Online gamblers caught in net

State betting company OPAP made good its threat to use the police to catch people who bypass its services and bet directly with foreign gaming firms via the Internet as nine people were arrested in Arta, western Greece, authorities said yesterday. The nine suspects include the owners of three cafes, where the illegal betting was allegedly taking place. The cafes had been installed with computers running programs that linked users directly with an unnamed British betting company. Police said the suspects encouraged customers to use the foreign site to bet on games that were also available on the OPAP coupon. The other six people arrested were customers who allegedly engaged in illegal betting. Sources said that a referee who officiates second- and third-division soccer games will also face charges as he allegedly put the cafe owners in touch with the British bookmaker. OPAP has a monopoly in the Greek betting sector and warned last month after the arrest of a man in Athens who was operating a sports betting portal that it would take legal action against similar intermediaries as well as the punters themselves. «The only company with the right to operate betting in Greece is OPAP,» the firm’s president, Sotiris Kostakos, told reporters yesterday. «Some people are getting rich unlawfully while the Greek state hemorrhages.» OPAP and the police estimate the illegal betting market to be worth almost as much each year as the legal one – some 1.4 billion euros. British bookmaker William Hill last week challenged OPAP’s monopoly by applying for a license to open betting shops in Greece. William Hill maintains that under European Union law, other companies should be allowed to compete for business in the Greek betting sector. The bookmaker is poised to take its case to the European Court of Justice. OPAP is confident that the Greek authorities will refuse the application, while Kostakos suggested that the EU refers all such matters to the courts of the specific member states.

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