Greek betting operator OPAP is racing to get its online sportsbook operational before next month’s kickoff of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. On Thursday, CEO Kamil Ziegler took to the stage at OPAP’s annual general meeting and attempted to reassure investors that the GTECH-powered sports betting product “will be done, I hope” before the footie fest gets underway in Brazil on June 12. Ziegler said the company’s online offering will start with its Pame Stihima sports betting game, which is a big hit at OPAP’s 5k retail betting outlets across the country.
Meanwhile, the Greek government’s decision to waive indoor smoking laws at OPAP betting shops has renewed criticism that the state is too determined to guarantee the health of OPAP’s bottom line. Operators of the Mont Parnes Casino in Athens have filed a complaint with the European Commission protesting the government’s lifting of the smoking ban at OPAP shops, saying it “constitutes a clear advantage for OPAP as the exclusive owner of a VLT operating license.”
This is hardly the first time the Greek government has been accused of rewriting the rules to favor OPAP. Prior to selling its stake in the former state asset to the Emma Delta conglomerate for €652m last May, the Greek government sweetened OPAP’s pot by revoking the temporary online gambling permits it had issued to two dozen operators while extending OPAP’s online betting monopoly until 2020. This prompted anti-competitive protests with the European Commission that have yet to be resolved.
However, the Mont Parnes has itself been the beneficiary of state favoritism. Last July, Greece was referred to the European Court of Justice after privately run casinos complained that they were being unfairly burdened by mandatory admission taxes that were three times the size of those at state-owned joints like the Mont Parnes. What’s more, the Mont Parnes and other Greek casinos have already received smoking exemptions from the government, so this latest complaint is more about maintaining an artificial advantage.