Greece has followed through with plans to restrict most forms of online gambling within its borders to favor domestic gambling outfit OPAP, ensuring a virtual monopoly for the state-run company until the year 2020. As written, the plans prohibit online gambling companies from offering sports bets and random number generator (RNG) games over the internet, leaving just live casino games and poker tournaments available to non-OPAP companies.
On Wednesday, the Greek Ministry of Finance sent its proposals to the European Commission for consultation, starting the clock on a three-month standstill period before Greece can enshrine the rules into law. One month after that, Greece plans to cancel the 24 ‘transitional’ licenses it issued to operators including Sportingbet and Paddy Power following passage of the 2011 Gambling Act. These operators were required to pay back taxes as a precondition for receiving their transitional license, making the country’s new plan more than a little galling. Last week, the Remote Gambling Association filed the latest in a string of protests in Brussels over the Greek failure to adhere to the policies spelled out in its Gambling Act.
In November, Greece warned operators to wind down their Greek-facing operations or face being put on a blacklist. The legislation that would require internet service providers to block blacklisted sites has been held up for another month after Malta filed a last-minute protest in Brussels this week. If the EC ignores Malta’s complaint, Greece ISPs could start pulling the plugs on operators beginning April 19.
The Greek proposal also restates the government’s intention to allow OPAP to operate an additional 35k video lottery terminals (VLTs). The government has insisted that RNG games are too “highly addictive” to be made available online, but it appears that so long as you can drag your lazy butt out of the house and down to the local OPAP shop, then addiction, schmaddiction.
Greece has not been shy about doing all it can to entrench OPAP’s dominant position in the marketplace ahead of the government’s sale of all but a pittance of its 34% stake in the company. Greece is on a privatization binge in order to meet the vig on the billions it received via several EU-sponsored bailouts, and it only need look at the current turmoil in Cyprus to understand the cost of not being able to make good on its debts. Regardless, operators who paid hefty back taxes with the expectation that Greece would reciprocate by opening up its online market must feel like they were sold a Trojan horse.