August 28, 2010

Greeks reveal gaming proposals ahead of parliamentary debate

The Greek government has published draft legislation for an opening up of the country’s slots and VLT market, and for the partial liberalisation of the country’s online gaming market.

A first glimpse of the legislation has been posted on the Greek government website and details specific proposals for opening up Greece’s markets for sports betting and for poker.

The regulative framework produced by the Finance Ministry aims to ensure that most of the €5bn worth of illegal gambling estimated in a recent Reuters report will be added to the present €9bn annual spend generated by OPAP, and produce substantial tax revenues for the hard-pressed treasury.

In the introduction to the proposals the authors admit that “Greece has been ordered by a decision of the ECJ because of its ban on gaming machines to pay a daily fine of €32.000 i.e. € 11.5m a year” and “absence of any market regulation of online gambling within Greek territory progressively resulted in the regime being de facto illegal.”

The report suggests that the government has no choice but to open up its slots and VLT market following the ECJ decision from October 26, 2006 that states that “by inserting ... a prohibition on the installation and operation of all electrical, electromechanical and electronic games, including technical recreational games and all computer games, on all public or private premises apart from casinos, the Hellenic Republic has failed to fulfil its obligations under Articles 28 EC, 43 EC and 49 EC and Article 8 of Directive 98/34/EC of the European Parliament.”

The document, which will be open for consultation until midnight on September 12 gives, in Chapter IV Article 11, details of the online products to be made available to Greek gamblers.

Initially sports betting and poker would be offered online, via mobile or interactive TV.

According to the proposals betting on horse racing and casino type games may be subject to future consultation.

The framework also includes mechanisms for blocking of access to overseas gaming sites and for preventing Greek customers having financial transactions with overseas operators.

Operators would be required to have servers inside the country and use websites. Licences would be available for a period of five years.

However the document suggests a number of options are to be debated on how the licences would be allocated. In section 4 of Article 11, three possibilities for granting of online licences are mooted.

The first possibility would involve a competitive market with an unlimited number of licences available. The selection would be made based on the operator satisfying specific requirements set out by the government rather than via a tender. This would be similar to the model introduced in France and in Italy.

The second option would involve a public tender for a limited number of online licences, again with operators being required to satisfy specific requirements while licences would be allocated to the highest bidder. In previous comments from government representatives there has been suggestion that there would be five licences available.

The final option would involve OPAP maintaining its current monopoly status in some online gaming spheres until 2019, with again a limited number of additional licences available for operators, but in this case they could act as subcontractors and pay royalties to OPAP.

The Greek media is reporting that OPAP is already negotiating with online systems provider Intralot to develop online casinos and possibly poker rooms for Greek players in advance of legalisation coming into force during 2011.

There has already been discussion related to the introduction of slots and VLTs in the Greek market, with OPAP almost certainly to be allocated one of the licences available, although again there appears to have been no decision on how many licences would be up for grabs.

Any suggestion that OPAP would be allowed to maintain any form of monopoly going forward is certain to be the subject of a legal challenge.

In France both Stanleybet and Zeturf are awaiting developments from their legal actions against the monopoly status of Francaise des Jeux and the PMU with regard to retail betting.

More concrete plans for opening up the Greek market will now be awaited once the consultation period has been completed.

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