The gambling monopoly in Greece, owned by OPAP SA, has been ruled illegal by the European Union’s highest court, dealing a blow to Opap’s stock price in the process. Opap’s price fell 10% after the ruling.
European law prevent countries from giving exclusive gambling rights to a single company, unless the authorities are genuinely reducing access to gambling and controlling expansion of the sector to combat criminality. The decision comes on the heals of three similar rulings dealing with monopolies in Italy, Germany, and Austria.
The court made three key rulings in this case:
1. Articles 43 EC and 49 EC must be interpreted as precluding national legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which grants the exclusive right to run, manage, organise and operate games of chance to a single entity, where, firstly, that legislation 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. It is for the national court to ascertain whether this is the case.
2. In the event that the national legislation governing the organisation of games of chance is incompatible with the Treaty provisions on the freedom to provide services and the freedom of establishment, the national authorities may not refrain from considering applications, such as those at issue in the main proceedings, for permission to operate in the sector of games of chance, during a transitional period.
3. In circumstances such as those of the main proceedings, the competent national authorities may examine applications for permission to organise games of chance submitted to them according to the level of consumer protection and the preservation of order in society that they intend to uphold solely on the basis of objective, non-discriminatory criteria.