ECONOMY

Online betting firms leaving Greece, some challenge OPAP

Most of the big online gambling companies are leaving the Greek market, yet others continue to operate in their stead and the government is bracing itself for a major legal battle ahead with legitimate online gambling businesses as well as over the terms of sale of state-run betting agency OPAP.

Several large companies have decided to leave the Greek market for good following the recent publication of a list of 401 online betting websites that do not have an operating license in Greece.

William Hill, one of the biggest online bookmakers in the world, for example, says on its website that it is no longer accepting bets from Greece. Other companies that have taken the same decision are the very popular Betfair, Sportingbet, Bet365 and VistaBet, though the latter three have overcome the obstacles by referring gamers from Greece to other, affiliated websites.

However, it doesn’t look like online gambling is going away in its entirety anytime soon, as a number of sites continue to operate despite legislation and the danger of heavy fines, such as 888sport, 10Bet and King Solomons Casino.

Law 4002/2011 makes licensing for online gambling harder and foresees hefty penalties for infringements, yet without the cooperation of telecom providers, banks, police and judicial authorities, it seems unlikely that the phenomenon will be curbed. It is positive though that this government appears to be taking it seriously.

The government’s determination to wipe out online betting has essentially meant war with companies providing these services and two suits have already been filed against the government at the European Commission’s Competition and Internal Markets directorates and one at the Greek Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court. The European Commission’s internal markets and services commissioner, Michel Barnier, is examining sending Greece to court if Parliament approves an amendment granting OPAP exclusive online betting rights. Companies argue that the Greek government is in violation of community regulations and is trying to boost OPAP’s profile in view of its privatization. They also argue that such tactics will not lead to the eradication of online gambling as providers will always find ways to slip through the nets of justice.