October 03, 2012

Legal complaints could impact OPAP value, says RGA

The Remote Gambling Association has alerted banks handling the sale of OPAP to three legal complaints that could affect the monopoly’s future value, as the lobby group maintains pressure on Greece to open its online sports betting market.

In the letter to Deutsche Bank and the National Bank of Greece, the world’s largest online gambling trade association provided details of three outstanding complaints against OPAP’s monopoly, two lodged with the EC and another with the Greek Council of State, “that could have a material effect on the future value of OPAP”.

Greece’s privatisation agency HRADF forged ahead with the sale process for its 33% stake in OPAP last week, despite a key legal advisor to Europe’s highest court casting doubts on the sustainability of OPAP’s monopoly and analysts projecting that a 30% tax on gross revenue and 10% on winnings on all of OPAP’s operations from 2013, introduced under pressure from the EC, could wipe up to €280m off annual profit.

The RGA’s letter has been sent on behalf of its members, which include bet365, Betfair, bwin.party, Paddy Power, Sportingbet, Unibet and William Hill, many of which have been impacted by Greece’s law and regulations designed to protect the position of its betting monopoly.

Chief executive Clive Hawkswood said that while Greece had been pressurised by the EC into withdrawing OPAP’s preferential tax treatment on its land-based operations, there were other issues that had yet to be resolved, not least the Greek state’s intention to extend OPAP’s sports betting monopoly online.

“[I]t is only right that we brought these to the attention of Deutsche Bank to ensure that they are properly reflected in the sale process”, said Hawkswood. He said that the RGA’s position may change if the online sports betting market was fully opened and all potential stakeholders were taxed and treated equally. “[T]he Greek Government, online betting customers and gambling operators will [then] benefit from a fair and competitive market that operates in compliance with EU rules.”

The RGA’s first complaint to the EC competition directorate concerns the retrospective taxes applied to EU-licensed operators since last August, when Greece passed its online gaming act. The RGA complaint argues that the tax regime amounts to a potential form of State Aid as it exempts the OPAP-controlled land-based sector in Greece.

The RGA has also submitted a joint complaint with its continental counterpart the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) to the EC’s Internal Market and Services Directorate. This submits that OPAP’s offline sports betting monopoly is an unjustified obstacle to free trade within the EU, while also potentially being awarded the online sports betting monopoly.

Finally, the RGA has petitioned the Greek Council of State on the basis that the retrospective tax regime for online operators represents an unconstitutional restriction on the right to conduct a business activity in Greece. The case is set to be heard in December.

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