International Companies challenge Greek failure to open Online Gambling Concession to Competition

International gambling companies are petitioning against non-response to their application for Greek online gambling rights to the Athens Administrative Court of Appeals.

Individual members of the Remote Gambling Association (RGA) applied to the Greek State, as legally represented primarily by the Minister of Finance, and the Hellenic Gambling Commission (HGC) for online gambling licences in July 2013. They received an answer by the HGC that it is not competent to examine the applications and no response from the Ministry of Finance. The companies have now petitioned the Greek Court against both the response by the HGC and the inaction by the Ministry of Finance.

The Greek Government has consistently failed to implement its own laws to open up the online gambling market. The Greek Gambling Law (4002/2011) allows for the licensing of online gambling operators but its enabling provisions relating to full online gambling licensing have never been properly implemented since its adoption more than two years ago. Instead, a transitional regime, introduced in late 2011 pursuant to a Ministerial Decision continues to operate with a closed number of operators. The RGA and certain of its members have previously challenged the Ministerial Decision for its manifest unlawfulness by a separate petition for annulment on grounds of it being contrary to the fundamental freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services which are enshrined in Articles 49 and 56 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and article 5(1) of the Greek Constitution which protects the freedom to carry on economic activity.

In July 2013, in the absence of a full licensing process being introduced, two members of the RGA submitted their applications to the Greek State, represented by the Minister of Finance, and the HGC for a licence to provide online gaming services (games of chance over the internet) primarily for a period of 5 years. The HGC declared itself not the competent authority to examine the applications of the two RGA members. The Ministry of Finance failed to provide any response to the applications within the timeframe established by Greek law.

Both RGA members have now petitioned against the HGC declaration of lack of competence and the non-response by the Ministry of Finance as their applications should have been duly processed and decided upon by both authorities which are considered to be competent. The competent Administrative Court of Appeals will examine these petitions. The members maintain that the Greek Gaming Law provides for the HGC and the State the competence to examine the licence applications.

The RGA has consistently stated that the motivation for not offering licences for online gambling in the past two years had nothing to do with concerns about consumer protection but was to sell OPAP‘s shares at the highest possible price.

Clive Hawkswood, Chief Executive of the RGA said today: “The Greek Government is taking a risk by not enabling reputable European companies to provide online gambling services to Greek customers under an established licensing regime. By limiting the market without complying with the Treaty and Greek Constitution, the Government may have to compensate European licensed companies for damages suffered by having to terminate their Greek operations due to failure of the Greek State to implement a proper licensing process and a lawful transitional regime. They may also have to refund investors in OPAP to the extent that they may have been led to believe that OPAP did have a monopoly. But most importantly the Greek government is denying itself tax income from established online operators that would bring in millions of EUROs in taxation if they could be licensed in Greece.

In the absence of constructive progress to introduce an open, transparent and fair online gambling regime in Greece, our members have made it clear that the RGA will use all legal and legitimate efforts at its disposal including legal challenges to the EU and the Greek courts, in order to get to a legal, clear, workable and fair resolution.”