RGA Fighting OPAP Monopoly

A statement was issued this week by the Remote Gaming Association, a trade body which represents most of the major operators in the UK online gambling industry, in which it reinstates its intention to challenge the unfair treatment of private sector online gambling operators in Greece, whose government is currently selling its 33 percent stake in the online and land gambling monopoly OPAP.

In addition, the RGA revealed that it has written to Deutsche Bank and the National Bank of Greece, providing detailed information about its three outstanding complaints to the European Commission and on the petition lodged in the Greek Council of State.

It was written in the statement that "In August 2011 the Greek government passed gambling legislation which introduced a licensing regime for some forms of online gambling in Greece.

"A number of the RGA's members are active in the Greek online market and are impacted by the new law and regulations in a detrimental manner. This includes the previous and ongoing preferential treatment given to OPAP by the Hellenic Republic."

In its note, the RGA presents three current complaints that could have a material effect on the future value of OPAP:

- An outstanding complaint to DG COMP in respect of state aid in support of OPAP, in which the RGA notes that EU licensed gambling operators are submitted to a retroactive tax regime equivalent to a market entry fee but that since this does not apply to the offline gambling sector controlled by OPAP, it caused an unequal tax treatment which not only amounts to a significant sum, but also breaches the EU free movement provisions.

- A complaint filed by the RGA jointly with the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) to DG MARKT against OPAP's exclusive right to the online sports betting market, based on free movement grounds.

- A petition in the Greek Council of State, submitted by the RGA in February 2012, in which it challenges the Greek Government's taxation regime for remote gambling (which imposes retrospective taxes on online operators). It is claimed in the petition that the Ministerial Decision implementing taxation measures is unconstitutional as it contravenes the right to conduct a business activity and is disproportionate, and is also contrary to the EU law, which supersedes conflicting provisions of Greek law.

According to Clive Hawkswood, chief executive of the RGA, 'Given that there are a number of significant challenges to the new gambling regime in Greece, it is only right that we brought these to the attention of Deutsche Bank to ensure that they are properly reflected in the sale process.

"Under pressure from the European Commission, the Greek government has announced plans to rectify the preferential tax treatment that OPAP's online gaming business would have enjoyed, but there are other major issues that have still to be resolved, not least the fact that the intention is still to let OPAP have a monopoly in the online sports betting market.

"Of course, if the online sports betting market is fully opened and all participants are taxed and treated equally our position may change and the Greek Government, online betting customers and gambling operators will benefit from a fair and competitive market that operates in compliance with EU rules,' he concluded.

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