with the Treaty of the EU. Furthermore, the ruling clarifies that national legislation that has a monopoly on sports betting not in line with the EU Treaty cannot continue to retain such an exclusive gambling right. Greece has many other outstanding legal issues in regard to OPAP S.A. This ruling can be nothing more than a call for the European Commission to finally act. They have opened infringement proceedings against Greece frozen since 2008, and last year Commissioner Barnier committed to pursue blatant cases in breach of EU law –to use his expression. Well, what is the Commission waiting for? Without further delay the EC must take the final step in the infringement procedure: to refer the Greek authorities to the CJEU. The offline Greek sports betting market cannot remain a money-making sector for the Greek government and OPAP S.A. under the guise of a monopoly”.