OPINION

Fixing OPAP’s betting system

When the conservative government unveiled plans to include Greek soccer matches in the state-controlled football betting system, the local media (as well as this page) were quick to spot complications deriving from the evident conflict of interest. OPAP’s «Pame Stoichima» (Let’s Bet) football pools are run by the Intralot gaming systems provider, a firm that is controlled by Socrates Kokkalis, who is also the owner of one of the country’s top clubs. It would be a world first if a Greek soccer club and the football betting system were run by the same person. It is a blatant conflict of interests that would plunge the Pame Stoichima game into a sea of suspicion and transparency concerns. The previous Socialist administration had acknowledged the objections raised then by the conservative opposition. In a bid to increase OPAP’s profits, conservative government officials earlier this year said local games would be gradually included in the bet until OPAP’s seven-year deal with Intralot expired in 2006. That failed to convince skeptics who said the operation of the Pame Stoichima bets by the owner of a soccer club owner was unthinkable. Now government officials are moving away from plans to introduce local game fixtures gradually. The idea, it seems, is to include all Greek teams in one go. As for reservations over the Greek tycoon’s dual status, these will allegedly be dealt with at a legal level. According to unofficial information, Kokkalis is mulling stepping down as executive member of the Intralot board so as to do away with the legal obstacles. Kathimerini has often said that strict implementation of the law is the only way to overcome the current mess. A legalistic solution won’t do. The government must realize that apart from tackling the legal dimension, it must also grapple with the substance of the problem – its political and moral aspects. Any solution that does not cut to the bone of the issue, meaning the conflict of interest, does not guarantee transparency and is bound to fuel public distrust in the product. The government is called upon to define and curb conflict of interest both on the political and legal levels.